The 1960s saw a period of marked social and political change in the U.S. This high tide of activism and civic engagement was not missed at Portland State where, in 1968, PSU students and faculty founded Chiron Studies. Today, the need for wide-ranging involvement is just as high as the time of its founding. This time however, it’s not to build a program, but to save one.
One of the longest-running programs at PSU, Chiron Studies has sought to put a spin on the classic approach to higher education. Courses are not taught in the traditional teacher-led class style. Rather, students design a program where they can create and teach their own courses, providing a space for student empowerment and the exchange of cultural perspective.
Earlier on, Chiron Studies was funded by student fees. Later, the program started receiving its funding through the Office of Academic
Affairs. That was until December of 2012. During a series of campus-wide budget cuts, PSU administrators chose to defund Chiron Studies by 100 percent.“This left former Chiron Studies coordinator, Rozzell Medina, and the Chiron Studies Committee in a very challenging position,” said Carolyn White, a Chiron Studies committee member and graduate student of public administration. “Either we allow an innovative and successful 46-year-old program to vanish overnight, or we work without compensation to keep it alive. We chose the latter.”
And so, throughout the rest of the 2012–2013 academic year, the program operated on a volunteer basis. In the past, student-instructors would receive a stipend to help pay for class materials. Since the budget decision in December, however, all funds have been coming out of their own pockets.
“During the 2011–2012 academic year our budget was a mere $25,000, but we also had an office and access to a copy machine. And that year, with those modest resources, our classes still generated around $125,000 in tuition,” Medina said. “Now, operating without a budget at all, it’s a different story.”
Chiron Studies held 12 classes during spring term 2013.
“According to our data, we enrolled 138 students in those [spring term] classes and generated around $77,500 in tuition revenue not including fees for the university,” Medina said.
According to Medina, this was the first term in Chiron Studies’ history when the instructors and coordinator were not compensated.
“[This is] despite the fact that the previous year, we enrolled 223 students and generated approximately $123,400 in tuition revenue,” Medina said. “These numbers are based on enrollment data and real tuition figures.”
Medina said instructors refused to teach this term due to lack of compensation.
“[There will be] no Chiron classes this term because we refuse to work for free any longer,” Medina said.
In spite of the dilemma, Chiron Studies has sought to find a new source of funding. Talks are currently underway for the possible integration of Chiron Studies into University Studies.
“I feel confident that the Chiron Studies program can find a home within UNST,” White said. “However, for this to be effective, the university will have to provide UNST with the funds to support Chiron Studies.”
Budgetary concerns, however, might only be a part of the reason Chiron Studies was defunded.
“Part of the challenge with Chiron was that it wasn’t connected with an academic unit,” said Yves Labissiere, interim director of University Studies and associate professor for the School of Community Health. “This made the program vulnerable.”
Labissiere went on to explain that the conversation around Chiron’s budget may have started off on the wrong foot. The curricular function that Chiron Studies serves also needs to be addressed. Matters of curricular oversight and fulfillment of its functions could use a rehash, and this may be the perfect opportunity for this to occur.
Talks on integrating Chiron Studies into UNST are still in the early stages. The hope is to preserve the best aspects of the program while adjusting the curricular gaps that may exist.
“What Chiron symbolizes I think really belongs in this university,” Labissiere said. “We want to do it so it’s sustainable.”
Support for the program has been strong among students and some faculty, who have put on demonstrations and petition signings. While this support is welcomed, White and Medina stressed the importance of further student involvement. Their desire is for more students and faculty to join in on committee meetings, which will be held throughout the term.
“It would be really sad if PSU students no longer had access to this opportunity,” Medina said. “Every year, numerous students tell me that their involvement in Chiron Studies was among their most powerful and transformative experiences at PSU. It really is a very unique program, and it puts into practice so many of the theories that we know can improve education.”