Education Funding

Charity Breaks With Ore. District; ‘Liberal’ Policies Cited

By Michelle Galley — October 09, 2002 3 min read
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A charity that has provided scholarship money for students in the town of Philomath, Ore., apparently is severing its long-standing ties to the local school district.

Since 1964, virtually every student graduating from the 650-student Philomath High School has been eligible to receive a four-year college scholarship, for up to $4,000 a year, from the Clemens Foundation. The philanthropy was established with timber profits made by Rex and Ethel Clemens shortly after the Great Depression.

But students will no longer be eligible for the scholarship aid, reportedly because the charity disapproves of some of the district’s policies on controversial topics such as student dress and a club to help gay and lesbian youths.

Officials at the Clemens Foundation refused to confirm reports that the philanthropy was changing eligibility requirements for its scholarship program. But Terry Kneisler, the superintendent of the 1,900-student Philomath district, said parents and students in the community were very concerned about a policy change.

“The foundation is an independent organization, and we don’t have anything to say about how they operate,” Mr. Kneisler said.

Seniors at Philomath High School will not receive the scholarships because of “liberal” and “politically correct” policies the district has recently implemented, Steve Lowther, a nephew of Rex and Ethel Clemens’ who sits on the foundation’s seven-member board of directors, told the Associated Press.

Mr. Lowther was quoted as saying that he has long objected to the district’s dress code, which allows students to dye their hair and pierce their noses, to the fact that the district allows an alliance of homosexual and heterosexual students to meet at the school, and to an “anti-timber bias” in the curriculum.

“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 who are helping to shut down the timber industry, with environmental donations to Greenpeace,” Mr. Lowther, who did not return phone calls last week, told the Associated Press.

No Changes Planned

In the past, the district has cooperated with the foundation by allowing it access to student information that would help officials of the philanthropy administer the scholarships, Superintendent Kneisler said.

The district has no plans to change its policies as a result of the foundation’s objections, he added.

He said the dress code is clearly defined, and focuses on students’ safety to make sure that they don’t wear attire that is dangerous, shows intolerance to others, or supports the use of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.

The gay-straight alliance that meets at the high school does so because students’ right to assemble is protected by law, the superintendent said. The school does not provide guidance for the club, he noted, only a meeting space.

The scholarships distributed by the foundation cover the full cost of tuition at nearby Oregon State University in Corvallis, but students can apply the $4,000 a year to any other community college or four- year institution, said Kelly Howard, the executive director of the Clemens Foundation. The Philomath-based philanthropy has a $30 million endowment.

Last year, the foundation administered 520 scholarships, Mr. Howard said. Although the vast majority—about 75 percent—of them went to students who had graduated from Philomath High, students in two other nearby districts are also eligible to receive the aid.

Mr. Howard noted that in addition to the scholarships, the foundation donates youth-centered grants to organizations not associated with the Philomath district. Last year, for example, it donated $275,000 to help establish the Philomath Youth Activities Club, which provides after-school services for young children.

“That really fit into our mission of helping local students,” Mr. Howard said.

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