Portland State President Wim Wiewel held a quarterly student media press conference on May 22. Representatives from the Vanguard and the Rearguard were present. Wiewel discussed commencement, the strategic plan and ASPSU, among other topics.
Wiewel was joined by Scott Gallagher and Chris Broderick, representatives from PSU’s Office of University Communications.
“The big thing coming up is the commencement,” Wiewel said. “Right now it looks like we’re going to give 6,065 degrees, which—if all is well—will be the most of any Oregon university.”
Wiewel also touched upon higher education funding from the Oregon Legislature. Along with representatives from seven other Oregon universities, Wiewel spent a day last week in Salem meeting with several legislators, including Governor Kate Brown and speaker of the house Tina Kotek.
“We were really able to…show them that the universities are working together,” Wiewel said. “There was some fear that we would all be at each other’s throats…We’re actually collaborating more closely with the other universities than we ever have before.”
“The Co-Chairs have recommended a budget of $670 million in the biennium,” Wiewel continued. “We are asking for $755 [million]…we’re not going to get there this round, but we are still hoping we will go above the $670 [million].”
Wiewel mentioned the recently drafted report by the Implementation Advisory Committee for Campus Public Safety, which outlines safety recommendations for the implementation of armed officers on campus. He also said that PSU’s Strategic Plan has been slightly delayed, but should be drafted by a writing committee over the summer.
He also said he will be traveling over the summer to Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia for events meant to inform and recruit international students.
“I’ll be making a donor visit in Jakarta,” Wiewel continued. “We have a very large potential donor there that we want to meet with.”
Wiewel then opened the floor to questions.
Vanguard: What’s happening at PSU over the summer?
Wim Wiewel: The…big thing over the summer is to complete the first draft of the Strategic Plan, so that’s a very big deal. The other big thing is that there will be bargaining [with faculty unions] going on…In the past, bargaining was pretty much suspended during the summer.
Chris Broderick: Summer school is the other one, which is the biggest summer school program in the state—15,000 plus students.
Scott Gallagher: Yeah, if you don’t know that, about half the students in the regular year are taking classes [during the summer] and students from other schools take classes during the summer. So we have a very robust summer school program here at PSU.
WW: We’ll finalize the budget…We have a new distribution formula for the money, which will help us a little bit next year, it will get better as time goes on.
VG: What’s different about this new distribution formula, and how is it going to help?
WW: Until now, there were two main ways that the budget was distributed. I think about 55 or 60 percent of the money was distributed based on the student credit hours that they produced. And then it was a different amount depending on the discipline and the level—lower division, upper division and graduate…About 40 or 45 percent was distributed based on a regional subsidy, small schools subsidy, a bunch of other categories.
What is happening now is that 20 percent of that money that was distributed on the basis of student credit hours will be based on the number of graduates you produce, and then it won’t just be the raw number of graduates; there will be special weights attached for different kinds of graduates. So for Pell [Grant] eligible students you will get more money, for graduates in the STEM discipline, you will get more money, for rural Oregonians you will get more money. There are a couple of other things like that, and I don’t know off the top of my head how much more, but it’s not insignificant.
In trying to develop this formula, you can see it’s very complicated…the HECC actually came up with 57 different models on how to do this. And the model they finally adopted was version 57, which I think is kind of funny.
And every single one that they tried would give us more money than we’re now getting if the pie stays the same. Which shows you how incredibly unfair the current system has been for [PSU]. And while we certainly want to keep collaborating with our sister institutions and we are pushing hard to keep expanding the size of the pie—to get a bigger pie—how that pie gets sliced up also really matters.
It has frankly been grossly unfair to [PSU], and thereby disadvantaging the students who are actually the least well-off economically in the system. Now, we have I think the second biggest proportion of Pell-eligible students, certainly the largest absolute number, definitely the largest percentage of underrepresented minorities, so there’s two categories. So what’s happening is that educating the poorest, and often the least prepared students, we nonetheless got the least money on a per-student basis…
This formula begins to change it, but it’s certainly that first year when only 20 percent of the money gets pushed in these different directions, it’s a pretty small difference. The year after it will be 40 percent and the year after it’ll be 60 percent of that part that gets allocated that way, but the other part still stays the same. And so that way, by the time it hits the third and fourth year, it will be worth several million dollars.
Rearguard: I just spoke with Eric Noll yesterday, and…he talked a lot about building relationships with the administration…How do you feel this [year’s student government] relationship with the administration compares to previous years?
WW: One: [Noll] and Rayleen [McMillan] worked together extremely well from what I could see. They came together to a lot of events and meetings, so they knew the same stuff. In the past, we’ve had vice presidents leave halfway through the year….or they were in different orbits, it seemed. These two people were really, very much on the same page and they clearly trusted each other. [They] complemented each other too, they were different personalities and all that, but they really worked together. So that’s one big change right there.
Two: They both worked really hard. I mean, they were everywhere. There were days where I’d see [Noll] at three meetings…or[McMillan]. So they were just willing to put in the time, which again has not always been the case. We’ve had others that were elected, and you kind of didn’t see them very much after that. So that.
Three: They, very much, approached this as a shared effort. They realized that the more we worked together, the more successful we’re going to be. So they were very clear about their interests and the interests of the students. There were any number of times where I would talk with them about how we thought and they would say, “Okay, so we hear this and this and this. Okay, we think this.” And I wouldn’t have convinced them one iota, but they had listened. And they had decided, for reasons that I might not agree with, but they would be very clear about it.
As opposed to other years, where I’d have a meeting with somebody and we’d discuss some issue, and they would just kind of say, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah okay” and then walk away. Or they’d even kind of pretend that they agreed with me, and then I’d find out a day or a week later that no, they didn’t. [Noll and McMillan] have been very clear about where they stand.
That builds trust. Now you know that what they’re saying out there is the same as what they’re saying to my face. Then I can begin to trust somebody, and I know where I stand and I know where they stand. They build great personal relations, they’re respectful to me, to the other vice presidents, to the board…
So [Noll and McMillan] just have a personal style that is going to make people want to work with them. And want to listen to them. And want to make them successful. They are earning their stripes in Salem…and they’re working for the same causes that we’re working for: to get more money for the university. They came to testify, to make the case, for why we need the change in the distribution.
We’ve never had this level of joint effort with ASPSU. So, you know, they’ve just been great and I hope that it sets the tone and an example for the new leadership. We’re in the process of setting up a meeting. I haven’t met with them yet, so I don’t know them at all. But I’m hopeful that the example of what can be done, especially now that the legislature is working toward its final days, I think they’re going to be able to get some significant benefits for the students because they’ve earned people’s respect.
VG: In the most recent ASPSU election, 1,041 students voted, which is about 3.7 percent of the student body. What do you see as the role of ASPSU on campus? How can they improve student engagement?
WW: I continue to be very disappointed and frustrated that it’s that low of a turnout. It surprised me this time, because there obviously was a lot of publicity about the elections…So I’m a little puzzled why [turnout] wasn’t bigger, and I don’t have a good answer to it at all. So I think it remains a very important challenge for the new student government to figure out…and to increase the turnout. ASPSU has an absolute legitimate role in shared governance…so we take them very seriously in that regard.
I’ve always said I also listen to other voices. I know that ASPSU…cannot possibly speak for all students. Nobody can. So it is important for me and for everybody else in leadership positions within the university… to listen to other voices as well who, for whatever reason, may not be fully represented by ASPSU. So we will continue to do that.
That’s why I had lunch last week or two weeks ago with representatives from PSUSU. That’s a voice I want to listen to. And then I want to hear from the Latino students, the Pacific Islander students, from…groups of students, whether it’s on political issues, social issues, campus climate or campus life.
I wish more people would vote, because that would enhance the voices that come to the forefront.
VG: We would like to get your take on what happened specifically with ASPSU candidate Tony Funchess and his criminal convictions. Given that situation, do you think the university or ASPSU might need to reconsider their background check policy?
WW: I absolutely would not want there to be a background policy for being able to be a student at the university. I think that would be terribly short-sighted. People do bad things or make stupid mistakes or whatever you want to call it, and when they serve their time you absolutely do not want to exclude them from the opportunity to get an education to make a life and a living.
Whether there should be a different policy for holding elective office and voting even, which obviously holds true for other elective offices in the country I think, municipal, county, state, national elections, is something that can be discussed.
I have to admit, I’d never thought about it if you’d asked me a month and a half, two months ago, what our policy was on that. I sure wouldn’t have known. It had just never come up. So I think that’s worth the discussion. You could always say, “How often is it going to happen?” I always hate it when they pass laws based on one thing that happened and now we’re stuck with yet another law.
So it seems to me something that reasonable people could differ on. But in this current situation, he was entitled to be a candidate and to hold office, so there was nothing wrong with that. I think the [ASPSU] Judicial Board made the right decision, based on having nothing to do with [Funchess], based on there only [being] one candidate, that it made sense to arrange for new elections. So that was a kind of separate discussion. The two obviously got kind of very conflated and clearly the student body has spoken loud and clear.
VG: Even though the administration doesn’t have any say in who the candidates are and who gets elected, did you get any pushback on your end from community members or perhaps sexual assault victims who were upset about this situation?
CB: I think…Eric [Noll] and Rayleen [McMillan], they got a lot of feedback, a lot of concern. They got the brunt of the questions and concern.
SG: Frankly, that’s the way it should be.
WW: I think I wrote about this. Our executive committee met right when it was sort of in the midst, and we asked [Noll] to join us for that meeting and he very specifically said, “Will you trust us to handle this?” Because I asked our executive committee, “Is there a point where I have to intervene?”
And as president I do actually have the possibility to stop something in an extreme case, so I could have intervened if I decided it was appropriate. I forget exactly what the statutory authority is, but I did ask about that. But [Noll] said, “Let us handle this. We have shown ourselves capable.” And I just said, “That’s great.”
That’s where one of those issues where the trust that had been built up matters. And I knew that if he said that, he was going to take it damn seriously—and that he had the capacity, not just him personally, but student government, to make it work. And I was impressed. And it was handled, I think, well.
I did want to talk about some of the buildings that we’ve been working on. That’s the other big thing that’s pending in Salem, in addition to the operational money request, it’s the funding for Neuberger Hall, which I think is an important project to be able to both simply make it safe, make it more comfortable, because of the [Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning] issues, HVAC that doesn’t’ work well. Accessibility issues, there are parts of it that are in fact not disabled accessible.
So we have our request in to the legislator and we continue to be optimistic that the legislature will fund that. We will then have to, our request is for $60 million in state funding, and then we will have to raise $10 million in other funding, philanthropic funding to pay for it. And that’s frankly, that was sort of the minimal level renovation to do the full thing was going to be $100 [million] or so. These buildings are monsters.
VG: Is that for this legislative at the end of the Biennium?
WW: Yeah. They will issue these bonds in the spring of 2017. We would know we would have the money so we would start the design right after we get the money or shortly after. So we would hopefully start construction on that in the summer of 2017.
SG: As some of you know this, in case some of you don’t, when we talk about buildings, we talk about capital funding, which is absolutely separate from general funding. So the $755 million we’re talking about is different from the capital funds. Student tuition does not go into buildings, except for the [Academic and Student] Rec Center.
WW: We’ll break ground for the school of business in August. There, we’re very far advanced in the design. Always still whittling down the costs to make sure it stays within the budget. And on the Viking Pavilion we expect to break ground around January. And there we’ve only started the design recently. So we haven’t quite gotten into anything very specific yet. And it’s of course both the renovation of the [Peter W.] Stott Center and then the construction of the new arena space and event space.
CB: And since our last press conference, OHSU is contributing to that.