Fall term kicks off with a back to school town hall

Panelists from across the university sit down to answer students’ top questions.

Portland State kicked off its 75th anniversary with a Virtual Town Hall Wednesday, featuring a panel of administrative leaders who offered answers to top questions looming over students and faculty alike as classes resume. Panelists discussed how PSU is adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and the broader financial context behind tuition increases.

As fall term begins, campus residence halls are open, but most classes will remain online. Provost Susan Jeffords reported decisions regarding in-person versus virtual course offerings for winter term will be made in early October. Panelists also covered the “COVID Round-Up,” an email communications briefing for students on how to manage the risks of COVID-19 that landed in inboxes last week. 

While The Center for Student Health & Counseling (SHAC) is working closely with Multnomah County to organize the campus response to the virus, panelists emphasized that reducing community spread starts with each person monitoring their own well-being. 

All students and employees are required to conduct a self-check for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to campus,” one panelist said. SHAC provides the daily self checklists on their website, one for staff and faculty members and one for students taking classes in person. 

Those who have symptoms, or who have been exposed to COVID-19, are required to report to their healthcare provider or to SHAC, where testing is now available to all members of the PSU community. Currently, tests are sent off with a 1–3 day turnaround time. On-site processing of tests will begin shortly, sharply reducing turnaround time to mere hours and increasing effectiveness in stopping community spread. 

Outside of SHAC, other important measures PSU is taking to reduce community infections include restricting access to all campus buildings through PSU ID cards, arranging furniture to promote safe distancing and the use of newly-installed air filtration systems.

The Town Hall MC, Kanari Porotesano, introduced Dr. Ame Lambert, PSU’s new vice president for Global Diversity & Inclusion. While Lambert’s position officially began in August, she started ahead of schedule in response to current demands for racial equity work, a key aspect of her position. 

“There are many conversations happening across campus at all levels,” Dr. Lambert said. “The campus is activated and moving. The cumulative impact of these efforts is transformation for equity and justice.”

Lambert announced the Virtual Equity Summit, will take place on Oct. 30. The day-long event will “discuss the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion at [PSU],” according to the event’s website.

Vice President of Finance and Administration Kevin Reynolds provided a financial update, projecting budget shortfalls for the upcoming fiscal year due to the potential for reduced enrollment next year, and the possibility of less funding from the state. President Stephen Percy followed up to affirm the question of affordability remains central to PSU, providing context for this year’s tuition increases—4.9% for resident undergraduate students.  PSU is expected to make up the deficits left by state budget cuts by increasing revenue-raising tuition. Percy also said he is working with legislative partners to sustain the mission of PSU. 

Percy also emphasized a commitment to the town hall style of news briefings as a succinct way for anyone interested in tuning into how broader trends are reshaping campus life and institutional policies at PSU.