Bill to merge PSU, OHSU moves to Ways and Means

A controversial bill that would merge Portland State and Oregon Health and Sciences University was approved by the House Education Committee on Friday and sent to the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

If passed, the bill would remove PSU from the Oregon University System starting July 2007 and place it under an expanded version of the corporate board that oversees OHSU. The two schools would then have 10 years to merge into one entity.

If passed by the Ways and Means Committee, the bill will move to the House floor for a vote.

According to Rep. Mitch Greenlick, who introduced the legislation, House Bill 2560A would fulfill the need for a “viable, comprehensive, national-stature research university in the metropolitan area.”

Integrating the two schools would give the universities economy of scale and boost PSU’s national rankings, Greenlick and other supporters say. That image boost would attract business to Portland, he argues.

However, the bill faces opposition from the administrations of both PSU and OHSU. Opponents fear that the success of one or both schools could be undermined by the merger, which would cause them to lose their independence and individual identities. Others believe that the cultures of the two schools are so different as to preclude an easy joining.

Many members of the House Education Committee also expressed concerns about the bill. Reps. Chip Shields and Arnie Roblan gave Chair Linda Flores a courtesy vote, reserving the right to vote against the bill if it got to the floor. Representative Steve March, who co-sponsored a similar bill in 2003, withdrew support, citing his desire for a review of the needs of higher education.

“I don’t think this is the right bill at the right time. I don’t think this is going to get us any traction in terms of helping students and helping people get into the system,” he said.

HB 2560A now moves to the Ways and Means Committee, which will decide whether to refer it to the education subcommittee to determine the fiscal impact of the bill.