Students demand: ‘break the contract’

Over 200 students stormed President Daniel Bernstine’s office Tuesday to demand an end to Portland State’s contract with Higher One, the Connecticut-based company that issued new student IDs this week and will take over all future financial aid disbursements.

Boycott organizers’ main concerns were that Portland State released the personal information of students to Higher One without their consent and that the school will profit from the debit card feature on the new IDs.

Students clogged the President’s office and spilled into the outside hallway chanting "break the contract" after a boycott rally in the Park Blocks. Once in the outer office, the protesters yelled Bernstine’s name until he emerged to speak to them.

"I don’t have the authority to just break the contract," Bernstine told the crowd.

Responding to the crowd’s demand that a meeting be held about the issue immediately, Bernstine took ASPSU President Christy Harper and Vice President Ryan Klute into his office to discuss the terms of the contract.

"There is nothing solid I can tell you," Harper said when they emerged, "but that President Bernstine has agreed to come to the table to talk about this."

"We will resolve this matter one way or another," Bernstine said. "I have to make a decision that is beneficial for all PSU students." He will not make a decision, he said, until he has had a chance to sit down with Harper and Klute.

A meeting is planned on Dec. 2, Harper said, but no time was announced.

Bernstine announced that the meeting would be private and open to student government representatives only, and in response, several students in the crowd demanded a public forum. Bernstine said that he would not come to a decision at a public meeting.

In a letter released yesterday from Harper and Klute to Bernstine, they demanded that the meeting include several members of the administration, "at least five students," including themselves, Tony Rasmussen, the student government communications director, and two other students.

The letter also called for a "clear written statement" from Bernstine regarding whether or not the contract will be terminated.

"There are many students who do want this [new student ID]," Bernstine said. "I’m not going to make a decision with all of you sitting in my office."

If the demands of boycott are not met, "this boycott will intensify," said Rasmussen. "We are serious about the termination of this contract."

Tuesday was a student group-led "Day of Action" against Higher One in which students wishing to boycott the program were encouraged to abandon their classes and rally in the Park Blocks.

Several students cut up their ID cards in protest, destroying them completely, while others punched holes in the MasterCard logo.

After hearing several guest speakers, the boycotters decided to march to the president’s office on the third floor of Cramer Hall, holding up signs that read "I Am Not a Profit Margin" and "Privatize This."

A similar event occurred at Southern Oregon University in which OSPIRG estimated that "about 200" turned out for the rally. A rally was also planned at the Oregon Institute of Technology and Oregon State University.

Portland State’s rally began with a speech by Rasmussen. "We want this contract broken," he said to a screaming crowd.

Guest speakers included Gary Ruskin from Commercial Alert and consumer advocate Steve Dixon from OSPIRG.

Queers & Allies Co-coordinator Morgan Stimson spoke about accessibility issues with the Higher One ATMs, and a representative from the Multicultural Center criticized Higher One’s alleged failure to translate their website and promotional materials for Spanish-speaking students.

Volunteers distributed the contact information of Bernstine and several Higher One executives, encouraging students to forward them any solicitation emails they may receive from Higher One.

"[The rally] went far beyond our expectations," Rasmussen said.