The past school year has been rife with controversy and transition as Portland State coped with a large budget deficit, shifts in personnel and constant conflict between student government and the administration. The year ahead leaves many questions for the university to deal with, including resolving serious budget issues.
In June 2005, just weeks after taking office, student body Vice President-elect Molly Woon resigned from her position due to a conflict with her graduate assistantship. Woon said that her job as a research assistant in the political science department would conflict with her position in the Associated Students of Portland State University.
Woon told ASPSU President Erin Devaney that she had to quit in early June and submitted a formal letter of resignation on June 20. Devaney appointed Sa’eed Haji as vice president, and he was confirmed by the student senate on July 22.
Student government would again be rocked in late October by the resignation of a key member when Tina Cooper ended her four-month tenure as Student Fee Committee chair after fellow committee members accused her of failing in her duties.
Cooper, who ran unopposed, had a bitter relationship with her fellow committee members, especially Adas Lis, who filed the complaint with the Judicial Board that led to Cooper’s resignation.
After a week with no chairperson, the SFC elected Vice Chair Katie Wylie as committee chair in early November. The committee elected Lis to fill the vice-chair position and operated with two open spots for weeks until new members were appointed.
Rumors of a possible faculty strike began to fly in October as the PSU chapter of American Association of University Professors, the union that represents most of Portland State’s faculty, entered the final rounds of contract negotiations with the university administration. The union members, who had not received a raise since 2003 and are paid in the lowest 10 percent of their peers, said the university’s initial offer of an immediate 3 percent raise followed by a 2.25 percent hike the next year was too low. A faculty walk-off was averted, however, when the union accepted a deal for a 5 percent immediate raise with an additional 3 percent raise the next year.
Amid Cooper’s resignation, momentum was also growing for a special election to amend the ASPSU constitution. The amendments were largely designed to provide more oversight to the SFC and clarify the committee’s guidelines. Three amendments eventually made the ballot.
Before students were allowed to vote, the Judicial Board quashed the special election after receiving advice from PSU legal counsel Kelly Gabliks. Another chance to put the amendments on the general elections ballot at the end of winter term also failed.
“This is a big legal mess,” Justice Matt Wallace said after the special election was cancelled.
The special election would not be the last time the administration intervened in student government process. In late April, President Daniel Bernstine returned the student fee budget to the Student Fee Committee and requested that the SFC re-examine budgets that were raised or lowered by more than 25 percent, claiming the committee did not follow its own guidelines. The committee’s total budget required a $30 per term increase in student fees.
Student leaders mobilized immediately after Bernstine returned the budget. Student body President-elect
Every SFC member except Mario Campbell signed a letter stating that they would refuse to re-vote on the returned budgets. Chief Justice Godfrey also wrote a four-page letter to President Bernstine that argued that the Judicial Board had the right to declare the 25 percent rule unconstitutional.
Bernstine then gave the SFC an ultimatum: change the affected budgets or the president would alter them as he saw fit.
After exploring numerous options, including reopening all student group budgets to discussion, the committee eventually decided to re-vote and approve each budget in question with a three-quarters majority.
Outside of student government, the university dealt with its own budget crisis. Portland State faced $3 million in net budget cuts, with each department asked to cut up to 6 percent from their 2006-07 budgets.
Faculty and staff worried about job security due to the diminishing availability of funds within each department. PSU employees participated in two meetings where they voiced frustration and concern with the budget and job security, which eventually helped force minor alterations to the budget proposal.
The library was hit with a proposed $389,400 in cuts to its $9.5 million budget. The proposal would eliminate one staff position, along with some materials and other acquisitions.
The Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science would also suffer a position loss due to the proposed $378,000 in cuts to its nearly $15 million budget. Reductions in equipment funds could also occur, which Dean Robert Dryden said would substantially limit the college.
In early March the tightening budget took its toll on the Residence Life program, which provides residence assistants to all on-campus housing, including the Ondine and Broadway buildings. Auxiliary Services initially planned on cutting the program’s budget by $300,000, potentially crippling the program just three years into its existence.
A series of meetings where students voiced their concerns to Auxiliary Services Director Julie North and Assistant Director Jon Eckman proved fruitless. On the eve of the final budget decision, a small group of enraged students sent a message by blanketing the Auxiliary Services office wall in the Ondine with pink slips decrying cuts to the Residence Life program.
The five students, who wish to remain anonymous, also left a large poster that depicted Eckman, North and Vice President for Finance and Administration Lindsay Desrochers as clueless monkeys sitting on piles of money. The poster featured the slogan “Let knowledge serve the greedy.”
“This is the last resort,” one participant said. “We want them to commit to Res Life.”
Just days later it was announced that though the program would lose two staff positions, its budget would actually be increased from $822,000 to around $890,000. No administrators have said there is a direct correlation between the student protests and the final budget allocation, but it was a welcome surprise to Residence Life faculty and students.
“The situation turned out as best as possible,” Don Yackley, director of Residence Life, said at the time.
In the fall of 2007, Portland State students will have the option to be enrolled at PSU and four area community colleges simultaneously as the university tries to cope with the rapidly growing trend of dual-enrolled and non-traditional students.
The concept for a coalition of local colleges, now called the Portland Area Higher Education Consortium, began in 2003 when PSU President Bernstine met with presidents from Clackamas Community College, Portland Community College, Chemeketa Community College and Mt. Hood Community College to discuss the possibility.
The new program would eventually feature a universal ID card, a single financial aid package, a single application and registration process and the alignment of courses and academic policies among the participant intuitions.