Student-centered, student-led

As I finish my last year at Portland State, I feel more discontent about the university than I have in a long time. I’ve written before about all of the problems I have with PSU’s administration, with Oregon’s higher education system and with PSU’s culture. My time here is almost up, and one of my biggest regrets is not doing more about the things that bothered me.

I doubt I’m the only one. People have tried to stop campus public safety officers from being armed; they’ve tried every year to stop tuition from being raised, and they stood with the American Association of University Professors when they threatened to strike. Sometimes it worked, but often it was too little, too late. PSU students have to get organized if any of the things that are wrong with PSU are going to change.

I want PSU to be a place where people can care about their education more than they care about how they’re paying for their education. I want it to be a place where professors can dedicate themselves to teaching and research full-time and not a place that relies on adjuncts who have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. I still really want it to be a place where our cafeteria food isn’t served by a company that has allegedly been underfeeding prisoners and preparing food in a kitchen that has maggots, and that doesn’t have a history of punishing workers who complain about unsanitary conditions.

After this summer, my time as a PSU student will be over, and I won’t be able to do much about those problems. I still have friends and family at PSU, though, and I want their educations to be free from some of the things that made me so frustrated with the university. That won’t happen without a student movement. It doesn’t have to be a big movement, like the ones at Quebec or Cooper Union, but students have to start caring year-round, not just the two or three times per year when things like tuition hikes and arming CPSO officers make headlines.

We have a lot of work to do, starting with Associated Students of Portland State University. ASPSU elections are plagued by ridiculously low turnout unless something scandalous reminds people they exist. This year it took the only candidate for president being a convicted sex offender to get people to pay attention to the elections and actually decide to run.

Most people were uncomfortable with that situation, but it shouldn’t take that much for people to realize how important student government and, by extension, student power actually are. ASPSU works harder than anyone to combat student apathy and change a lot of the issues that I’ve written about, but they can’t do much without better support from students.

Because PSU is a commuter school, it’s hard to build a movement or get people to care about an issue until it’s too late. Organizations like ASPSU, AAUP and the PSU Student Union have done their best. But we need to start caring. PSU will never be student-centered unless students stand up and work together.