Portland State University has been called many things: a cutting-edge institution, a commuter school of “non-traditionals,” a school for late bloomers, a liberal activist training ground and a step-child of the Oregon Univesity System. The constant circus of identity politics and budget crises often reduces the qualities of PSU academics to a stance for or against University Studies or, worse, a stinging citation in a mass-produced collegiate ranking guide.
The academic community of PSU is the intellectual heart of the city, yet it is often disguised by the more constant, more demanding pulse of the city. A glamorous “ground breaking” with provincial politicians has tended to usurp a professor’s book release. A rush to a commute home to be with children and partners or a trudge to the proverbial third job replaces the cinematically inspired late nights with crumpled professors debating abstruse theories.
Between infrequent office hours, classes over capacity and a library in disarray, a student is effectively left dumbfounded in another line somewhere on campus, asking, “This is my education?” Well, yes and no. An education at PSU may begin there, in line, but one must demand it continue elsewhere and everywhere.
A student at Portland State University is required to replace the commonly held notions of higher education with a personal re-definition. They must be organized and informed while maintaining a light armor of cynicism. Like a rare handful of other urban state universities, a student must demand (over and over) a quality education to receive it.
Students, however, are not involved in an open-ended and unaided pursuit of knowledge. The most dynamic ambitions are tempered or tested by the university, and nothing defines a university like its teachers. No matter what the administration and its mouthpieces may say about the beauty and the grace of a restored house or another glass building, it is the professor who can inspire and motivate the student. The professor demands that students to challenge their assumptions, question their long held assertions and engage with others in intellectual ways neither afforded nor allowed in other settings. No students will ever say their finest educational moment was walking into a new glass building on campus (unless, of course, they designed it).
Students, however, must research their professor as much they research their own term paper. What is the professor’s academic focus, bias and theoretical grounding? What has the professor spoken for and against? Though professors are as equally divided between responsibilities, the traditional question looms: What has the professor published? The published book is a preeminent indicator of the professor’s, dare I say, passion? In academics, the “book” is equivalent to the rare, complete thought (though I have never met a professor who would keep his or her book exactly as it was published). In essence, students seek an answer to the question: Who are these people who impart the knowledge for which we surrender so much?