As fall quarter approaches and the new students swarm Portland State University, it would benefit the administration of this university to amplify and clarify their message of unity, progress and advocacy. With the emotional drain of one budget crises after another beginning to empty the enthusiasm of an education from Portland State, it behooves this administration to emerge from this crisis with the face and attitude of a potential prizefighter (albeit an amateur one).
The academic school year of 2002-2003 was the last in an era of PSU where budgetary crises seemed to lurk but never appear. Of course, ask any professor, staff or student of PSU and they will lament the deep cuts going all the way back to the early 90’s (remember the highly lauded Dance Department, anyone?). This time, however, the monetary crises have infused daily life at PSU with a real tactile discomfort. The inevitable results are a real pain in the collective ass, so to speak. Ask the newly “organized” financial aid office, a veritable shrinky-dink of student services with two financial aid counselors serving 20,000 students. The only thing that seems to be going in the student’s favor is the newly reduced locker fee at the Peter Stott Center, but even this is temporary: work-out now.
The biggest disappointment of the last year was a muddled and hardly consoling message from the administration. Yes, we are all adults dealing with the financial vagaries of states’ strapped for cash and a federal government that is so financially unilateral in its zeal for defense spending that it is creating an American education that is unrecognizable. These things we know, and depending on the color of the educational mood ring, are blamed on many nefarious and under-funded agencies and recalcitrant state legislatures. This cannot be, however, the message that is allowed to permeate the university. A student body needs motivational direction, or at least “fightin’ words”.
Some of the blame must fall on the state’s most ineffectual student governments, but in the absence of miracles occurring in the new ASPSU, the PSU administration must seek to amplify a message of unity. This must not be a hollow cheer, but a continuous and systematic reminder of the mission of PSU and comforting words from the President and Dean of Student Affairs. They alone bear a responsibility far greater than any other members of the campus community to create a turnaround in disposition and this is phenomenally harder than engineering any new building.
A message of progress must now be laid at the student’s feet, for they will be walking the path that is constructed out of efforts to unify OHSU and PSU, to expand housing east to the defunct Days Inn, and the revitalization and recommitment to black studies, women’s studies and the new Native American Center. In 2002-2003, rumors and innuendo were the most complete messages that emerged from the negotiations in all these plans. Students remained quiet, but many were disgusted at the lack of coherency about the future of their university. Many expressed to me that they felt the bite of tuition increases coupled with shrinking services, while the university administration took the high road to the future without recognizing that student were paving the way. It is not that students are not willing to look beyond their degree; they just want a candid and complete telling of what those futures may entail.
Finally, the administration must begin the “defense of students act.” A voice from the top, even if this is just them, feeling our pain — it may be enough. A message must emerge advocating and recommending a way to envision a student life at PSU that is not filled with an agonizing unpayable bill. That was the story of 2002-2003; let us hope that 2003-2004 will be different.