Four days into the job, acting Portland State President Stephen Percy discussed his plans for his short time in his position, his strategies for addressing increasing tuition costs and his views on campus security in a press conference on May 17.
Currently, Percy—who was formerly dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs—is filling in as president until the Board of Trustees appoints an interim president.
On his role as acting president, Percy said: “I believe what the Board decided…they wanted to have someone here immediately, because someone needs to keep the ship running, to sign papers, make decisions that have to be made in the short term, so they’ve asked me to step in for that period.”
Percy said the Board offered him the position the Sunday before former President Rahmat Shoureshi officially resigned.
“It was a Sunday afternoon and I was in my driveway, on my knees with dirt under my fingernails and on my shirt, planting some flowers out there when the phone rang,” Percy said.
“I was asked if I would consider this opportunity and I thought about it a lot and I care a lot about Portland State…because I wanted to help this institution through this challenging transition phase,” Percy said. “I said yes, I would consider [taking that position].”
Percy will be receiving a temporary salary adjustment during his time as acting president.
“I’m receiving an addition to my dean salary,” Percy said. “As a dean I receive a salary of $220,000 and they’re adding onto that up to a salary of $425,000.”
When Percy returns to his position as dean, he said his salary will go back down.
Repairing PSU’s reputation, building trust with students
When asked what he was planning to do to rebuild trust with students and repair the reputational damage, Percy said he wanted to communicate with students and was grateful for the opportunity to do so.
“Students may email me,” he said. “If there are certain groups that want to meet with me, I’d be glad to do that. I like meeting with students.”
Percy said he has already met with the Associated Students of PSU, including ASPSU President Luis Balderas-Villagrana.
“I’d like other ideas; I think we’ll try to communicate more broadly,” Percy said.
Percy also said one of the things he is trying to do is assure people there is “some very good work going on here at PSU, and we’re going to sustain it and continue it,” referencing both the co-op program for students and the centers for excellence and their respective programs.
“It’s been a tough time—some of the stuff I can’t talk about, I wasn’t involved in, but I can talk about moving forward and wanting to be as open and I want to listen to students,” Percy said. “I’d be glad to have student forums. Because I teach, I at least get to listen to some students who tell me other things. I may be here a few weeks, so I better not get too grand in my ideas, but I would like us to begin to figure out ways to listen more and think together.”
Percy also said he would like to find more ways to interact and hold a dialogue as well as find a communal space where “we can be honest with each other, dialogue together [and] problem solve together, knowing it won’t be perfect every moment…but where we can try to come together to find solutions.”
“I always find when you hear from people, you often hear ideas you didn’t know,” Percy said. “Some of them are very easily doable, and you can make a difference.”
Percy said the law enforcement issue is “terribly important,” but other concerns in the PSU community have been coming out, such as the perception of safety on campus and if PSU is doing enough to make students of all histories and ethnic and racial backgrounds feel safe and welcome.
“How do we give people opportunity?” he said. “People want to do that…but sometimes we miss things because we’re not listening to each other.”
Goals as acting president
Percy said he wants to support the PSU community through to the end of the academic year.
“I care very much about this institution, and every institution has some rough times,” Percy said. “I would like to use my time in this position to try to reassure everyone that Portland State is remaining true to its mission and its vision.”
“I want to support positive graduation,” he said. “Many people worked very hard and spent a lot of time working on that so I want to make sure that’s a positive experience.”
On considering continuing on to be interim president, Percy said: “I’ve only been in the job four days…what I’d like to do is explore the job. I’ve been a dean—I think I know what presidents do, but I’d like to explore the job and think about it.”
Percy also mentioned his status as a teacher and his current projects in the College of Urban and Public Affairs.
“In addition to being a dean, I’ve taught undergraduate and graduate courses,” he said. “Right now, I’m teaching an undergraduate’s dean seminar in our Urban and Public Affairs major.”
“It gives me a chance to work with some fantastic undergraduate students at Portland State who are all interested in some kinds of social justice projects,” Percy said.
State Investment Strategies
Percy also mentioned working with legislators and other universities to try to increase state investment and to reduce the proposed 11% tuition increase to be his “most diligent priority in the next few weeks.”
The proposed 11% increase was approved Monday May 13 by the Board. The Board meeting was also Percy’s first appearance as acting president since being appointed.
“I’ve already spent last Wednesday, the full day in Salem,” Percy said.
He explained PSU and other state universities will try to steer the investment of those additional funds into higher education in an effort to “minimize tuition as much as possible.”
Another driving factor for the tuition increase is the fact that PSU receives one of the lowest state investments per degree in the state. Percy said we should be pushing for equity at the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.
“State funding formulas at every state I’ve been in are very complex; they have a lot of history to them, but the argument we need to make is it’s not fair for us to receive less money per student than other universities,” Percy said. “So I think that’s something we’re pressing for. But I’m pretty new [to the job] to say exactly what, but it’s something I’m aware of.”
When asked if there was a plan to coordinate with city law enforcement—given the nature of response on an urban campus—Percy said he met with Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and talked about her plan to reevaluate how first responders respond to calls and arrive at the scene, saying it was a “very cool idea.”
When asked if CPSO were the appropriate first responders to certain calls such as mental health crises, Percy said he’d like to explore other options.
“Rather than sending a firetruck and ambulance to every situation, there may well be situations where it’s better to send crisis people to those who have mental health problems,” Percy said.
“It’s revamping 911 to diversify the type of response and make it more appropriate. We’d love to learn more about that and see if we can work with that.”
On recruitment and retention issues at CPSO—similar to those at the PPB—Percy said he plans to go over and meet with them.
“I want to try to work and make sure the morale of those folks is there, and we are currently recruiting,” he said. “Part of what we can do to help is try to clarify where we’re going in the future.”
He suggested considering the Margolis Healy report, hearing from the committees looking at it, getting some other input and making a decision.
“[We need to] clarify where we’re going, because that uncertainty is obviously something anyone looking at a job [would consider].”
Favorite food: Italian
Favorite Italian dish: Fettuccine alfredo
Favorite workout: Gardening
Favorite Harry Potter character: “Maggie Smith’s Character”
Favorite bird: Cardinal
Favorite insect: Dragonfly
Favorite smell: Good Italian food cooking
Favorite plant: Roses (“I’m falling in love with rose gardening, because the climate here is so conducive”)
Favorite place to go in Portland: “The nurseries, and the restaurants, and one place I really love is the Oregon Coast“