Taking PSU to the capitol

Jennifer Williamson is starting her seventh week as PSU’s government relations associate. It’s the newest position in the office of Government Affairs, created to provide legislative resources to PSU and represent the University to outside groups.

Williamson sifts through legislative bills and existing program documents to find connections to the university and puts busy faculty and staff members in the loop.

"The first thing I did was go through the Omnibus Appropriations Act," Williamson said, "to try to figure out if a program was funded that we will be able to plug into."

That kind of research is too time consuming for many professors, who have full teaching schedules. Williamson hooks faculty members up with funding for research in their disciplines.

"It’s about connecting the dots for people," Williamson said.

She speaks about her new job with enthusiasm. As a UO graduate, she’s had her loyalties questioned, she said, but getting to know PSU makes her more aware of how to represent the university to the community.

"I don’t think people necessarily know how big PSU is. They don’t know how many students we serve. They don’t think about how many people we employ," she said. "They don’t know about our academic excellence while still being an accessible institution."

"My job is to tell the PSU story to our elected officials, so they understand the really exciting things that are going on here."

Williamson came to PSU after working in a series of education-related positions from then-Senator Mark Hatfield’s office to Intel, and most recently, a four-year stint as an associate at the Portland law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

"I really missed the public policy work," she said.

Williamson now deals with public policy at the local, state and federal level. Besides reviewing existing programs and statutes to find resources for PSU, she keeps an eye on federal activity and the goings-on of the state legislature. Since opening in early January, legislators have introduced hundreds of bills every week, and an estimated 4,000 bills will be proposed.

Williamson reads texts of the new bills to see how they impact PSU and alerts the relevant campus departments.

Her previous work in Hatfield’s office and Intel involved education, but PSU’s sheer size means that many subjects have a PSU connection – it’s not just about education anymore.

She combs through bills affecting facilities, waste management, public safety and virtually every other sector of the university.

"Anything having to do with telecommunications, for example, could have to do with PSU," Williamson said. "And there’s a lot of stuff going on in telecommunications."

And as Williamson learns more about PSU, she said, the more she has to look for. "I don’t have enough experience to assume anything," she said. She keeps already reviewed bills in case she learns something later, she said, pointing to two huge binders. "There’s a reason every bill introduced to the legislature is sitting there."

Williamson refers legislation of interest to the appropriate departments, either for information on how the proposal will impact PSU or to give the party a change to weigh in on the debate.

The process can be as simple as mentioning an interesting bit of legislation in her weekly newsletter, forwarding bill information to a professor, or as involved as arranging for faculty to present to a committee in Salem.

As Director for the Center for Transportation Studies, Professor Robert Bertini has seen several state legislature bills on transportation passed along by Williamson. Though he

Bertini said he wouldn’t have necessarily looked into the bills on his own. "It’s probably just a time thing. Having Jennifer in that position will enable faculty to be aware and be more involved."

Bertini pointed out that as a state institution, weighing in on state politics is a natural role for PSU. "What I like about this process is that it opens up lines of communication so we don’t become isolated," he said. "I guess I mean this to come across humbly, but if there is a way for us to help, we’re happy to do that."

Williamson remarked that watching what happens in the Student Fee Committee hearings is an approximation of the state budgeting process.

"People can learn a lot about ways and means by studying how the SFC works at the university level."

Students interested in PSU’s connection to current legislation can view the Office of Government Relations’ weekly newsletters at www.gov-relations.pdx.edu.