Amidst crowd protests, interruptions and heated public comment, the Portland State Board of Trustees voted on Thursday to increase 2016–17 tuition and mandatory fees by 3.7 percent for resident undergraduate students.
This translates to a $101 per term increase for resident undergraduate students enrolled in 15 credits per term. Nonresident undergraduate tuition and fee rates will increase by 3.6 percent.
“Without this increase, PSU would have to cut $6 million from the budget,” said Peter Nickerson, chair of the board.
“We understand any tuition increase is a hardship for our students,” Nickerson continued. “That’s why PSU needs more outside support. Oregon ranks near the bottom nationally in state support of higher education, and we need to find alternatives that help make PSU more affordable for our students and future students.”
PSU President Wim Wiewel described this increase as modest when compared to other public Oregon universities.
Associated Students of PSU President Dana Ghazi addressed the board at the beginning of the meeting, citing a need for better results for students on matters of educational affordability and inclusion of diverse student populations.
Ghazi shared her personal experience as a student leader, graduate assistant and mother.
“I’m sharing this with you because it’s important to highlight over and over that we as students have a lot to juggle with when we are in this university,” Ghazi said. “The amount of dedication that we put forward to speak with you—to be able to engage—is tremendous.”
She continued by saying she believes student involvement should be met with appreciation, not the threat of disciplinary action.
“The way I see it, they are exercising the only power they have,” Ghazi said. “We are told this is a model based on shared governance, yet we don’t see that happening. It’s obvious that the power lies in the hands of this board. They are resisting nonviolently—holding no tasers, clubs or guns. In fact, it’s the administration and other bodies here that have the tasers and guns.”
ASPSU Vice President Davíd Martinez also addressed the board, focusing on their responsibility to find additional cost-saving resources to keep higher education affordable for students.
“Education is one of the basic instruments for a successful society,” Martinez said. “It should be available and affordable to everyone [who] wants education. It’s time to rethink how universities function in society so we can [function] as an academic institution and take it away from a business model.”
Meeting Protest & Relocation
Trustees approved the increase after moving to a second location about two hours into the meeting, as a result of disruption from audience protesters.
Board members said the protesters made it impossible to continue addressing agenda items in the original meeting room, so they moved the meeting to an undisclosed location—later identified as a room in the basement of the Engineering Building—and livestreamed the remainder of the meeting through a link on the board’s website.
Crowd protests mainly focused on financial hardship for students and faculty, armed campus officers and greater inclusion of marginalized populations. Many members of the crowd repeatedly shouted “Disarm PSU,” while others stood silently with tape over their mouths, which protester and PSU Student Union member Olivia Pace explained as a representation of student voices being silenced by the PSU administration.
Protesters have demonstrated in similar ways at the previous three board meetings.
These protests were planned, as outlined in a statement issued by PSUSU at 9 p.m. the evening before the meeting:
“[PSUSU] will be arriving in mass numbers to the…Board of Trustees meeting.
“This is in response to the looming vote on… [the] raise in tuition, the continuation of poverty wages being paid to those working on campus and the continued silencing of student voices with the growth of the campaign to disarm campus security, #DisarmPSU.”
After board members moved to the second location, PSUSU members released the following statement:
“In response to the administrative targeting of student activists for a nonviolent interruption of the [Dec. 10, 2015 board meeting], members of the broader Portland community have interrupted the currently in session Board of Trustees meeting…in solidarity with [PSUSU].
“These community members will be creating space for concerned student, staff, faculty and other community members to voice their concerns about the corporate model being used to run the university, tuition hikes, unfair wages for those working on campus, food insecurity, and the arming of campus security without consent from the campus. We ask for media and community support at this time. Protesters will remain in the room until 5 p.m. when the meeting is scheduled to end.”
Upon learning the location where board members were continuing to address agenda items, the protesters followed and carried on the demonstration as planned.
In addition to the approved increase in tuition and fee rates, board members unanimously voted in favor of a resolution to approve the Strategic Plan and revised university vision and mission statements, as well as a separate resolution directing pursuit of college affordability and student success initiatives.
Additional agenda items and presentations were not completed, including an overview of the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion and an orientation session for the PSU School of Business Administration, cited in the unofficial board meeting notes as “not presented due to the interruption of the meeting.”