Mr. President’s word

From his arrival in August to his inauguration today, Portland State President Wim Wiewel has had a fast-paced and busy first eight months in office. He has made more public appearances than he cares to remember, infused the university with a new sense of energy and has nailed down a few venerable accomplishments along the way.

From his arrival in August to his inauguration today, Portland State President Wim Wiewel has had a fast-paced and busy first eight months in office.

He has made more public appearances than he cares to remember, infused the university with a new sense of energy and has nailed down a few venerable accomplishments along the way.

Earlier this week the president took a few minutes to sit down with the Vanguard and discuss the details of his first year at Portland State.

What have been your top accomplishments in the first part of your term at Portland State?
I like to think that the top accomplishment has been making people feel reinvigorated in their enthusiasm about Portland State. There are many people here who have been committed to the university for a long time but you regularly need a new boost to become a true believer.

Some of the other more specific things that I feel really good about during this past year are that I think I have created a new culture of transparency and communication. Both about things like the budget process and my relationship with [the Vanguard] to try to share as much information as I have at any one point, so that people know what is going on.

The second specific thing is, of course, the Miller Grant for sustainability, which was significantly in the works before I came, but it was obviously a collective achievement.

Other things I am very pleased about is that we have created the joint task force with Portland Public Schools, and you’ll be seeing a lot more strategic activity with Portland Public Schools in the years ahead.

The other thing I’m very excited about is we have a good plan for expanding our online learning activities, which was a high priority for me. We had one of our MBA teams do really a bang-up job, and that allows us to move ahead with that pretty quickly—to expand our online offerings.

Another that I would like to add is that we are now in final negotiations with the developer to build the next student housing project. To me, that’s a very high priority, so I am pleased with that.

How are the economic conditions affecting the goals you have in mind for the university?
Inevitably it slows things down a bit, because if the next biennium had given us a similar boost in funding that the current biennium did, we would have been able to make more progress on doing things like hiring more advisors to help with student retention and provide more funding to help faculty get more research grants. Those things would help us with our key goals of retention and building a greater research capacity.

But they also just make us achieve our goals in slightly different ways. I might not have emphasized the partnerships quite as much. It’s because we just don’t get the money from the state that I have to look for other places to identify resources. And, actually, in the long run, I think that will be a very good thing.

How are you adjusting to being a Portlander?
Oh, I love it. I’ve got to say that I find all the talk about the bad weather here greatly exaggerated. If this is what it’s like, I’m happy to sign on. It’s actually the best weather of any place I have ever lived. It’s better than Amsterdam. It’s better than Chicago. It’s better than Washington and Baltimore.

I love the civic commitment that this place has. The number of people that chose to be here and who clearly deeply care about and who together work continually to keep it a great place to live.

What’s been the most challenging part of the job so far?
No doubt it is the fact that I knew funding for higher education was bad here, and of course that’s been aggravated by the global recession. This institution is grossly underfunded compared to the other universities I’ve been at. It has much less money per student to do its job, it’s doing an amazing job with the limited amount of resources it has, but it takes its toll in almost every aspect of the institution

Did anything unfold in a way you hadn’t expected?

What I had not expected was the enthusiasm of the people in the institution and the receptivity of people outside of the institution to Portland State people stepping up and playing a greater role. People really love this place and they show that in how enthusiastically they have responded to my coming in.

That has been wonderfully energizing, it’s made it tremendous fun. All these people that I’m meeting, I can’t always remember them all, but what a wonderful opportunity to meet so many different people and learn about their lives and their connections to this institution and this community.

Have there been any big surprises on the job?
The funding being worse than I could even have imagined, but the people’s enthusiasm, energy and commitment has been far greater than I had ever anticipated.

That’s real money in the bank, and that really matters, so that’s why on May 18 we are going to have a retreat with leadership of the campus just to talk about what are we going to do substantively next year, we are not going to talk about money at all.

Almost all of us are still going to be here, and we are going to be doing things all day, and it matters what we do, the fact that we don’t have as much money as we wish doesn’t change the fact that were are still going to be productive for all those hours every day and we have choices to make about the priority of duties

What will year two look like?

Year two will see lots of implementation. We will continue to do lots of planning, but there will also be lots of implementation. You will see a major new initiative related to K-12, you will see expansions of partnerships with lots of other organizations in the city, companies, not for profits, governmental, you will see this growth in online education.

Anything you plan to do differently next year?
Next year I will have to focus less on being the cheerleader and more at focusing on execution and implementation. I feel this first year has been big in terms of waiving the flag, letting the world know were here, making people again feel great about being here at PSU and about the fact that PSU is here, but the next step is to then do the things that go with that.

What is your long-term vision for the university?

A major urban research university that is known globally for its expertise in sustainability, and that is seen as a major part of the regional economy and culture.

All it takes is time and work and a little bit of money.