Many students’ initial encounters with the Associated Students of Portland State University are at tabling events outside Smith Memorial Student Union, where they invariably have a booth set up with some smiling face registering new voters, spreading the word about ASPSU or networking with the student body.
Often, ASPSU bake sales distract students from class-to-class romps around campus. The complex politics of an organization that serves both to emulate real government and to fill a bunch of committee and advocacy roles? Well, that can be a lot to take in.
Still, there comes a time to stop merely hitting up the bake sale tables and get acquainted with what’s really going on. ASPSU is charged with some real honest-to-goodness responsibilities.
It’s important to know that ASPSU has recently gone through some changes, making it simpler and easier to understand, its members say. Citing low participation and internal retention, ASPSU reorganized last May, shifting from a five-branch bureaucracy that had trouble talking even to itself to a simplified, three-branch format that more closely represents a parliamentary government system.
The new branches are the executive branch, the general assembly and the judicial review board.
The student fee committee, which is part of the executive branch, allocates the approximately $13 million in “incidental fees” that scrupulous students might notice on their online account summaries. The SFC passes on their recommendation to PSU President Wim Wiewel’s office, which usually accepts their budget.
And if that doesn’t seem like enough check-and-balance action for your money, the SFC is also accountable to the senate and the judicial review board, the other two branches. Yes, just like real government, ASPSU is constantly checking and double-checking itself via the interplay of its three branches.
But aside from various behind-the-scenes diplomatic and internal machinations, which admittedly take up a lot of time in any government, ASPSU is serving a lot of visible ones, too. Goals for ASPSU’s voter registration drives outside Smith are to sign up 4,500 voters by the Oregon registration deadline this year.
It’s a realistic goal, considering ASPSU was able to register 900 voters in just two days last winter.
ASPSU spends some time every year lobbying the Oregon State Legislature in Salem for student-related issues, and also maintains a food pantry on the third floor of Smith, where any Portland State student can get food or hygiene items, no questions asked.
The executive cabinet, also part of the executive branch, hosts the seven directors who head various committees.
Each of these seven directors has various advocacy and management responsibilities, with descriptions that might be vague at first glance, such as “works with student groups” or “hosts events” or “promotes multiculturalism.”
Admittedly, these are not all glamorous tasks, at the level of telling the legislature what’s what or disbursing $13 million dollars. And undoubtedly there is something lost in the shuffle of all that bureaucracy.
ASPSU President Tiffany Dollar pledged to fight rising tuition costs, among her other campaign promises. It will be interesting to see if this rhetoric translates into action in the coming school year, especially after it goes through the crucible of the ASPSU government process, in its new three-branch format, for the first time.
Here’s a lineup of some of the officers in your student government.
Tiffany Dollar, president
As the president of ASPSU, Dollar is responsible for representing PSU students to the Oregon Student Association, PSU’s own administration and other university committees and groups.
Dollar, a senior history major who served as ASPSU’s legislative affairs director during the 2011–12 academic year, gained experience lobbying on behalf of PSU interests.
“As legislative affairs director, I spent two days a week throughout the 2012 legislative session in Salem,” Dollar said during her campaign in May. “I was influential in the passage of the Textbook Affordability Act (passed both chambers with a super-majority) and directly lobbied for the $10 million increase to the Oregon Student Access Commission budget.”
Marlon Holmes, vice president
A post-baccalaureate student, Holmes gained student government experience as an ASPSU senator before being elected vice president.
Holmes’ duties as vice president include meeting with student groups, promoting and planning ASPSU campaigns throughout the academic year and coordinating other promotional and organizational projects.
During the 2012–13 ASPSU elections, Holmes and Dollar campaigned on a “just like you” candidacy platform that emphasized their belief that their experiences as non-traditional, first-generation commuter students help them relate to and understand the needs of PSU students.
Victor Mena, academic affairs director
Mena doesn’t just face the challenges of a new ASPSU position; he also faces the challenges of not being an official United States citizen.
Born in Mexico and raised in Oregon, Mena didn’t discover he was undocumented until he was 19 years old. He is now enrolled in PSU in an effort to earn his citizenship.
Before Mena took charge of the new academic affairs director position, he began his ASPSU career last year as multicultural affairs director. Mena’s current position requires him to collect all current textbooks for PSU classes, to be placed on reserve in the library, as well as facilitate proposals for library projects, look for alternate funding in all departments and attend Oregon Education Investment Board meetings.
A recent meeting included Sona Andrews, PSU’s academic provost, where the discussion focused on general funds and whether the library’s budget can be increased.
Anthony Stine, communications director
When Stine graduated from high school, he didn’t believe that college was necessary. He reconsidered after numerous failed attempts at manual labor, including one two-day stint in a woodshop, where he destroyed thousands of dollars worth of materials while trying to learn his job.
Stine changed his mind about college in 2002, which led him to go back to school at Portland Community College. Now he is a doctoral student in PSU’s political science program.
Stine wants to get more people involved on campus and plans to do so through outreach and talking to more students in person than he did last year, as well as by working with the resource center.
Stine’s tactics for reaching out to other students include talking to students in class, promoting events and encouraging students to go to those events.
“I want to work more with some of the more activist student groups on campus—the ones who aren’t interested in the kinds of things that student government is—so we can all work together,” Stine said.
Pearce Whitehead, metropolitan affairs director
As metropolitan affairs director, senior sociology major Pearce Whitehead is occupied with representing students at TriMet meetings and working on multi-million dollar projects, as well as the $169 million urban renewal area project.
Whitehead has his hands full with the project, keeping students educated about the urban renewal area, which will take at least 26 years to complete.
“That will dramatically be changing the physical land development of Portland State. Fifty of those million dollars will go directly to PSU. Of course there are stipulations—they just can’t go off and spend it on whatever—but it’s definitely going to be affecting this campus,” Whitehead said.
“The project is primarily focused on educating the future work force of the Portland region,” he added.
Students interested in student government can visit ASPSU’s office in Smith Memorial Student Union, room 117, or visit them online at aspsu.pdx.edu.