Budget, Sustainability Center, university governance discussed
Portland State was highlighted at the Oregon State Capitol building on Wednesday, Feb. 8, as politicians and PSU representatives spoke about key issues concerning the school.
“The general purpose of PSU Day is to let legislators know that Portland State University is alive and thriving,” said Wim Wiewel, university president.
Over the course of the day, many topics were covered, including state funding relating to Oregon’s higher education system, the Oregon Sustainability Center co-sponsored by PSU, and the new board of education institutional governance currently under discussion.
The state’s higher education budget was cut by approximately $35 million, which is 0.1 percent less than initial estimates. This is especially meaningful in terms of the Oregon Opportunity Grant program, which correlates directly to the education budget. With each full percentage point of budget reduction comes a loss of 600 Grant Awards for the school year, approximately 200 of which will come from PSU. Cutting a 10th of a percentage means that roughly 20 fewer PSU students will receive the Opportunity Grant for the 2012–13 academic year.
Still, the cuts were less than expected. PSU representatives were optimistic about this particular development but voiced an urgent need for budgetary change. Jacob Voegele, a political science major and PSU student ambassador, pointed out that despite the low percentage of cuts, the state still needs to tackle the budget shortfall. “They’re still going to have to find that $35 million someplace. You still have 20 PSU students now who can’t get the Opportunity Grant,” Voegele said.
One eye-opening comment regarding the state budget came from Senator Ginny Burdick, who pointed out that Oregon is “currently spending more money on prisons than on higher education.” She described this situation as “appalling,” and noted that higher education has had a wildly disproportionate burden in terms of budget cuts.
Richard Devlin, Senate co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee and a PSU alum, spoke at length regarding the budget issue and a possible way to fix it. He indicated that it might be time for the state to approach the idea of a “consumption” tax, which would be a variation of a sales tax. Oregon legislature has not seriously discussed a consumption tax since 1990. Devlin suggested that it might finally be time to revisit the plan, but he did not seem overly optimistic that such a proposal would pass into law.
Oregon legislators and PSU student representatives seemed more hopeful about the Oregon Sustainability Center. “The Oregon Sustainability Center will expand the engineering department, create many new opportunities for students, attract interest in sustainability, and even allow for a new lecture hall,” said Lauren Krueger, another PSU student ambassador.
There was opposition to the center among Oregon legislators. Representative Patrick Sheehan stated that “the Oregon Sustainability Project is the least sustainable project I’ve ever seen; they’re trying to build it with materials that haven’t even been invented yet.”
Other opposing viewpoints also tackled the fact that the center will cost $1 million per year to complete, although Voegele pointed out that the project has received $7 million in grants to provide adequate funding.
The issue of education institutional governance arose due to House Bill 4061, which proposes the formation of a special committee to create local school boards. PSU is in favor of looking into it but student representatives are leaning the other way.
“Currently, we have a 12-person board with two PSU faculty members and two PSU student representatives. The bill would create a 15-person board with one PSU faculty member and one PSU student representative,” said Tiffany Dollar, 25, ASPSU legislative affairs director. “Students have a lot of questions regarding local boards, because students might not have representation on them. There’s no evidence to prove that local boards are more effective.
According to Dollar, PSU student government has a firm opinion on the bill. “The official stance of ASPSU and the Oregon Student Association is that we oppose it,” Dollar said.
Despite the discouraging developments, some PSU students did have a positive, useful experience, thanks to the accessibility of Oregon legislators to share information and the numerous topics that were discussed.
“It’s a good way to reach out and meet new people,” said Dennis Taylor, 19, political science major. In his meeting with Senator Chip Shields, Taylor explained that he learned “how the Senate process works, how committees convene, and things to do if interning or volunteering for different committees.”
Some PSU students saw PSU Day at the Capitol as a way to impress upon state legislators the negative impact higher education cuts would cause. “I felt that it was important to participate in PSU Day because I am an Oregon Opportunity Grant recipient and know quite a few other people who are, and it would be terrible to see those go away,” said Alexis Davis, 21, political science major. “Overall, it was a really good experience and I encourage more students to do it in the future to help PSU and themselves.”