Tuition raise: Was it really the only option?

Last week, Portland State’s Board of Trustees voted to raise tuition unanimously despite loud, disruptive protests from students. In a move that surprised no one, an administration that enjoys some of the most bloated salaries in the state at one of the least affordable public universities blamed the tuition hike on the state’s disinvestment.

None of this is really a surprise anymore, but it tells us two things that many of us probably knew or suspected: PSU is doing nothing meaningful to make college affordable, and it isn’t interested in listening to student voices.

For example, how’s everyone liking that new payment plan that got rolled out this year? Has anyone else had the pleasure of paying one of the new $100 late fees? As a recent Vanguard article pointed out, no other university in the state charges fees this high. But when asked about it, the administration insists that the new plan is in students’ best interests, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

In the fall, despite weeks of protest and testimony, PSU’s Board of Trustees voted to deputize and arm Campus Public Safety Officers. CPSO Chief Phil Zerzan’s response to concerns about profiling and use of force was obtuse and patronizing: “How about not having racist cops? How about having a culture and an organization that doesn’t allow that?” This response ignored statistics, and it ignored a number of students of color who were trying to testify that a racist culture was already present. The university doesn’t seem to care about what students think; the people in charge have already decided how things are going to be.

For years we’ve seen a focus on infrastructure and development while being told that the administration’s hands are tied because the money is earmarked or because it’s donated for building projects. But it’s incredibly disheartening to watch glass towers go up and buildings that were already new get refurbished while tuition keeps climbing and the general quality of life and quality of education keep diminishing.

A growing number of students are worrying about where their next meal will come from. Last year, the political science department was threatened with massive budget cuts and the prospect of being converted into an online-only program.

I have a hard time believing that the administration at PSU, with their advanced degrees, big brains and big paychecks, can’t find ways of keeping tuition low. Foisting it off on the lack of state funding is only a good excuse to a certain point. We’ve always known that the state isn’t adequately investing in higher education—it hasn’t for years. When PSU’s tuition has gone up by $1,000 since 2010, the blame there can’t rest solely on the Legislature.

The university needs to be doing more, whether it’s organizing more lobby days for students, using its own lobbyists more effectively, or working on legislation that gives more money to higher education. Instead of getting donations for things like the Viking Pavilion or the Smith Memorial Student Union remodel, why isn’t the university asking those donors to give to scholarship funds or asking those high-dollar donors to use their influence to put pressure on the state for better higher education funding? I’m not convinced that PSU exhausted all possible options before raising tuition.