Dr. Rahmat A. Shoureshi, the last of three final candidates to replace current Portland State President Wim Wiewel, was unanimously approved in a special Board of Trustees meeting at 10:17 a.m. on Monday, May 15, 2017. Shoureshi brings broad experience as the provost and interim president of New York Institute of Technology, engineering professor, and first-generation immigrant to his leadership at PSU.
“I am humbled and honored to be chosen to lead this great university,” Shoureshi said in a May 15 press release from PSU University Communications. “PSU is a 21st-century university that serves a vibrant urban region that champions access, diversity and inclusiveness as well as conducts innovative research and is dedicated to cutting-edge and collaborative learning—things that reflect my academic ideals and perspectives.”
Shoureshi said he will focus on partnerships with businesses and corporations, co-ops integrated into student graduation paths, and fundraising to attract high-quality students and faculty and bring in more revenue. Shoureshi also expressed his commitment to keeping PSU a sanctuary campus for undocumented students, saying their protection is a top priority.
Less than a month after current PSU President Wim Wiewel announced his resignation in July 2016, the Board of Trustees established a 20-member consultant-counseled search committee and compensation study to find a new president. The committee was comprised of five BOT members, one vice president, one dean, five faculty members, one staff member, four students, and representatives from faculty and student unions.
After faculty, staff, student, and community forums, the 13 trustees present at the special meeting unanimously selected Shoureshi as the final candidate. “We had a very open and frank discussion throughout the process,” said BOT member Gail Castillo. “We were able to bring the best candidate as a result of those discussions.”
Shoureshi’s compensation at PSU will be less than that of his position at NYIT, and he will forego a retention incentive of one year’s salary. “I think those sacrifices are noteworthy,” said BOT Chair Pete Nickerson.
Shoureshi will be moving across the country for what he expects to be 10 years as PSU president, and his daughter recently moved to Portland to be a medical resident at Oregon Health and Sciences University. Beyond family draws, however, Shoureshi said that even though he “had other options,” he was impressed with the prospect of working at PSU.
“PSU’s commitment to access, diversity, and inclusiveness represent an expression of truly admirable goals that will not only serve the growth and betterment of the City of Portland but also the State of Oregon, [our] country, and even the global community,” Shoureshi said.
Although Shoureshi said he is already impressed with PSU’s endeavors, he wants to take the university to the “next level.” Shoureshi said he plans to do this by expanding faculty scholarships for research to bring “state of the art” experience to their classrooms, partnering with businesses and corporations for new “cross-disciplinary institutes and centers,” and improving PSU’s fundraising efforts.
As a 2017 recipient of the China Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics “Outstanding Contribution Award” for Leadership in Global Education, Shoureshi helped NYIT “increase research funding to an all-time high,” according to his resume, and “enhanced research and scholarship activities that helped NYIT garner $28 million in grants.”
“One of the attractions of Dr. Shoureshi to us is his experience in fundraising,” Nickerson said. “We have a three-legged stool here at PSU: that’s tuition, that’s state support, and philanthropic giving. [Our] weakest link right now is philanthropic giving. In light of the reduced state support, we have known for many years now that increased philanthropic giving is where we’re going to have to focus on, and we feel that [Shoureshi] is going to be successful at that.”
Shoureshi said he hopes to see a five-year graduation option in PSU’s future that establishes co-ops with local, national, and international businesses. With this opportunity, Shoureshi said, “not only [would students] have a degree from PSU [and] the work experience, but they also [would] have the opportunity of working in another culture.”
The benefit of businesses making an early investment in PSU students, Shoureshi said, would be that students become more marketable, have established connections with companies before graduation, and can have paid internship opportunities that can help supplement their tuition.
In response to questions about PSU’s tuition increases, Shoureshi explained that increased health care and retirement costs are major contributors to the university’s financial burden. In light of the recent ransomware attacks, infrastructure and firewall sophistication are also needed costs, the new president said. However, Shoureshi said he can commiserate with student frustration.
“I understand. I was a student that had loans I had to pay back,” Shoureshi said. “I paid them back at a 12 percent interest rate. I feel what PSU students are going through. All I can tell you is we’re going to work together and try to address these [issues].”
Finally, Shoureshi said he would uphold PSU’s commitment to being a sanctuary campus. Shoureshi said he related to the stress of being an immigrant student. When he was a Ph.D. candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shoureshi said, the U.S. government was taking actions to deport Iranians from the country.
“Therefore, I feel the anxiety of what [immigrant] students are going through,” Shoureshi said. “I want to make sure that PSU students, number one, understand the university, university administration, and especially myself, [are] supporting them all the way.”
Shoureshi said he could not predict whether or not federal funding might eventually be pulled from sanctuary campuses but expressed that he and many other university presidents would work to protect undocumented students. “The number one goal is protection of our students,” Shoureshi said.
Shoureshi officially takes office on Aug. 14, 2017 but begins his transition to president immediately.