ASPSU refuses to lobby without tuition freeze commitment

Amid the ongoing budget battle in Salem, the Associated Students of Portland State are refusing to lobby state legislators on behalf of PSU for more money unless the university’s administration commits to not raising tuition costs for students in the coming years.

This is a part of ASPSU’s goal of pushing the university toward a tuition-less education model. ASPSU’s Legislative Affairs Director, Camilo Assad, is hoping a commitment from the administration to freeze tuition will make pressuring the state for more money easier.

“Either [the university gets] more money in or they take more money out of [the students],” Assad said.

“[The administration has] spent plenty of time proving to us that they should change our minds but spent no time really addressing how they could do what we are asking,” Assad said. “That is a fundamental, huge issue.”

Kevin Neely, assistant vice president of government relations, said he doesn’t think commiting to no tuition increases—regardless of the outcome of budget negotiations in Salem—is a promise the Board of Trustees would be willing to make.

“I don’t think [the Board is] responsible and I wouldn’t blame them,” Neely said. “It seems to me to be out of line with their statutory obligation to protect the bottom line.”

In the past, university administrators have relied on the lobbying efforts of students in Salem to get more money out of the state, according to Neely.

“We know unequivocally that students and recent alumni are the two most effective messengers with our community leaders and with our state legislators,” Neely said.

Student lobbying is a part of a larger budget battle currently going on between the state and public universities. As of right now, PSU and all other public universities and community colleges are not getting additional funding from the state for the upcoming biennium.

The lack of increased funds would roughly equate to at least a 2 percent cut in the upcoming academic year compared to this year, due to how university budget money is distributed. The governor has also recommended defunding sports lottery funds and the engineering sustaining and technology funds, both of which disproportionately affect PSU.

Additionally, the university is also responsible for honoring healthcare and retirement costs of university employees who are part of the Public Employee Retirement System.

“If the legislature were to pass the governor’s budget as is, I believe that tuition at PSU could go up by between 9 and 15 percent,” Neely said. “I would hate for that to happen without the students weighing in in Salem.”

ASPSU still intends to travel to Salem on Feb. 18 for what they’re calling an “anti-lobbying day,” and to join other protests and rallies organized by education association unions, teachers and students from around the state.

“We are going to bring down our own signs and our own materials so we can inform people of why we believe the state is failing us in funding education at the university level,” Assad said. “Since the administration is unwilling to move even an inch in our favor in connection to getting this money, we will also explain why we are critical of their stewardship of our education.”

The university is hoping to receive a minimal additional investment of at least $120 million from the state to avoid significant tuition hikes and cuts to services.

“If students want to keep tuition low, it really is very much in their hands in Salem,” Neely said. “They have an incredible amount of power as it relates to advocacy, and it would be unfortunate to see that blunted in 2019.”

According to Neely, every additional $800,000 that comes to PSU on top of the flat funding would equate to one percentage less tuition that needs to be raised, or the equivalent monetary amount in cuts to academic programming.

“We don’t want to be pawns for the administration when we go to the state and have it seem like we’re in lockstep because we don’t agree with the way they’re going to use the money,” Assad said. “So we’re going to go express our views in that we’re not interested in just gobbling up as much money as we can for other people to misrepresent our interests to do things that students are not in favor of and don’t have agency over.”