As pandemic continues, student government is undeterred

The Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) met the first week of spring term in full force as it advocates for tuition reduction, appoints new members and prepares for upcoming elections.


Many students are unaware of ASPSU’s power and limitations, according to ASPSU Vice President Alexandra Modjeski. It can reduce student fees, but tuition remains in the hands of the Board of Trustees. 


“We can advocate, go to meetings, talk to the administration,” Modjeski said. “We go to the president and we take the stories that we hear from you, and our own personal stories. They tell us what they can do and we tell them what we need.”


Student fee and tuition reduction petitions

Due to the fallout from COVID-19, including lack of access to campus buildings and resources, the Student Fee Committee (SFC) successfully negotiated a $20 reduction in the Student Incidental Fee and full refund of the $37 Student Building Fee. Jose Rojas Fallas, chair of the SFC, said reductions to tuition remain the prerogative of the Board of Trustees. 


“There’s a lot of confusion as to what some of these fees fund,” Fallas said. “But I can’t blame students, because they have a lot of other stuff to worry about.” 


According to Modjeski, the Student Incidental Fee funds many campus resources including the food pantry, childcare and resource centers: “if we lower [the fee] any further, students may continue to lose resources that could help them in this crisis.”


SFC began collecting information about student fee budgets on March 18, when PSU officially announced spring term would be completely remote. 


Fallas voiced his appreciation of the administrators and students who contributed budgeting information on such short notice.


 “This dropped on us the Wednesday of finals week and by Friday, we were up and going. Within 24 hours, they gave us all the information we needed to understand the savings and losses of spring term and how services were going to work.”


While the SFC successfully negotiated reducing student fees, ASPSU is still trying to convince the university to reduce spring tuition. Modjeski remains unconvinced by the argument that teachers would not be paid if tuition were reduced.


“That is a lot of rhetoric that people use to keep [students] from having a collective voice,” Modjeski said. 


Neglecting pleas to decrease tuition could result in students dropping out, Modjeski warned, is a situation in which no one benefits.

ASPSU members are also experiencing increasing financial insecurity.


“I was affected by this too,” Modjeski said. “I haven’t received unemployment [benefits] yet, I still have food stamps. This is a problem that is impacting students…university officials still have jobs, but they still expect us to pay them.”


New appointments

According to Modjeski, the ASPSU Senate appointed Ernesto Dominguez—previously a senator—as the new equal rights director on Monday, March 30. 


“We had seen Ernesto’s initiative within ASPSU,” Modjeski said. “He’s very vocal about how he feels despite the fact that people disagree with him sometimes. I think that’s an important piece of advocacy for students that he’s willing to speak up.”


Dominguez recognized the difficulties in the term ahead but remains hopeful. He will only hold his position for a few months, as he plans to graduate in June.


“There’s ten weeks in the semester, I just got confirmed this week, that’s already the first week gone,” Dominguez said. “So I have nine weeks to form something really solid for the next person while also managing my classes in this really challenging environment.”


The Senate also appointed two new senators, Tom Sandhwar and Danny O’Brien. 


Upcoming elections 

Election season began with the presidential and vice-presidential debate on April 6. Next up is the SFC debate on April 7 at 1:30–3 p.m. and the Senate debate and town hall on April 8 at 1–2:30pm. Virtual polls will open on April 13 at and close on April 29. Results will be announced May 1.


Modjeski and Fallas are looking to increase communication between ASPSU and the student body at this critical time. 


“We appreciate the patience, we hear the concern, we genuinely apologize if the perception is that the work we’re doing isn’t publicized enough, so therefore we’re not doing anything, and we promise that’s not the case,” Modjeski said. “We’re doing our best to mobilize student voices and [participate in] collective action to really advocate for the fact that students are suffering.”


Modjeski and ASPSU President Kyle Leslie-Christy met on April 10 with Kevin Neely, associate vice president of government relations, to discuss the federal stimulus package’s impact on students. Leslie-Christy will meet on Thursday, April 9 with PSU Interim President Stephen Percy to discuss tuition reduction and to petition in favor of postponing commencement. Leslie-Christy is also creating an ad hoc committee to address financial relief for students affected by COVID-19.


“There is a ton of work being done,” Fallas said. “I just feel that the administration has not been good at communicating that.” 


Sam Swan, the SFC vice chair, encouraged students to contact ASPSU and the SFC.


“Reach out to us if you have any questions at all or if you have any feedback,” Swan said. “We’re doing everything we can right now to reduce fees as much as possible.” 


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Students can email ASPSU at [email protected], Modjeski at [email protected], Fallas at [email protected] and Swan at [email protected].