Student Action Coalition aims to revolutionize PSU

With plans for a safer campus, tuition freezes and a student union, the Student Action Coalition is on a mission to empower Portland State students.

Founded in June of 2012, StAC began with a small group of students seeking direct solutions to issues they found to be impinging on the social rights of students. With efforts focused on giving presentations on the student debt crisis and helping campaign to save Chiron Studies, several of StAC’s actions made headlines, including a 70-person march into Provost Sona Andrews’ office last spring in an effort to ensure a future for Chiron Studies.

“On two separate occasions in May, students filled the Provost’s office and made it clear that they are willing to engage administrations directly rather than allowing this struggle to get bogged down and lost in bureaucratic channels,” Chiron Studies committee member and coordinator Rozzell Medina said. “There are a great many students and faculty members who want the opportunities offered by Chiron Studies, and it made me happy that students were willing to organize and demand to be heard by the administration.”

Now, as the organization heads into its second academic year, StAC is moving forward with a new campaign and goals for sweeping change at PSU.

As a means of broadcasting its intentions to a greater audience, StAC has written a petition that outlines its goals for the 2013-2014 academic year. Titled “The Campus Safety & Fairness Petition,” StAC’s entreaty forms the basis of a campaign aimed at supporting embroiled faculty unions and building “a safe, affordable and democratic campus” for students.

According to Cameron Frank, a student organizer for StAC, one of the group’s foremost concerns for student safety is the administration’s push to deputize Campus Public Safety officers as a response to increased concern over incidents of sexual assault and weapons on campus.

Under the deputization process, CPSO officers would receive police officer training through the state of Oregon and be allowed to carry firearms on campus. According to PSU’s division of Finance and Administration, the process would cost at least $2 million, with 80 percent of funds coming from student tuition.

“Deputization is something that we can’t really afford when we’ve just seen another tuition hike,” Frank said. “3.5 percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you do the math, that’s three months of groceries. Not only can students not afford this deputization, it could very possibly do more harm than good.”

Last spring, a survey by the Associated Students of Portland State University revealed a student body divided on the issue of turning CPSO into a sworn police force, with 34 percent of respondents opposed to the idea and 36 percent in favor.

Several of StAC’s proposed alternative campus safety improvements are in step with suggestions made by students in the ASPSU survey, including more emergency call boxes and increased student oversight of CPSO.

“StAC’s stance is that there are much better ways to tackle this problem,” Frank said. “There’s no shortage of creative and inexpensive alternatives to policing that are completely possible to implement.”

The organization wants to improve campus safety through four different solutions. By spring term of 2014, “StAC would like to see a measurable improvement of lighting on campus, a doubling of the amount of emergency call boxes on campus, and a task force to research, design and implement a work-study safe-walk program,” Frank said.

A fourth solution would seek to grant the student body more agency over CPSO.

“What we would like to see is the Office of the President and the Board of Trustees sign a public oath stating that they will not deputize CPSO without a student majority vote,” Frank said, “and in the case of such a majority vote, that ASPSU would be equipped with the appropriate resources to carry it out.”

With agency in mind, another component of StAC’s petition seeks to achieve better contracts for faculty.

In April of this year, PSU President Wim Wiewel convened the Task Force on Campus Safety, created to address concerns of public safety on campus. The task force us made up of PSU faculty, staff, students and community members.

“…in the Fall, I would ask the TFCS to share its preliminary finding and recommendations with the same stakeholder groups it interviewed at the start of this process, for feedback and reaction,” Wiewel said in a memo to the PSU community.

By Nov. 1, the TFCS will provide recommendations based on their findings.

With agency in mind, another component of StAC’s petition seeks to achieve better contracts for faculty.

“We would like to see [PSU’s chapter of] the American Association of University Professors and the Portland State University Faculty Association—the faculty and adjunct faculty unions—have a mutually acceptable contract,” Frank said. “The way we see it, our teachers’ working conditions directly translate into our learning conditions. The current situation leads to abysmal job security, and eventually translates into the way faculty are able to perform in the classroom and meet the needs of their students.”

According to StAC’s point of view, optimizing every available resource to students is critical. In addition to improving economic fairness for teachers, StAC’s petition is seeking to achieve a tuition freeze for in-state, out-of-state and international students at PSU.

“There’s clearly a funding crisis for higher education,”  Frank said. “Because of the cost and fear of debt, students now are being forced to ask themselves if [college] is even something they want to do. We’re at the absolute breaking point for so many students.”

According to The Oregonian, undergraduate tuition rose by as much as 11 percent in each of the past six years, with PSU’s resident undergraduate tuition increasing from just over $5,000 in 2006 to $6,615 in 2013. StAC intends to demand that PSU’s new institutional board enact the tuition freeze.

“The board will be setting tuition, and they have the power to freeze it,” Frank said. “We just have to unite as students and convince them to do it.”

As a means to help unite students, StAC is working to start a student union, Portland State University Student Union.

“We’re going to be outreaching around this petition by asking students to sign onto it,” Frank said. “And, in doing so, they’ll be counted as a member of PSUSU.”

StAC envisions PSUSU as a manifestation and expression of student will, and a horizontal means for students to voice and act on issues of concern.

“Fundamentally, what the student union is about is the democratization of the decision-making process of the university,”  Frank said. “Unless students have a say in determining our collective fate, we’re essentially doomed.”

As proponents of direct democracy, StAC encourages students to act as their own representatives, but does not seek to replace ASPSU.

“The student union wouldn’t be an alternative to student government,” Frank said. “It would be a parallel and complimentary power structure to student government–a place where we can come together and decide on the appropriate course of action for the university.”

In addition to working together on collective bargaining for PSU faculty, StAC intends to partner with ASPSU for several activities, including going to classrooms and dining halls to talk directly to students.

“We think it’s really important that as many students as possible get involved with this, Frank said. “Ultimately, that’s going to be the source of our collective power.”

PSUSU will hold its first general assembly on Friday, October 18th, and will feature briefings from faculty and concerned students on issues of working conditions and campus safety, as well as discussions about the trajectory of the university regarding privatization, austerity, and the student-administration relationship.

For more information, including how to become a member and where to sign StAC’s petition, email [email protected]. StAC’s website,, is in the process of being constructed.