Just weeks ago, Portland State University President Daniel Bernstine visited the Jilin province in China to discuss professional development issues and expand on existing partnerships with Chinese universities. Having taken several similar trips since becoming president in 1997 and with increased time abroad and off campus, faculty members are questioning exactly what Bernstine is doing with his time away from the Park Blocks.
“I’ve heard from a lot of faculty a concern,” said Duncan Carter, professor and associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Carter said the concerns he has heard about are two separate issues, the first being that Bernstine’s time spent off campus affects his work on campus.
“Bernstine travels so much that the faculty are concerned that he is not always on top of what is going on on campus,” Carter said.
Bernstine’s overseas travel expenditures have totaled over $50,000 in the last two fiscal years. One trip in January of 2005 took Bernstine from South Africa to Botswana to Tokyo, costing $19,081.55 total. Each trip is paid for through general university funds or the combination of general university funds and university foundation funds.
Carter, a chair on the Internationalization Action Council, one of President Bernstine’s initiatives, said that most of the faculty is interested in internationalization, but in this case they feel uncertain about what the President is accomplishing. He said faculty feel there is a lack of communication with the President. “The faculty would feel better about this international travel if we knew what the benefits were to the campus,” he said.
Carter said the second question most faculty members have is whether Bernstine is warranted to travel widely when faculty salaries remain the lowest among similar public universities and when the school is facing a budget crisis.
Bernstine said he does see it as a debate. He said it is a necessity to travel as much as he does out of necessity to strengthen PSU’s overseas connections and forge new ones, to make up for diminishing state funds.
Bernstine said the short-term benefits of the money he is bringing to PSU through travel are not easy to recognize. He said that merely through the student tuitions he is bringing in the cost of his travel is covered.
“I think the travel is justified and the money spent is justified,” Bernstine said. “Some of it’s tangible, but some of it’s intangible.”
One of the tangible sources of funds Bernstine is bringing in is international students. According to Bernstine, PSU has increased its international student population from 1100 a few years ago to 1400 this year.
Bernstine said that his efforts are not merely to bring over new students, but also to represent PSU to this country and others. “A lot of my job is representing PSU externally,” he said.
Bernstine said he admits that there is a communication issue.
“Maybe we need to do a better job of communicating things,” he said. “I have a challenge to try and be in two places at one time.”
The communication gap is not unique to PSU according to Bernstine.
“University presidents face this all the time,” he said. “I don’t make it a secret about where I’m going.”
While Bernstine does agree that there is a communication issue, he said anyone who wants to learn more about his travels can visit the Office of International Affairs to find out what countries he is traveling to.
A faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who asked to remain anonymous, said Bernstine’s advice to visit the Office of International Affairs is not helpful in repairing the communication gap.
“What? I’m going to walk into the office and introduce myself? ‘Hi I’d like to know what the President is doing overseas?’ ” the faculty member said. “If he really wants to he could have an open forum and question-and-answer period. Whatever self-serving justification he gives for his travels, he’s still off playing golf, eating at the buffet and making new friends while the rest of us are working really hard.”
“I’m not just going on these trips on my own volition,” Bernstine said in response to complaints about his time abroad. “If I’m playing golf with a potential donor that’s part of my job too.”
Bernstine said PSU forging strong relationships with Chinese universities has caused him to spend a good deal of time overseas in China, but recently he has been working with the University of Botswana to create a “Memorandum of Understanding.” This would mean that University of Botswana and PSU could establish a faculty exchange program.
Other cities Bernstine has visited in the last year include meeting with donors and alumni in Kuwait and Tokyo and visiting Montreal, where he attended an American Association of State Colleges and Universities Board Meeting.