PSU on the hill?

Many Portland State faculty members said they still need more information about a proposed merger between the university and Oregon Health Science University at a faculty senate meeting about the plan yesterday.

Since Rep. Mitch Greenlick introduced the bill to the House of Representatives proposing the merger this winter, most voices from PSU and OHSU on the issue have come out against the plan. The administrations of both institutions oppose it, including President Daniel Bernstine, Interim Provost Michael Reardon and incoming Provost Roy Koch.

The bill would remove PSU from the Oregon University System starting July 2007 and place it under an expanded version of the corporate board that oversees OHSU. The two schools would then have 10 years to merge into one entity.

Integrating the two schools would give the universities economies of scale and boost PSU’s national rankings, Greenlick and other supporters say. That image boost would attract business to Portland, he argues.

"The future of the metropolitan area depends on this university which can’t get ranked in the same class as University of Wyoming," he said.

Biology professor Larry Crawshaw has become the unofficial spokesperson for the bill’s supporters among the faculty. About 85 percent of his department supports the idea, Crawshaw estimated.

"I don’t necessarily support this bill," he told the faculty. "I support the concept. If there’s anything we can do to raise the stature of Portland State, we should consider it."

Opponents of the bill at PSU have criticized the legislators’ lip service to improving education without committing state funds, saying the merger would be expensive.

"The question is how do we do all this in an environment of limited funding and still do all the restructuring necessary," Assistant to the President Debbie Murdoch said. If legislators really want to raise national status, she added, they need to look at providing financial support.

Both Crawshaw and Public Health professor Sherril Gelmon, a longtime colleague of Greenlick, cited previous mergers and breakups of medical schools and universities, looking for likely outcomes for a PSU-OHSU merger.

Virginia Commonwealth University, Greenlick’s poster child of successful mergers, dropped from 40th to 60th in the nation for grants from the National Institute of Health, Gelmon said.

But when an Illinois university merged with a medical school, their grant money doubled in four years, Crawshaw said.

Greenlick said he had asked for permission but was discouraged from attending the forum.

"I haven’t been able to meet with the faculty. I would’ve thought [Tuesday] would be a prime time," Greenlick said.

Because the bill is still in process, relatively few members of the PSU community have followed the debate closely. Greenlick introduced the same idea as House Bill 2628 during his freshman session two years ago. The bill was still in committee when the legislature adjourned.

The new bill is currently sitting in the House Education Committee. Greenlick expects the bill to pass committee easily. Three of the seven committee members – Chair Linda Flores, Vice Chair John Dallum and member Steve March – endorsed the bill before hearing testimony. From there, it may be referred to Ways and Means before getting a House vote.

When and if the bill becomes more concrete, students should pay attention, student government Vice President-Elect Molly Woon said.

"The reality is if this were to happen, it would change so much about PSU. There are so many uncertainties," Woon said. "But it seems like it’s very much in a conceptual phase right now."

Greenlick will be on campus to talk to students about the merger Wednesday, April 6. The discussion will start at 5 p.m. in Parkway North. Faculty members are welcome to attend.

To view the text of the bill, visit and search for House Bill 2560.