Blame belongs on all parties in Higher One debacle

The fiasco over Portland State’s contract with Higher One continued this week as students finally began to receive their new ID cards. Some students activated the cards, some protested, Higher One declared the rollout a success and ASPSU and the university administration continued to battle over the contract.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the events that have unfolded over the past three months is that the group most neglected in every step of the process is the same group that everyone claims to be trying to serve: students.

Higher One has repeated displayed contempt for the students of PSU. They have made every step of the process from contract signing to development to rollout deliberately misleading and confusing.

Students who attempt to "activate" their new ID cards this week must navigate a web site filled with so many thinly veiled attempts to mislead them into activating a OneAccount it is appallingly absurd.

Higher One’s dealings with university administration have proved equally misleading.

The company assured the university that it would send representatives to host forums, answer questions and educate students about Higher One’s services. They did so only once.

The two days of forums in October were dominated by student concerns about Higher One’s services. At the forums, Mark Volcheck, the company’s chairman and chief financial officer was far from receptive to students’ needs. He didn’t even take notes.

In marketing meetings in September, Higher One representatives assured both PSU administrators and students that third party solicitations would not be sent to students. Yet in the very first round of card mailings, students received offers to buy sunglasses from Foster Grant.

Representatives of Higher One like to talk a lot about "choice," yet their actions hardly seem like those of an organization that is putting the needs and preferences of students first.

Higher One is not solely to blame in this mess, however.

Portland State’s administration needs to acknowledge it made a poorly researched, poorly thought out decision that will affect PSU students in a major way. Since the contract was announced administrators have repeatedly responded to student objections by saying, "it is not my decision to make."

Someone in the administration needs to step up, be honest and inclusive in engaging students, and be willing to make tough decisions.

Student government needs to seriously consider whose interests they really want to put first, the student body’s or their own. While their leadership on the fight against Higher One is commendable, they have continually damaged their own cause with many of their tactics.

If student government is serious about benefiting and leading students on this issue, it needs to focus on getting some progress made that actually benefits students, not trying to increase its clout.

Providing misleading information like the "94 percent higher fees" statistic only makes it easier for Higher One to marginalize its campaign. The flier campaign has become a nuisance and the juvenile personal attacks on President Daniel Bernstine and Higher One’s Volcheck only weaken its bargaining power.

Students have made it very clear what they want out of a financial aid system. They want a staff that cares about them and is empathetic to the struggles they face. They want their aid to be easily accessible. They want clearly explained disbursement options, and they want their choices respected.

Students at Portland State deserve a financial aid system they puts them first. Period. They deserve leadership that does the same.


Don’t redefine campus organizer

Portland State student government is currently experiencing a row between its legislative and executive branches over what seems an innocuous issue: a job description.

The job in question is that of campus organizer, which helps students successfully execute campaigns like the Higher One boycott.
The question is whether the Oregon Student Association (OSA), a non-profit lobbying group controlled by a student-run executive board, should maintain its hire and fire authority over the position, or whether that authority should be handed over to PSU administration.

The executive branch says that this move will provide more student control. That’s doubtful.

The position would be filled by the Office of Student Affairs, which is led by Vice Provost Douglas Samuels. The same office cancelled last year’s student government elections after failing to act on a civil rights violation which occurred earlier in the election.

The same office oversaw financial aid during the two worst processing seasons in recent memory (some students didn’t receive financial aid awards until after the term the money was intended to pay for).
It’s hard to imagine that an office that has a history of sluggishly responding to student concerns would be an ideal choice for oversight of such an important position within student government.

When student representatives are successful, they are capable of checking the administration’s intentions to override students’ wishes. At PSU, effective leadership enabled students to block an administrative urge to levy a 5-10 percent fee on every transaction that student groups made. At Oregon State University in Corvallis, effective student organization (with help from OSA) led the administration of OSU to keep the tuition plateau intact at that school, saving students thousands over the year.

It is important that organizers can advocate for action regardless of administrative intentions.

If student government redefines this position, organizers will lose that ability and the real losers will be students.