Autonomy has been good for PSU

A classic line from political campaigns is: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? As we enter a new year, let’s apply that to Portland State. Are we better off now than we were a year ago? Two years ago?

The answer, without doubt, is yes. And one of the main reasons is our newfound autonomy, embodied in our Board of Trustees.

Start with PSU’s finances. Under the old system, we and the other public universities fell under the governance of the Oregon University System and were not allowed to lobby state lawmakers for better funding once the governor produced a budget. During the 2015 legislative session, however, those restrictions did not apply. This allowed all of us – presidents, board members, faculty, staff and students from all seven universities – to persuade the budget-writers to provide $700 million in state funding for the seven public universities. That figure is significantly higher than the governor’s recommendation, and it ended many years of state disinvestment in higher education.

This dividend alone far exceeds the costs of independence. It is just one example of how our ability to self-govern has strengthened PSU.

The board – volunteers appointed by the governor – made some tough decisions in its first 18 months: a tuition increase and sworn campus police among them. While there have been some protests and acrimony about these issues, in the past there would not even have been a PSU-specific forum for debate. This board is uniquely committed to ensuring the long-term success of PSU.

With greater independence comes greater responsibility, which is one reason PSU supporters and the Board of Trustees are discussing a possible Metro-area measure to raise revenue for scholarships and other student support. This discussion would not have been possible under the old system of governance. The board also was closely involved in designing our new five-year strategic plan, which focuses on student success, excellence, equity, community engagement, and innovation.

Last but not least, board members have been personally extraordinarily generous to PSU. Their lifetime giving totals $36.2 million, which has gone to student scholarships, faculty endowments and capital projects.
There’s no doubt in my mind–autonomy and having our own Board have made PSU much better off than we were before.

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