Philomath's summerlong cultural clash ended abruptly last week, and when the smoke cleared it was evident that the flap at the local high school had as much to do with religion as education.
The Clemens Foundation's board of directors voted last week to stop paying the college tuition of all Philomath High grads, ending a 42-year tradition in the Willamette Valley timber town. The shutdown comes at the behest of board member Steve Lowther, a nephew of the timber tycoons who set up the foundation. He had complained that the public school no longer honored the rural timber traditions his aunt and uncle wanted to instill.
As an example, he pointed to the school's wooden mascot, the Warrior, which he and other critics said had been deep-sixed by politically correct school officials afraid of offending Native Americans. (School officials said it was being repaired after vandalism.) Lowther also charged that kids were taught cutting down trees was bad. (See "Philomath Divided," WW, July 24, 2002.)
Last week, it became clear that Lowther's concerns extended far beyond clearcuts and banished Indians. "We had a problem with the green movement that seems to be promoted," says Lowther. "They are worshipping created things instead of the creator." Lowther also conceded that he was troubled by some recently formed student clubs: "The gay-straight alliance at the school really bothers me."
The foundation will continue to offer the scholarship at Alsea, Eddyville and Crane high schools, under certain conditions. It will also, for the first time, invite graduates of the Nazarene Christian School in Philomath to apply.