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Is this really the end?

After this piece, The Courier as it once was will no longer exist.

If you haven’t read it yet, the editorial series that this piece brings to a close includes nine other entries detailing some of the experiences we have had as student journalists at The Courier, starting here

While The Courier was Chemeketa’s student newspaper, the Publications Lab was where we built it. Every Courier staff member in my tenure paid tuition and/or fees to register for and take that course. While in that class we learned a host of new things, such as the simpler practical skills like typing, learning and following a new formatting style, revision, taking constructive criticism and meeting deadlines. All of these skills are vital to excelling in a professional career. 

Other skills I learned in the journalism not-program include critical thinking and analysis, professional communication skills, collaboration with colleagues, decision making, time management, balanced task delegation, more patience than I knew I was capable of, and a strong sense of personal and professional ethics. 

The number of life-long skills I have obtained in the JNL courses is greater than the hundreds of pages of hand-written notes I acquired while being a student journalist. I worked harder than I ever had in my life for The Courier and I loved almost every minute of it. 

Emphasis on almost. 

Above everything else, I was supposed to be a student. I was supposed to be developing the above-listed skills through instruction and training. The amount of time and effort I had put into reporting on the college distracted me heavily from my other studies and personal life. Yes, I was gaining experience. But I was also juggling treating my PTSD and deciding if journalism was even the career path I wanted to follow.

It was also my choice to invest as much time as I did into The Courier. The experiences that both myself and my fellow staff members had as student journalists at Chemeketa were reason enough for all of us to put in the time that we did. It was our duty to inform the community. 

According to college officials, “JNL215 (Publications Lab) and JNL216 (News Writing), the two courses most closely associated with the production of the college newspaper, will not be offered during the winter term of 2021. We are not sure when those courses will be offered again.” 

Without those courses, there will be no way to thoroughly train new student journalists. Any efforts to keep The Courier going will likely fail as a result. 

I covered many important topics during my time with The Courier, like the budget crisis and tuition increases. I published every story I worked on for The Courier, except one: the Title IX investigation. The maze of interviews and conflicting information I received for that story was so convoluted, long and disheartening that I never got to share what I had found.

I began asking college officials about Title IX complaints regarding sexual discrimination filed against the college. For that story, I made my first podcast, honed my ‘no b.s. noir detective’ style of interviewing and three months into it, I participated in the writing and filing of a Public Records Request for the first time. We filed three Public Records Requests, or PRRs, before that story died. 

Courier reporters had stated at the bottom of the first PRR for the Title IX story, “I believe this information is in the public interest pursuant to ORS 192.342(5) as part of the role of the press to provide oversight of the affairs of public entities and therefore request that all fees be waived. This request is not being made for commercial purposes.”

But after six months of email correspondence following the first PRR, college officials demanded $1,520 from me for, “employees hours to go through the files and redact out names and personal information of the individuals.”

There was no way in hell I was going to be able to pay that fee, nor was any Courier staff member at the time. We’re just college students after all. As a result, we never got the information. 

The story died, but I was at least able to write about my experience for this series

Looking back at that experience, I can’t help but feel like Chemeketa is losing sight of the community part of community college. 

In 2018, I had written a story about Chemekta’s Corrections Education program, or College Inside, and the federal funding that was about to end for said program. 

I never had the time or energy to find out what happened to the College Inside program until recently. I wish I had, as it seems to have dwindled to nothing.

The program was a way for inmates in correctional institutions to take classes, learn skills, and earn degrees while incarcerated. The goal of the program was to help inmates develop the tools they needed to have a chance at a real future when they leave prison. 

The recidivism rate of graduates of the program was a mere 5% at the time of that story compared to the average rate in Oregon of 24%. 

Programs like this are precisely what community colleges should exist for. It’s an invaluable service to the community. It changes lives and makes the world a better place. 

But according to the college’s website, summer term 2020 was canceled, and fall term 2020 was to be reexamined at a later date due to COVID-19. The page appears to have been abandoned as it hasn’t been updated in nearly six months. 

Now, canceling in-person classes due to COVID-19 is perfectly reasonable and a good idea. But no further updates? No mention of any efforts to implement an online version of the program? I’m reminded of the old expression “where there’s a will there’s a way,” and can’t help but wonder about the will. 

Or how about Chemeketa’s Community Education program? 

The Courier first learned of the “sunsetting” of the Community Education program during our yearly Q & A with the current president. In 2019, the table of contents for the winter term Community Education program course catalog listed 23 categories of classes being offered by Chemeketa. There were more than 100 classes offered in total. 

Courses within these categories included: Excel for the Workplace, LinkedIn for professionals, FEMA Community Emergency Response Team Training, Introduction to Photoshop Elements, Gender Equity in the Workplace, English for Speakers of Other Languages, Effective Parenting, Fearless Public Speaking, Budgeting for Fun and Profit and QuickBooks for Managers, among many others. 

Chemeketa Community Education program course categories listed in the 2019 catalog.

One college official told me in 2018 that, “Community ed is not a big moneymaker, but it serves a different population than our regular student population. We serve the community.”

Courses within the Community Education program are non-credit, general interest classes designed to connect members of the community with their community college.

There is no longer a Community Education Program at Chemeketa. “Community Education courses have been indefinitely suspended,” according to the college’s website

The website says, rather vaguely and simply, this is “Due to COVID-19.” 

But is that due to low enrollment? Lack of state or federal funding? Social distancing concerns? I don’t know. Surely some of these courses could have translated to an online format without issue if they really wanted to. Sure, a course teaching community members to dance needs to be in-person, but a course on learning Excel? It doesn’t pass the smell test. 

As those of you who have been around long enough know, when a program is “sunsetted,” it doesn’t typically come back. Time will tell, but I’ll believe it when I see it. 

It seems to me that Chemeketa is changing. The focus is shifting away from the needs of the community, like we’re in a race to the bottom and sacrificing the community part of community college in order to become some sort of profit-driven degree factory. 

Need more proof? How about the new Terms of Usage for Chemeketa students? They’ve added language, in the middle of a pandemic and a recession, about being able to send collection agencies after students and charging students for both collection fees and attorney fees. Who does that? What kind of community focused institution does that to their students, especially now? This is downright shameful. 

Taking all of this together – the end of The Courier, the end of the journalism not-program, the uncertainty around Community Education, the college’s push towards Guided Pathways, the brazen new Terms of Usage – I’m left to wonder, what part of the community is Chemeketa serving? 

This piece concludes our series. When we gave college officials our 24 hours notice that this series was coming, we extended an invitation to them to respond. If they would like to take us up on that offer, we will keep you all posted.

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