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Our university & what hangs in the balance on Nov. 6
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Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to point out that you can't see the forest for the trees.

We have a "local college" that helps strengthen the economy in the California State University, Stanislaus campus in Turlock. And it has already made a big difference in our economy but we often don't realize it.

Joseph Sheley - the interim president for the campus that has just over 9,000 students - notes the region has at least 50,000 CSUS alumni based on addresses that the university has collected. That's 50,000 CSUS educated people who are helping drive the economy.

Sheley refers to CSUS as a "hidden gem" and the "best kept secret" in the CSU system. Sheley - who served on the faculty at Tulane and last worked as provost and vice president for academic affairs at his alma mater at Sacramento State - bases that on several observations he's made since first stepping on the Monte Vista Avenue campus in June.

The university, in Sheley's words, has "a fairly sharp student body," an effective "and dedicated faculty" plus an "extremely dedicated (support) staff" that is plugged in 100 percent with the mission of delivering students with the best possible education.

It doesn't surprise Sheley that Stanislaus State is a "hidden gem" given how many people underrate the San Joaquin Valley, in particularly the northern three counties of Stanislaus, San Joaquin, and Merced. Sheley can rattle off companies that are forces in the global market that are based in the region such as Blue Diamond, Gallo, Hilmar Cheese, Delicato, and Bronco Wine. To thrive so they can provide the production-level jobs that are vital to helping lift up the valley's economic floor, companies need well-educated people in positions for marketing, sales development, management and such. CSU Stan helps fill the bill.

Sheley, in the past few months of reaching out and meeting business and elected leaders throughout the region, has come to the conclusion that people are aware of the university. The need is to develop more community-university partnerships and foster what he calls "contemporary pride" in the CSU campus to take the university and consequently the region to the next level.

His first step is reaching out, traveling around the 209 to meet with various mayors and business leaders. Sheley has made a number of contacts in Stockton, Lodi, Patterson, Newman, and of course Turlock among others and has a few more to go including Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon and Tracy.

All of his effort - as well as that of the faculty - to strengthen the relationship to enhance the economic vitality of the Valley could be severely impacted on Nov. 6. That's when voters decide the fate of Proposition 30, the temporary half-cent sales tax and increased taxes on income for those making $250,000 or more a year

If the measure fails, cuts that could have catastrophic consequences are scheduled to occur.

To understand why it would be a catastrophe you have to listen to people like former San Joaquin Partnership CEO Mike Locke. He knows firsthand that to corporations looking to expand or relocate operations, a highly-educated workforce is a key issue in making their decisions. While the Partnership has a long list of success stories, Locke can tell you about the ones that got away because the education level of the region's workforce was lacking.

It's getting better but not good enough. Reducing the opportunity for higher education at the CSU system would hit this region harder than many others. It could set in motion events that could hammer higher education funding back into Great Depression levels in California once inflation is taken into account.

For those who have every right to expect their tax dollars to be well spent, Sheley will make the case that CSU Stan is one of the leanest - if not the leanest - run campus in the system. It's a testimony to the faculty and support staff.

He noted that students in CSU campuses are getting a level of education that costs a dollar at private universities such as Tulane for just 65 cents.

The question we now face is simple: Do we let our justified anger at what passes as leadership in Sacramento kill the future of not just the San Joaquin Valley but California on Nov. 6?

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.