From Marquam Hill to the Park Blocks

Collaboration is a key component to most academic research—the hours are long and the expertise needed is complex.

Collaboration is a key component to most academic research—the hours are long and the expertise needed is complex.

Administrators, faculty, staff and students at Portland State and Oregon Health and Science University recently established a joint task force of 18 members representing academic, research and administrative constituencies. The committee is charged with the task of identifying and analyzing options for a closer collaboration between the two universities.

Though the task force was established in October 2009, the idea of the two campuses working closely has been around since at least 2003, when Rep. Mitch Greenlick put forth a measure suggesting a merger for PSU and OHSU.

The idea received little support at the time. However, Greenlick tried again during the 2005, 2007 and 2009 legislative sessions. At the 2009 session, the bill did not pass in the House, but it lead to a discussion between PSU President Wim Wiewel and OHSU President Joe Robertson.

“A lot has changed since [2003],” said Roy Koch, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “We have two new presidents who both see that since the two universities are located in Portland, and have complementary academic programs to each other, there’s a potential for benefits to do things together that we might not be able to do individually.”

Koch said that in the past, research programs at PSU were not as strong as they are now and that over the years, PSU’s area of focus has become similar to OHSU’s. Koch points to the newly established MBA in Health Care, a joint program between PSU and OHSU as an example of the colliding missions of the two universities.

Sean Green, PSU’s student representative on the task force who is working towards a master’s in public administration, said collaboration has little to do with saving money, pointing to a 2007 report commissioned by the Oregon University System showing that even if the two schools were to merge, there would be no monetary savings.

Green said the group will look at a variety of ways for the two universities to work together, but not necessarily to merge into one institution, as originally proposed by Greenlick.

 “Some examples of increased collaboration include offering more degrees and more classes, and more access to research and internship opportunities for students,” Green said.

For instance, OHSU graduate students may want the opportunity to have an assistant teaching position at PSU, Green said.

Rachel Pilliod, student representative on the task force for OHSU, said a merger is at the far end of the range of options they’re looking at.

 “There’s a potential to make the [graduate program process] simpler,” Pilliod said. “For example, we can make it easier for doctoral or Ph.D. students to transfer their credits from PSU to OHSU instead of having to go through two academic review boards in both schools.”

One of the challenges in creating a joint academic program between the two universities is determining the tuition rate, as the two universities have different funding systems. PSU relies more on state support than OHSU and, on average, OHSU students pay more for tuition than PSU students.

Green wondered whether a student taking a joint program will pay OHSU tuition rates or PSU rates.

“Tuition is one of the problems,” Koch said. “For the joint MBA in health care program, the tuition was set at a rate that is not as high as an OHSU program but higher than a PSU program, so it’s somewhere in between.”

According to the program’s Web site, students in the program pay $525 per credit for a total of $40,000 upon completion.

Koch said PSU also has another joint graduate program with OHSU in systems science, in which a student can complete three years of study at PSU and two years at OHSU and receive a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from PSU and a Master of Science degree in bioinformatics from OHSU.

 “There may be a potential for more shared or joint programs, but we need to work out the tuition issue,” Koch said.

Pilliod said successful collaboration will also be needed to preserve each institution’s identity.

 “Branding is a big issue, because the two universities have very strong and unique missions,” Pilliod said. “PSU has a strong stakehold in the city, it’s seen as an access point, the student body is much larger and different than OHSU. We want to make sure that what’s coming out of that is a stronger brand than each of its parts individually.”

Green said the task force is working to deliver their report on the potential for closer collaboration with OHSU to the president of the two universities in June.

Current PSU and OHSU partnerships
Portland Research and Education Network:
A high-speed, metropolitan-area network connecting the universities to the national research network, Internet2.

Public Safety:
PSU’s Campus Public Safety Office and the OHSU security office have a pending mutual-aid pact to provide backup support for each other.

South Waterfront Life Sciences Complex:
An estimated $200 million project that, upon completion, will house bioscience research and instructional facilities for five universities with PSU and OHSU as leading partners.

MBA in health care:
Offering in-person and online-learning, the three-year program requires students to establish residencies at OHSU.

Master of Public Health:
A joint program between PSU, OHSU and Oregon State University, students can take courses in any of the three campuses, ranked second in the nation for community health by U.S. News & World Report in 2003.

System Science Graduate Program:
Students can receive a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from PSU and a Master of Science degree in bioinformatics from OHSU after five years