The Portland State Board of Trustees unanimously voted to raise tuition by 9 percent and revealed that they have virtually chosen a new unnamed university president at its meeting Tuesday, April 11. In addition, BOT members elected a new chair and vice chair of the Board.
ASPSU speaks out against tuition hikes
Foreshadowing the tuition increase approved minutes later, newly appointed ASPSU Vice President Alex Herrera commented on the BOT’s lack of interest in student voices.
“I’m aware of folks who signed up on the speakers list before the 24-hour deadline and were not allowed to speak,” Herrera said. “I understand that there are time constraints here. However, when we are talking about a matter of tuition increase at an astronomical rate of 9 percent, I think that is vital that students are able to voice their concerns fully and that they should be heard fully. This is a decision that could potentially price students out of their education.”
Newly appointed ASPSU President Zia Laboff also voiced concerns.
“This is an issue that we’re seeing nationwide against education,” Laboff asserted. “We believe that it’s really important for PSU and especially Oregon as a state to take a stand and make a strong position in support of higher education and in support of students. This is an issue that really will end up falling on the backs of students. It’s a pattern that we’ve seen and it’s very concerning.”
Laboff expanded on this, noting that while PSU claims to pride itself on its commitment to diversity, and the representation of underserved communities and non-traditional students, these are the students that will be affected the most.
BOT Chair Pete Nickerson’s calculated response appeared to be critical of student participation.
“The board has been constituted for three years,” Nickerson responded. “I want to assure you that there’s been no attempt to silence anybody or to prevent them from having the opportunity to come speak with us. Again, the Board, meeting only 12 times in those three years values the opportunity to hear from people who do sign up and from yourselves.”
“I did attend the finance and administration committee meeting last week,” Nickerson continued. “And I don’t believe there were any students there who weren’t part of the process.”
After thanking Hererra and Laboff for being willing to step up into their new roles, another trustee took a softer approach by using praise.
“I appreciate everything you say about tuition and increases,” Trustee Christine Vernier said. “I really appreciate the fact that you’re lobbying because, really, the bottom line is we have to get more money nationally and from the state. Student voices are the best voices for them to hear; we’d go down and lobby too, but your voices are heard loud and clear down there, so thank you for doing that.”
Tuition increase concerns, presentations and vote
The next presentation was given by PSU Faculty Senate Presiding Officer Brad Hansen, who expressed concern about several bills currently making their way through the Oregon Legislature.
“I think if we have activism, it could be directed toward a governmental level, not this level,” Hansen said. Instead, he said, it should be aimed “at the legislature, or at the federal government to respect the needs of society to invest in higher education.”
Hansen is worried the bills will manifest themselves as a way for the state to micromanage PSU and other centers of higher learning in ways counterproductive to educational advancement.
“I wanted to end on a positive note,” Hansen stated. “I think we’re doing the best we can with what we have to work with and the faculty’s committed to that. I hope the board knows that, and I hope the students know that too.”
On a less positive note, Kevin Reynolds presented an audit that showed PSU’s 2017–18 budget at a $20 million deficit.
Reynolds noted that over the projected tuition increase cycle of six years, the budget will still be at a deficit but tuition will have gone up 50 percent. Irving Levin interjected that it appeared tuition would actually be raised roughly 66 percent.
Every two years is a biennium in BOT budget terms. The first year of a biennium sees a 9 percent tuition increase for resident students, the second year sees a 5 percent tuition increase. Nonresidents see a 5 percent increase every year for these six years.
The BOT then voted unanimously to raise tuition. Local news crews swarmed BOT Chair Nickerson.
Students dissent, PSUSU rallies
After the tuition increase news, most of the audience and news crews left.
Next, current Vice Chair Rick Miller was elected as new PSU BOT Chair and Gale Castillo as new vice chair of the BOT.
At 10:20 a.m. the PSU Student Union rally against tuition increase came to the BOT meeting, chanting from outside through the glass and stomping. Their voices were definitely heard by anyone blessed with the gift of hearing.
“We’re here, we’re broke, our education is not a joke,” rally participants chanted.
After the next break, the protesters entered the room respectfully and quietly, ate bagels and stood around quietly. There was one notable interaction between ASPSU Vice Presidential Candidate Donald Thompson III and newly elected BOT Chair Rick Miller.
“There is a fundamental disconnect with impoverished students,” Thompson asserted. “You ask us to see your side, but likewise if you are not listening to those students you do them a disservice. If someone has a different experience than you, you also need to listen to them.”
Before getting to the issue of tuition increase, the BOT heard comments from a student advocating $15 per hour for student workers.
“It’s sad that some of these workers struggle to make ends meet,” the attendee said, noting how some workers have to “utilize PSU’s food pantry to put food on their table and may even live out of their cars.”