After giving an initial address on topics of interest, Portland State President Wim Wiewel responded to questions at an Oct. 9 press conference with Student Media.
Vanguard: How do you feel the transition has been as the university implements sworn officers into the Campus Public Safety Office?
Wim Wiewel: It seems to be going very well. We now have four sworn officers, and we have eight still unarmed Public Safety Officers. It should be interesting to know, of those four sworn [officers], three were already Public Safety Officers for us and one is newly hired.
I think that is very helpful to know that these are people who already were on campus, know our campus, knew our students, and are familiar with students. And as you know we are following the recommendations from the Implementation Advisory Committee that worked earlier this calendar year in terms of the training.
So these officers went through the same police academy training that other police officers in Oregon do, but then they also go through a post-academy program that is tailored specifically to [PSU].
So far there have been a couple of instances where the fact that our officers were sworn officers allowed them to do things that they couldn’t do before in terms of having a search warrant and search authority, being able to confiscate weapons from somebody who had it in their car who was a person who might have been dangerous. That’s the reason why they had the search warrant to go into his car, because he was dangerous. Which they just couldn’t have done otherwise.
They have not had to draw their weapon. Remember, a lot of this was about having the authority of being a sworn officer. It wasn’t about being armed per se, except that you can’t ask a sworn officer to go knock on somebody’s door to serve a warrant without having the ability to defend themselves, because they’re doing this with possibly bad guys. And they’re not going to do that without having the ability to defend themselves.
It’s not about how often they draw their gun to show how useful it is. In fact, the fewer times they draw their guns, the better. I hope they never have to draw their guns.
The other thing that is important is that we continue to work on the security enhancements. More and more of our buildings can be locked electronically and we only have electronic card access. While that will be routinely in place in the evenings and weekends, it also means that in emergency situations, all buildings can be locked. You can still get out, but you won’t be able to get in. So it’s a way, of course, to secure the buildings if there is an active shooter scenario so that they can’t get into any other buildings.
Now we don’t have it on every building yet. I don’t know how many…but we are in the process of doing that.
We are looking at other possibilities. We continue to have our [CPS] Office, which has a 24-hour dispatch center, so people can always call and they will—they can also call 911—and our dispatch center will see that there’s a call. So whichever one you call, our dispatch center will know about it.
So it’s going well and it’s paying off. That’s the summary statement.
VG: Do you mean it’s paying off in terms of safety?
WW: Well, because they were specifically able to intercept this guy, who had guns and ammunition in his car, and he wasn’t going hunting—he was in a dispute with a girlfriend. It’s in a situation like that—that’s why they did the search warrant—you like to be sure that the guy doesn’t have weapons on him.
VG: One of the concerns I’ve heard from students is that the IAC’s report are recommendations and that the university is not required to follow those. If they are only recommendations, how closely is CPSO following them?
WW: We’re following them very closely. Some of those are being implemented over time. They aren’t being implemented on day one. They are only recommendations, absolutely. We cannot give away managerial and executive authority to a committee. That would be irresponsible. We just can’t do that. So they are recommendations, but we’re following them very closely.
VG: What’s the student response been that you’ve noticed since we’ve had these four officers on campus?
WW: I haven’t seen anything one way or the other. But I know Phil [Zerzan] has had meetings, and has continued to have Coffee with the Chief, but I haven’t seen anything particularly one way or the other.
VG: Have you seen a response from faculty?
VG: Do you feel like the members within the PSU Student Union who are opposed to armed officers have valid concerns and a valid way of addressing those concerns?
WW: It’s totally valid for people around the United States to have concerns about the issues of police treatment around minorities. I know you’d have to be crazy not to see that there have been very serious issues around the country. So for people to call attention to that, to express concern and their desire to make sure that none of those kinds of things ever happen at [PSU] or in Portland is a totally valid opinion. So I think that calling attention to that is fine.
Interrupting events the way that [PSUSU] did at the convocation for new students is absolutely inappropriate and unacceptable and will not be tolerated. It’s a violation of the student conduct code. The university has to be able to go about what we do—our activities. Whether it’s our classes, meetings, whatever it is, the student conduct code is very clear that you cannot interrupt the operations of the university.
So whenever you do that, it’s going to be a violation of the student conduct code.
But you can hold demonstrations, you can do tabling, you can distribute leaflets, all that kind of stuff. There’s plenty of ways—and then we have committees and hearings—so there’s lots of ways to let your opinion be known. You can organize events, bring speakers to campus. I know one of the founders of Black Lives Matter is coming to campus, I think next month, for an event.
Two of the founders will be back, I think, in January for Martin Luther King [Junior] Day. So those are all totally legitimate activities. But no, interrupting other people’s events is not okay.
VG: Do you have specific strategies or a plan to distribute a safety protocol to students, especially given that we’re seeing more and more campus shootings?
WW: I think it’s an item of high priority. You know, on the whole, there is no simple single protocol of what to do—it’s different every time. The questions of whether you should shelter in place, or run—you can’t come up with a guidebook. And nobody would have time to read the guidebook. To tell everybody what to do when…the world is just not that predictable.
But having said that, we will be developing more plans, running more training or exercises so that more people on campus, in departments, will feel more comfortable about what might be the right response in the right situation.
But it is important for people to realize that nobody can guarantee safety. You can do what you can, but in the end the United States Secret Service hasn’t been able always to protect presidents. So you cannot guarantee safety. And you can’t notify people instantaneously of something happening. Because the first few minutes are usually spent trying to figure out what is happening. Where is it happening? I mean the Umpqua thing was really amazing in that eight minutes after the first call came in, they stopped the incident.
Roseburg is a very small community, so the cops weren’t very far away, is of course one of the reasons.
For me, frankly—by the way—a campus shooter wasn’t the main reason to move to a sworn police force at all. But it certainly is in one’s mind. And it will reduce the response time. There’s no doubt about it. It will reduce the response time.
As we know in cases like this, and again you can look at Umpqua, it’s not hard to imagine that every minute [the police] were there quicker made a difference in saving people’s lives, right. He would have shot more people if he had another five minutes.
So, a minute or two can make a huge difference. But the first call comes in…it takes a little while for the dispatcher to figure out, and their first concern is going to be with getting officers and emergency response personnel to where it is happening. That’s the first response.
Then we’ve got to now figure out, how do we now notify people? That’s why the PSU Alert System is so important. Because a mass email, in spite of electronic communication, mass email is—in fact—not instantaneous.
If I send something to 35,000 email addresses, it does in fact not happen at the flick of a finger. It takes time. So that’s why we want people to sign up to get the telephone, the email, the messages, because that increases the likelihood.
And we’ll be exploring things like automatic pop-up messages on a computer screen. They do have that at Umpqua. Apparently it didn’t work very well, but they do have it. We do not have that right now. So that’s one thing we’ll be exploring. And again to figure out what kind of emergency response plans individual departments can develop. It takes time, it takes training….
VG: On the subject of state funding, with the $700 million that was approved, how was the split negotiated between the seven public universities?
WW: It’s not a negotiation between the presidents…. Some part is designated to special pots, for instance a subsidy for the smaller universities is built in, is taken off the top. A couple of other things are taken off the top.
The bulk of the money is distributed according to a formula. Until this current year, the formula was one that had been developed in the mid-to-late ’90s. And it was based entirely on the number of student credit hours, but with a different rate dependent on discipline and lower division, upper division and graduates. So it was a complicated model, but not that hard to understand. We got less for an English freshman than for an Engineering Master’s student, for instance. But beyond that it was done based on student credit hours.
Starting this July 1, the formula began to also take into account what we call outcomes. So you get a certain amount of money still in that same way we did before. But some of the money is now allocated on the basis of how many graduates you have, and then there is an extra weight for graduates from underrepresented minority groups, for veterans, rural Oregonians and the STEM disciplines. There may be another category, but those are the ones I remember offhand now.
So the formula has become much more complex. Fortunately it’s a formula that is more advantageous for Portland State. So along with Western Oregon, Western Oregon was actually proportionally the biggest winner, in absolute terms we were, but proportionally it was Western Oregon. We were the second-biggest winner under that formula.
And the proportion of the total amount of money that’s going to be allocated on that basis will go up over the next few years. So we will be relatively in better shape.
Now, there are what they call stop-gain and stop-loss provisions in it. So any universities funds can only go up by so much, and any university’s money can only be cut down by so much.
The wonderful thing this year was, because the universities as a whole got such a sizable increase, we were able to rectify some of the inequities that existed without having to cut anybody.
You know, even the “losers” under this formula still got a lot more money than they got before. It’s easier to redistribute a growing pie than to redistribute a same-size pie, much less a shrinking pie.
But that didn’t just happen because somebody decided to be nice to us. I mean, that’s the result of years of arguing and lobbying. It’s one of those things where people just don’t realize how much work…the kind of work that administrators do, it’s really not very sexy a lot of the time, because you’re in these long, horribly boring meetings. In this case it was primarily Vice President Reynolds, sitting with the other vice presidents of Finance and Administration, arguing over this. So that is actually where there was a negotiation. It wasn’t between the presidents, but it was the vice presidents.
They tried out 57 different funding formulas, and every one of those 57 was more favorable to us than the current funding formula.
Needless to say, the people who were relatively disadvantaged by it fought back as hard as they could, so it took a long time to get to where we are now.
VG: You mentioned the “new spirit of athletics.” Where do you think that’s stemming from?
WW: It absolutely stems from the new Athletic Director, Mark Rountree…. You could also say it stems from my dissatisfaction with the way things were and that’s why I hired an athletic director who would bring a new spirit. So that was definitely what I was looking for in a new athletic director.
I felt that athletics was too much on its own, somewhat siloed. Not really engaging with the rest of the campus. And then of course that become mutual, and we saw very few students or faculty coming to games.
That was reflected in places like the Student Fee Committee, asking, “Well, why should we support these 260…athletes?” If athletics is seen as something for the campus as a whole that brings visibility to the campus, that many people come to the games and are involved in, then it becomes much easier to say, “Yeah, of course this is something we support, because it is good for everybody.” Regardless of whether any one individual goes to a lot of games.
And so [Rountree] has taken up that task, or that challenge that I gave him, and he is doing it with gusto. And he has found that once you set leadership from the top, the coaches and the other staff are jumping in with great energy and enthusiasm, as are the student athletes themselves.
VG: What’s your interaction and relationship been like so far with the new ASPSU administration?
WW: Well, we always have regular meetings with the leadership. It’s interesting; it used to be just the president. I have to say, often those meetings wound up being cancelled.
Last year they were very consistent and it was both the president and the vice president—so both Eric Noll and Rayleen McMillan. I had a monthly meeting with them and I think they all happened…so it was a very good relationship. And they met very frequently with other people from the administration…all up and down the line.
We have started that same thing with the new vice president, with Dana and David. They were not available for meetings over the summer. So far I have met with them twice, and we will continue to meet regularly.
VG: Have they presented the document with their goals for their term in office?
WW: I haven’t seen the document, but we actually had [Martinez] come to the Executive Committee meeting, which is all the vice presidents, and he presented them. I think he presented 11 goals, or objectives or action items…. So he presented all of them verbally…and we had a very productive and fruitful discussion where I think on all or almost all of them, we already have things in place, where already we are working with the students or with student government. The others we laid out how we can work together. So there are many areas where we can help make their agenda successful.
VG: Did you find any of those goals to be problematic?
WW: Well, the only one where there’s a small problem…is on campus safety. I think we’re in agreement on 80 percent…we want campus safety.
I haven’t read the document, but he has previously talked about how he wants to continuously push for disarming. So obviously…that’s not going to happen, it’s not even a discussion to be had.
But in terms of finding ways—and we’ve encouraged him and the others to keep working with the [IAC] and the Oversight Committee with Phil Zerzan on issues of campus safety.
And again, the Umpqua shooting has made clear there are a lot of things that can be done that will…make this campus a safer place. And I think we should focus on collaboration around that.
There may have been one or two other things…where we may have not been immediately in harmony, but I honestly can’t remember.
VG: One of the reasons Neuberger Hall is up for renovations is because of safety concerns. If that’s not happening until 2017, is that a problem?
WW: We don’t have the money, the state isn’t giving us the money until spring of 2017. They approved it, but we won’t have the bonds, so there is nothing we can do, period.
But, you know, we always make sure the buildings are safe. We have deferred maintenance money that we use—otherwise we use emergency money. So it’s one thing to say the building isn’t safe in the long run. For instance, it isn’t earthquake-proof. But you know, we’re not going to quickly earthquake proof it, of course. That’s what happens when you do a major renovation.
The electrical system is really inadequate. There’s no immediate danger to anybody. Whenever there’s any immediate danger in any way shape or form, of course we intervene immediately.
VG: On the subject of the Strategic Plan—what areas do you think the university has to improve on the most in the immediate future and in the long term?
WW: Retention and Graduation, and Retention and Graduation.
To me, that’s the key challenge for the university. There are many components to that. Our retention and graduation rates have been too low for a long time. We’re sort of in the middle of the pack with our peers if you look at the new federal college scorecard.
I think given the nature of our student body, we should be better than that. But that involves issues of…affordability. Obviously we know we’ve had to raise tuition a lot. Now, I’ve got to say, while we were raising tuition a lot, retention and graduation went up. It’s better now than when I came.
But it will always be a challenge, and we want to work on that.
The strength of our advising—as you know, we only have about 1 advisor for every 600 students. The industry standard is one for every 300. So a chunk of the new money we got from the legislature, we will use to strengthen our advising capacity.
Having more financial aid counselors who can help people figure out, “Should I borrow? Should I not borrow? Am I doing the right thing?”
Having more faculty strength is very important. Possible changes in the curriculum—we put in the four-year degree guarantee. And a big thing of that, it wasn’t really so much about the four-year guarantee, but it was about getting departments to really think very carefully about what [classes] they are offering when.
Is it actually even possible to get through [a degree] in four years? Do we offer it the right way? So it kind of forced people to get rid of courses and requirements that were obsolete.
And there’s always more to be done on that. Retention is really a job for the whole university. It’s everything from having our Bursar’s Office and our finance offices deal with students who fall behind.
How quickly do you tell people they can’t register? Now once you tell someone they can’t register, you’ve now increased the chance they’ll never come back.
But we can’t let people not pay and just give them a pass. We can’t do that either. So how tough…how many people do you have to work out a payment system? How much of an emergency fund do you have to deal with real hardship cases?
We’ve probably been working on this since 1946—and certainly since I came in. There’s always more to be done, and again it became particularly hard when the money started to get cut—the state funding got to be cut—because then all those extra things that you do wind up being under pressure and under stress.
But now we have a little more breathing room; I mean, this is really the first year I’m here as president that we haven’t had to make budget cuts. It creates a whole new atmosphere. I feel it. You can feel it on campus. People just feel better. People aren’t as angry. People are just happier.
So that’s the number one, and you’ll notice that the first theme in the strategic plan is elevate student success. And then the first initiative under that is about making it easier for students to get their degree—not easier by lowering the requirements, but by getting rid of obstacles, and creating clarity, and providing more assistance, and so on.
But I think it’s also the longer-term goal, because that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a very big task.
VG: Do you think interest-based bargaining is especially more effective than previous methods?
WW: Absolutely. No doubt. And I’m hearing it from both sides. You can ask Pam Miller for her perspective on it.
Both sides feel that, while it is slow, because this process of identifying interests and trying to maximize [them] takes a lot of time, the outcomes are better and the atmosphere around it is better. And of course if the atmosphere is better, outcomes are going to be better.
To really do real good negotiations, you need to have a level of trust. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have disagreements. It’s not going to be “we’re all on the same side.” No, there are different interests that need to be negotiated. But you create an opportunity for learning by doing interest-based bargaining.
That’s what both sides ultimately said; we have found out things about what the other one is worried about or concerned about that we just didn’t know before. And most of those things you can meet. Most of those things are, in fact, not adversarial.
That’s the thing, we want faculty to be happy, to feel fulfilled, to feel secure in their job. To feel they have all the support. Those are not just interests for the faculty. Of course we care about those.
And faculty, in the long run, knows that the university has to be financially viable and strong. So we have so many shared interests, and if you create a climate in which people can talk about things, then you can make much more progress.
Listen to the Q&A online: