Student government tries to escape the past

Portland State’s student government has had a rocky past. Withthe last year shadowed by student protests during senate meetings,allegations of sexual harassment and racism and botched electionsthe Associated Students of PSU (ASPSU) have been left with a publicimage crisis this year.

“I know there’s not a lot of respect for ASPSU,” said currentASPSU president Christy Harper, adding that she knows students aretheir biggest critics.

Harper and Vice President Ryan Klute have headed ASPSU sinceMay, trying to bring renewed zeal to student government through anew staff and a renovated office.

The cubicles and new computers, along with an older staff, arepart of Harper and Klute’s aim to establish a more professionalwork environment.

Harper said she remains optimistic that that view will changebecause of what she calls “a strong, pro-active, self-motivatedteam.”

That team includes Tony Rasmussen, ASPSU’s new CommunicationsDirector. He’s currently working on a new website that will containprofiles, office hours, contact information and updates on issuesASPSU is working on.

“We’re so excited about this because [of] its extremetransparency of exactly what were doing and exactly why were doingit,” says Klute, “people can say, ‘Oh, that’s a great idea,’ or’No, that’s ridiculous,’ and then people can hold us accountable,and that’s what this organization needs.”

Their goal of accountability arose out of a mutual frustrationHarper and Klute had with their belief that many things weren’tgetting done last year. Klute says he was reminded of hisbackground with student government in high school, where manydecisions were made without student input.

“I was surprised that so many decisions were made about studentswithout including them,” he says.

Both Harper and Klute tout the importance of reaching out tostudents. They plan to have two town hall forums every quarterwhere students can attend as well as produce a quarterlynewsletter.

They continue to repeat what they promised when they wereelected, “we’re going to try really hard to educate the studentsand work hard to reach out to the students and to continue askingthem how we’re doing and what they think.”

During the summer they thought of issues they believed ASPSUshould work on, which ranged from keeping the library open 24 hoursto trying to get evaluations of professors online. But currentlythese issues have temporarily been put aside because of ASPSU’saction against Higher One, a controversial new student ID/debitcard program. Klute says that program went through an 18-monthprocess without any student input.

“It will be a good test to see how they’ve been operating,” saidJohn Wykoff, executive director of the Oregon Student Association,of the Higher One situation.

Whether or not Harper and Klute will react as quickly to othersituations they are faced with in the future is undetermined. Bothcritics and fans are interested in seeing if they can continue tokeep their motivation and optimism throughout the year.

Justin Myers, an ASPSU presidential candidate, says he’s lookingforward to seeing what they put their minds to.

He says Harper and Klute have a good staff and an effectiveenvironment, but the true test to their claim of the importance oflistening to students will be with their planned public forums.

“It will be a solid demonstration to how they’ll includestudents for the rest of the year.”