Timber Foundation Ends Scholarships
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ For decades, any youngster in or around the little Oregon logging town of Philomath who wanted to go to college could do so for free, courtesy of a foundation built from timber dollars earned long ago.
But the class of 2003 might have to pay its own way.
The foundation’s board members, angry at what they deem creeping political correctness and anti-timber bias in the Philomath school system, decided this week to exclude candidates from Philomath High.
Also, students from outlying communities will no longer be guaranteed scholarships. They will have to write an essay and fill out a family-background questionnaire, and demonstrate they share the foundation’s values.
``It was a hard decision to make,″ said Steve Lowther, who sits on the board of the $30 million Clemens Foundation and is the nephew of the late Rex and Ethel Clemens of Philomath, the initial benefactors. ``We want to go back to Rex’s original intent, and only send kids from timber, ag, mining and ranching backgrounds.″
He added: ``We are not going to use timber dollars to send the professors’ kids, the physicians’ kids, the teachers’ kids to school, because they are the ones helping to shut down the timber industry, with environmental donations to Greenpeace. They support those people who are killing us.″
The news came as a shock to school officials in the town of 4,000, where loggers now live alongside people who commute to jobs at Hewlett-Packard or Oregon State University in Corvallis.
``It has been a wonderful, wonderful gift,″ said school board member Kevin Collins, who has two children who have benefited from the scholarship and a sophomore daughter who may not. ``I am disappointed that it can’t continue. It is their foundation, and their right to do that. We are just trying to run the school district the best we can, like they are trying to run the foundation the best that they can.″
Because the foundation is a nonprofit, any changes in its charter are subject to approval by the Internal Revenue Service. That is expected to take at least three months.
Tensions between the foundation and the school system have simmered for a decade or more.
In 1993, the foundation passed a mandate requiring scholarship recipients to live in Philomath (pronounced Fih-LOH-mith) for eight years or more, to stem the tide of newcomers who settled there because of the lure of a free education, and because Philomath was growing beyond its logging roots, especially with the decline of Oregon’s timber industry.
Over the years, Lowther got angry about more and more things: a new dress code that allowed students to dye their hair and pierce their noses; the formation of a gay and lesbian club at the high school; the retirement on anti-discrimination grounds of Philomath High’s wooden Indian mascot; and a perceived anti-logging bias in the curriculum.
This June, he and others laid down an ultimatum: Get rid of the school superintendent, the high school principal and the school board members or the foundation would drop Philomath High. The school system refused.
The foundation also supports students from the communities of Alsea, Eddyville and Crane, where Rex and Ethel Clemens retired to run a cattle ranch. Those students will have to show they are worthy of a scholarship.
``Kids can attain our preferences if they join the right clubs, make the right decisions, change their thinking and tune out that other stuff,″ Lowther said.
The foundation was created in 1959. Over the years, thousands of Philomath teenagers have gone to college on Clemens scholarships, and the college-attendance rate has risen from almost nothing to about 70 percent.
The grants are about $4,000 a year, or the cost of tuition at Oregon State. The scholarships are given without regard to students’ grades. Up to now, about the only requirements were that they agree to random drug testing and attend college full-time.
School Superintendent Terry Kneisler said the school system has tried to address the foundation’s concerns and still hopes to patch things up. He would not otherwise comment on the dispute.
Lowther thinks his aunt and uncle would have approved of the changes.
``I really believe with all my heart that if Rex knew what was going on today, he would look to put his money somewhere else,″ said Lowther, who still works in the timber industry.
There are still some teenagers with timber backgrounds at the 650-student high school _ enough to field a chapter of the Associated Oregon Forestry Club _ and Lowther said the fate of those students was much discussed by the board.
``But in the end, life is not fair,″ he said. ``For the long-term good, a short-term pain may need to be endured. What would ideally happen here is that Philomath would rise up and make some changes and we would come back, but with the restrictions.″