As the summer session comes to a close (always somewhat of an anticlimactic affair), students and faculty are released for several weeks to enjoy the remainder of summer, and the anticipation of fall quarter. Not remarkably, during this respite from the rituals of higher education many of Portland State University’s most importunate issues are displaced for a few weeks of reflective thought and freshly conceived plans of action. During this time, I surmise, that the truly effective schemes are born anew in the students’ (and faculties’) minds, dubious past actions are finally shed and alliances are rethought and transformed.
In other words, the next three weeks are when you ditch your enemies, make new friends and lay the groundwork for the “future.” With this in mind, it is meaningful to review some momentous occasions at PSU and revisit a few defining moments.
With many still reeling from the Presidential Election of 2000 and wanting to forget the whole damned sordid affair, it is a useful reminder of, at least, PSU’s widely perceived image as liberal, untethered center of radical politics. Admittedly, once in attendance, it seems rather staid and an often-heard complaint is that the average PSU student is woefully uninvolved, but it was here that Albert Gore decided to refashion himself as an environmental candidate after being criticized by green groups nationwide. His rally in front of Shattuck Hall became, in the words of one democrat, where the Gore campaign realized that Nader had mobilized a much more impassioned group of activists and loyalists. I can still remember a few screaming “Fuck Gore” and finally realizing that this candidate had some serious legitimacy problems within his own flock. Days later, while ASPSU President Bar Johnson was dealing with her own legitimacy issues because of severe criticism of her unflagging mobilization of voters and support of democratic candidates, Karenna Gore was running on a beach with her father Al wearing a PSU sweatshirt; not exactly Yale, but we had made Newsweek, nonetheless.
As students returned for winter quarter, the dissecting of the campus had begun for the Largest and Most Expensive Shopping Cart in the World (also known as the Portland Streetcar). Many students and staff expressed surprise and concern that such a mammoth project had reach a point of fruition without any student input. Again, like so many other projects “under the radar” at PSU, the Streetcar seemed another intrusion of big business into academia. Supposedly, this transportation option would benefit all involved, and now with it fully functional, many students are affirmed in their suspicion that it was always purely cosmetic.
Winter quarter also saw a PSU student, Dmitri Dysellas, begin a courageous information campaign against U.N. sanctions on Iraq. The Vanguard printed a letter from Dysellas and graphic photos as testament of the inhumane sanctions’ effect on children (Vanguard Volume 55, issue 53). This caused quite a stir on campus. Later, Dysellas was involved in another attention getting campaign, this time a lawsuit against PSU for violating his rights as a student and as a journalist. This lawsuit stemmed from a seizure of work-related material in The Rearguard (a left-leaning campus publication). Though the lawsuit is regarded by many as legally flawed, it did expose mismanagement of student files and insensitivity on the part of the administration toward student concerns and, especially, their draconian attitude toward student publications, clubs and student government.
Also, during winter quarter, students lost another battle. Again, despite intensive lobbying, tuition for Oregon schools is set for an increase. Here, at PSU, while glass monolithic buildings replace parking lots and houses are refashioned with million dollar budgets, students pay the highest tuition for educational “value” returned of all Western States, and ranked in the bottom-5 nationally. All the while, students heard “these building are not being built with student money.” Really?
While University Studies continues to steamroll over most thoughtful suggestions and critiques, there are still many unanswered concerns, Not the least of which is many student’s dissatisfaction with the Senior Capstone’s remarkable inflexibility. Added to this is now an underclassmen revolving joke about the math teacher professing the tenets of Shakespeare while everyone, even the lowliest freshmen, can see through the not-so-hidden guise. Yet, there is the dizzying feeling that critiquing University Studies in any way is to take on a gargantuan media-savvy spin machine out of control and running downhill.
As these memories of PSU’s past year bear witness, many issues need the attention of the students of Portland State University when we return in fall quarter for another round of higher education. The battles (hopefully few, likely many) that we choose to galvanize around will not only define us as a university, but will impact the integrity of our degree in the future. In my opinion, the next few weeks of respite, will be just the time when students question themselves and their intentions and prepare for the school year ahead and the important considerations that all of us face at Portland State.