Illustration by Neo Clark

PSU Presidential press conference

President Stephen Percy talks diversity, remote learning and advice to the next president of PSU

On March 3, 2023, President Stephen Percy held a press conference addressing several important issues facing Portland State. The topics for discussion ranged from diversity to remote learning and advice for the next president.


One of the issues discussed was on the matter of whether or not students prefer remote learning to in-person classes. “We’re really trying to figure out what’s the right mix of online classes versus in-person classes,” Percy said. “We get different signals from different things and so we’re doing a lot of thinking about that, and I don’t mind the students knowing that we’re thinking about that because we want to try to understand their needs. We know that for some people it’s easier to balance their lives. If they don’t have to come they can save the time they’re coming to campus…they don’t have to pay for parking.”


With transportation and convenience discussed, President Percy mentioned the effects of safety concerns.


“We think some people might have been somewhat concerned about the status of Portland,” Percy said. “Maybe concerned of our safety. I think we’re pretty safe. Some people think it’s really important in your first year to come to campus, because how are you gonna know your friends and learn the campus and be a part of the campus community?”


“We’d like to have a lot of people here because of vital campuses,” Percy said. “It’s really an interesting place to be. And so there’s a flexibility dimension to it, but there’s also another thing we’re looking at: How well the students learnmaybe some kinds of courses are better taught in-person…than online. We have these attend anywhere classes…you could either go online or do it synchronous at the same time. You could even come to the classroom to take the class, or you could do it from a remote location. It didn’t matteryou had the choice…we’re trying to think very carefully, trying to listen to students to figure out.”


On the topic of diversity, the president noted the growing number of minorities at PSU. “It’s quite clear that we are becoming a majority minority institution,” he said. “Part of what we have started to think about, will need to think about: what does it mean to be a minority-prevalent institution? Out of our programs, do we have the right cultural sensitivity? The right cultural dimensions of our curriculum? How are we treating students that might have different needs? That’s totally new to us, but it’s an interesting thing that the new president will have is an institution that’s diversity has grown to such that it really is becoming more diverse, and how do we do that well?”


On the topic of diversity, when asked if international students are a valuable addition to the PSU community, President Percy replied by saying, “Yes, absolutely. I would like to have more international studentswe had more, but then with COVID and then some of the political dynamics fewer students come, but we’re trying to figure out a way to blend that.”


International student enrollment had been at a decline, with COVID-19 being a major factor that heavily affected enrollment, as well as political barriers to entry into the United States. The number of international students is lower today than it was before the COVID-19 shutdown. “I think the international students bring an amazing, other sense of knowledge and experience and life course that all can be very positive,” Percy said. “So we’re trying to figure out a way to recruit more students.”


Portland State Vanguard asked President Percy if he knew of any other barriers that international students face when deciding to come to PSU, aside from barriers to entry into the country.


“There can be financial barriersfor example, we have a scholarship program in Vietnam but I don’t think many students still, even with a scholarship, are able to come,” Percy replied. “So that can be a challenge.”


Vanguard also asked Percy for advice for whoever will fill his role as president after he leaves the position in summer 2023.


“I would tell the new president that I love this institution dearly and I believe in its mission,” Percy said. “I spent my career at these kinds of institutions that are embedded in their own communities that believe that interacting, learning, co-creating knowledge with their communities and that allow people the opportunity to really unleash their intellectual power and their power as leaders and their power as people to be very successful in their lives, and we call it creating social mobilitythat means… having more access to opportunity, more wealth and more good things in life, because we’ve let that talent come through and that talent also creates a wonderful workforce in our area.”


“The workforce means everywherenon-profits, doctors, leaders, social workers,” Percy continued. “I very much hope that the new president will find a way to sustain our commitment to racial justice and equity…I believe fervently in it, I believe we’ve only just begun, we have just begun to get some good things in place. It will take a long time for that work to do, but I would like us to be a leader in being a racially just institution.”