Professors protest low pay

The confrontation over Portland State professor salaries continued on Friday when over 50 faculty members packed into a meeting of the Board of Higher Education and protested the board’s decision to use outdated enrollment figures for budget allocation.


Members of the American Association of University Professors demanded fair treatment and pay raises while board members insisted the use of the outdated figures was “not the decision” of the board but the state legislature.


Actions by the teacher’s union stretch back over the fall term with protests at a Faculty Senate meeting and a demonstration on the steps of the library. The teachers are demanding more pay after a two-year statewide wage freeze was lifted this summer.


“Portland State deserves the resources to pay its faculty,” said Martha Hickey, vice president of collective bargaining for the AAUP at Portland State and an associate professor in the foreign languages and literature department.


According to Hickey, over 500 professors at Portland State receive less than $50,000 a year, a direct result, she says, of “the failure of the governor and legislature to act.”


Tim Nesbitt, a member of the board,  said it was not a failure to act, but an action to shift money to smaller schools that were either not growing or experiencing dropping enrollment figures. Nesbitt said the legislators were aware that using outdated enrollment figures would hurt Portland State while helping smaller schools.


This opinion was echoed by George Pernsteiner, the chancellor of the board, in a recent interview with the Oregonian. In the article, he said the legislature made the decision to protect the four smallest schools in the system.


Portland State accounts for over 30 percent of the students in the Oregon University System, with 25,000 students. The four schools experiencing enrollment decline or no gain make up 20 percent of OUS students with fewer than 17,000 collectively.


A unanimous decision by the board to use the outdated figures for this year’s budget was merely acceptance of the legislature’s decision, Nesbitt said. He pointed to the board’s request to state congress for money to provide growth in the 2005-06 budget. The request was denied.

The presidents of Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, among others, attended the meeting. Portland State President Daniel Bernstine was not in attendance. Vice President and Provost of Academic Affairs Roy Koch sat in his stead.

When asked what he thought of the use of outdated figures, he said, “The facts are what they are – you need to talk to the legislature.”


Also in attendance was Pete Sorenson, an ex-state senator who is now attempting to unseat Ted Kulongoski and obtain the Democratic nomination for governor. He said the issue basically came down to “allocating money where the need is.”


He blamed corporations for the lack of money in the state’s general fund, which is where university system’s budget money comes from. He said two-thirds of large corporations do not pay taxes at all in Oregon, affecting accessibility and quality at Oregon’s public institutions. He went on to reject the choice between access and quality, stating that both are achievable goals.

The board heard many other issues at Friday’s meeting. The other issue that brought advocates to Portland State was U of O’s proposal to sell a piece of land that students are currently living on in resident housing, many of them international graduate students. The property also contains one of three university daycare centers.


While the idea is still in an informal stage, U of O President Frohnmayer was very supportive of selling the property. Many students made the trip from Eugene to speak their minds.


Bing Li, an economics major at U of O, organized the student action at the meeting. As she spoke, she became visibly choked up when she asked who would help take care of the children and help the international students finish their schooling.


When Frohnmayer went to respond, Julian Catchen, a graduate student in computer science, stood up and demanded that Frohnmayer “tell the truth.” The president of the board called for order.


At the board meeting, Mark Nelson of the Association of Oregon Faculty, a lobbying group that represents faculty before the state legislature, spoke on behalf of the professors. “Every state employee in this state except teachers” will receive a raise, he said.