New provost Koch aims “to think beyond campus”

With morning sunlight spilling down on the Park Blocks outside of his new office window, Roy Koch (pronounced “cook”), who took over as the provost at Portland State on July 5, exuded energy and enthusiasm.

The provost’s job, among other things, is to set and achieve the university’s academic policies, promote campus diversity, and strengthen research and community involvement at Portland State.

“I have a long history at PSU,” said Koch. “I understand the way the institution works. I know a lot of the people. I’ve experienced the challenges that the faculty and students face. I can help them address some of those issues.”

Koch joined the faculty in 1982 as an assistant professor of civil engineering and has taught at Portland State since, most recently with joint positions in civil and environmental engineering and environmental science. For the past six years he has headed the department of environmental science.

Koch also served as vice provost of research and dean of graduate studies at Portland State University from 1992-1997, under then-provost Michael Reardon.

Although just settling into his new position, Koch said that there were a few issues that he would be tackling immediately, and explained that he would be meeting with the deans to establish short and long-term priorities for the academic year.

“We’re all kind of heading in the same direction,” he said. “We need to energize the faculty and staff. We need to figure out how to serve the demand for growth while dealing with ongoing funding decreases.”

Koch then addressed the need to respond to Portland State’s growth. “Our size puts stress on every part of the system, and it affects the students: class size, when and where we hold classes, who teaches, support services, admission, parking, all of that.”

According to Koch, space is a significant problem – literally, where to hold classes. “It’s difficult to add classes when there aren’t any classrooms available,” he said. “We need to create new ways to offer the classes we have.”

Koch said that one way the university may meet these challenges is by expanding its offering of online classes. He also described a potential collaboration with area community colleges, which he said has more space than PSU.

“We’re trying to think ‘beyond campus,’ examining relationships that might benefit students and faculty at both Portland State and the local community colleges,” he said.

Koch mentioned parking as another space-related problem. “Everyone who can should ride TriMet,” suggested Koch, who takes TriMet approximately 90 percent of the time.

The provost position was opened to a national search in the summer of 2004. Koch said he was never looking to take the job, but that it became available. “It seemed like a good match.”

Koch rose quickly through the selection process. Of the five finalists, he was the only one from within Portland State.

As provost, Koch’s full title is provost and vice president of academic affairs. He is one of three people – the others being the vice president of finance and administration, and the vice president of university relations – who report directly to President Daniel Bernstine.

As the interview came to a close, Koch sat back in his chair and became reflective.

“My whole objective is to make it better and easier for the faculty to teach and the students to learn,” he said. “There are a tremendous number of administrative things that students and faculty have to work with. I want to make sure that those things – the things you don’t think about, that make it difficult for faculty and students and grads – I want to make sure that those things work.”