Greenlick meets with students to discuss merger

Oregon Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, met with Portland State students last night to promote his proposal to merge PSU with Oregon Health and Sciences University.

Greenlick said he believed that the new university would make Portland competitive on an international scale, giving it stature in the areas of scientific and technological research and development.

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.

Greeenlick rebuffed those concerns. “I love this university,” he said. “The merger will give us the ability to create a critical mass for excellence in research and education that can’t be created with the barriers in place now.”

Greenlick, an adjunct professor at both PSU and the OHSU for the past 40 years, introduced House Bill 2628 on Feb. 11, 2005. The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Linda Flores, R-Oregon City, would create a merger of PSU and OHSU over the next 12 years.

Greenlick and his supporters claim that the merger would create a fully integrated mega-university, which would bring research dollars and new companies into the regional economy.

“Both PSU and OHSU – traveling the same roads alone – have come a long way,” Greenlick said. “It’s clear to me over 40 years of involvement with both institutions that they must ultimately become one.”

“This won’t diminish either school,” continued Greenlick. “It will create a new school that’s stronger and more effective than either of them could become working alone.”

OHSU left the Oregon University System in 1995 to become a public corporation, but continues to coordinate its academic programs with the State Board of Higher Education.

Greenlick’s bill would also remove PSU from the university system and make it a public corporation. The board governing OHSU would then expand to oversee the new merging universities.

If the bill passes, July 2007 will see the beginning of a merger process that will end in 2017. At this time, however, there is no funding for the process and no one knows how the proposed merger would work.

Greenlick posed the same bill in 2003, only to have it fail.

“What’s different this time?” asked student government senator Anousa Sengsavanh.

“What’s different is that this time I have a lot of allies on both sides of the aisle,” said Greenlick. “I think it has a 30-40 percent chance of passing the House. If it doesn’t, I’ll be in the House for three or four more sessions. I’m going to get this passed before I’m done.”

When PSU student Emma Duncan asked whether there had been a study of the bill’s potential impact on tuition, Greenlick responded that there had not. “There’s no way to do one,” he said. “There’s no way to know what tuition’s going to be in 10 years.”

“My proposal won’t take away any money that’s already there,” he continued. “But I think it’s not enough money right now, and it’ll continue to not be enough. The proposed new university would be in a better position to get all kinds of funding, including soft money.”

Despite Greenlick’s optimism, both institution heads are known to oppose the merger. And at a meeting last week between Greenlick and PSU faculty and staff, many voiced concerns over faculty governance and funding issues.

“There’s enormous redundancy in the two current university administrations, “Greenlick said. “Two presidents, two provosts, two IT directors, two librarians, and so on down the list. The savings from eliminating that redundancy would go a long way toward reducing the initial impact of the merger.”

“The money saved could also be used to increase faculty salaries, which are deplorable at PSU,” Greenlick added.

“What if the merger fails?” Sengsavanh asked.

“I don’t think it will,” said Greenlick. “If it fails, the best thing to do would be to split back into two separate institutions. Life is uncertain. But I think this plan has the greatest likelihood of increasing the certainty of success. Of course, that’s one man’s opinion.”

“With 40 years of my lifeblood in these two universities, I think I have a unique insight into their future,” said Greenlick.

He even suggested a new mascot: “a Viking, with a white lab coat and stethoscope.”

“Suspend disbelief for a moment,” he continued. “Imagine what could be. If you accept that you’d like this university, of which you’ll one day be an alum, to become even stronger, ask whether you can find any other way for it to get there. If you can’t, join me in vision to move this university into the future.”