Unpredictability’ assails student affairs

Threatened with potential layoffs due to budget cuts, student affairs personnel put on a cheerful face in their quarterly meeting last Friday, despite uncertainties about their futures.

At the meeting, they were told the university needs to take over student housing from College Housing Northwest.

Douglas Samuels, vice provost for student affairs, acknowledged the tensions everyone felt as he talked about “the unpredictability of what happens next.”

His speculation about student housing seems to give substance to information floating about the campus recently.

With almost 1,800 students living on campus, Samuels declared the university needs to manage most student residential components. He saw College Housing Northwest as primarily concerned with keeping tenancy and buildings up, not with student development.

“College Housing Northwest is not a developmental institution and we are,” he said. “It’s time we transition that program from simply apartments and housing. We want them (the students) to have programmatic activities that help students with the problems they have.”

Samuels’ speech was the central feature of the meeting, which attracted about 150 staff employees to the once-a-term get-together in the ballroom of Smith Memorial Student Union.

Samuels, and everyone there, are concerned about 250 letters of possible non-reappointment, which went out to faculty and staff in mid-December.

Samuels assured them, “We have the ability not to go down.”

Represented were staff, including department heads, from Admissions, Records and Financial Aid, Educational Equity, Student Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, Information and Academic Support Center, the Career Center and the office of Student Affairs. The unit represents almost 200 employees.

Samuels told the group it is doing an outstanding job despite record enrollment pressure. He told members they are crucial to student success because they deal directly with students and their problems.

Speaking of potential layoffs, Samuels said, “At this point, there is no plan in this department to lay off anyone or any departments.” He pointed out that Agnes Hoffman, associate vice provost for student affairs, is a member of a committee appointed to Portland State University President Daniel Bernstine to formulate plans for dealing with the budget crisis.

He said he is confident that Bernstine has set in motion a good process for solving the crisis and advised staffers to be patient as the process unfolds.

“Process is a good thing,” he said.

He conceded that since Operation Desert Storm the numbers of international students have come down. The current crisis with the Immigration and Naturalization Service has brought the student affairs unit more responsibilities and more accomplishments.

“We haven’t retreated from crisis,” he declared, describing how student affairs personnel succeeded in liberating two totally innocent international students from jail.

“We offer great support to students worried about their lives,” he asserted.

He said fears that raising grade point averages for admissions would penalize minority applicants has not proved true.

He believes it is not students of color, it is general students who are affected by higher GPA requirements.

“It is not true that students of color will be left behind,” he said. “Students who want to come to PSU, they will not be left behind.” He contrasted Portland State with Oregon State University, which he said is increasing its required GPA for admission to 3.2.

Speaking of the general role of student affairs, Samuels pointed out, “This is not an administrative unit. We are a direct service to students. That’s a lot different from administrative services.”

He acknowledged that some persons received non-renewable notices who had never received a contract to begin with. That anomaly is being looked at by the Human Resources office, he said.

“As long as you’re getting a paycheck, you’re all right,” he added.

The meeting concluded with brief talks by four minority students who described how student affairs helped them cope with their problems. They were Andre Becton, Caine Lowery, Piseth Pich and Raiza Cintren.