Defining the PSU Board of Trustees

The Portland State Board of Trustees, established in 2013 with the passage of Oregon Senate Bill 270, is a state-appointed body vested with the authority to govern the university and exercise all powers granted to the university by law.

The bill set the stage for a new system of administration for Oregon’s seven public universities, which would eventually replace the now-disbanded Oregon University System with independently operating governing boards.

According to its bylaws, the Board is tasked with determining the university’s mission, supervising and participating in strategic planning, overseeing the university’s finances, setting tuition rates and hiring and firing the university president.

The bylaws refer to the Board as the university’s “final institutional authority;” meaning, its laws and policies have precedence over other policies established by the university’s administration. However, the Board generally takes a role of “oversight and policy determination,” delegating administrative duties to the president and educational and research concerns to the faculty.

While the Board is not obligated to incorporate student and staff perspectives into the decision-making process, its policy on shared governance states it “encourages student and staff participation…within the limits of attainable effectiveness.”

Student trustee Antonio Leiva said when he was first appointed to the Board in late September, he believed his role would be that of a representative for the student body. However, he said this was not necessarily the case.

“In the bylaws it says I am a representative of the school now,” Leiva said. “So I have to vote for what is going to help the school as a whole. But the way I see it, the students…make up the school. Without the students, you don’t have the school. Without these resources, you don’t have the school. There isn’t a Portland State without the students.”

“It is very difficult at times when I have a lot of students come up to me and ask me about all the stuff that is happening around campus,” Leiva said. “Half the time, I don’t have an answer to give. I wish I did. For now, I’m just trying to figure it all out and do the right thing.”

By law, the Board is to be comprised of 11–15 members, including one student, one faculty member and one non-faculty staff member. Trustees are appointed by the governor—with the approval of the Oregon Senate—to two-year terms for student, faculty and staff and four-year terms for all other trustees. All trustees serve on the Board on a volunteer basis and receive no monetary compensation for their Board-related duties.

Who are they?

  • Trustees serving since 2013:
    • Erica Bestpitch, PSU Women’s Resource Center Administrative Director, serves as the Board’s staff trustee. She holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from PSU.
    • Maude Hines is an associate professor of English and former presiding officer of the PSU Faculty Senate. She serves as the Board’s faculty trustee.
    • Gale Castillo, board chair, is the co-owner of Cascade Centers, Inc. She holds a master’s degree in education from PSU.
    • Sho Dozono is a PSU alum with a master’s degree in education and president and chief executive officer of regional travel agency Azumano Travel.
    • Thomas J. Imeson is the vice president for public relations at NW Natural Gas.
    • Pete Nickerson is the co-founder of Chinus Asset Management and former general manager of Nike in China. He is the former chair of the PSU Foundation Board of Directors and the PSU Board of Trustees.
    • Peter W. Stott has been president of Columbia Investment Inc. since 1983. He attended PSU and holds an honorary doctorate from the university.
    • Christine Vernier is a co-founder and chief operating officer of Vernier Software and Technology. She has previously served on the boards for Oregon Business Education Compact and Board of Visitors for the College of Science at Oregon State University.
  • Trustees serving since 2014:
    • Margaret D. Kirkpatrick is the senior vice president of environmental affairs for Northwest Natural Gas Co. and currently serves on the board of directors of Associated Oregon Industries.
    • Irving Levin is an entrepreneur and the founder and chairman of Genesis Financial Solutions.
  • Trustees serving since 2015:
    • Lindsay Stewart is a trustee of the PSU Foundation Board. He has spent most of his career working in legal and management positions for Nike. He has served on the Board of Trustees for Willamette University and as a Trustee for the Oregon Health and Science University Foundation.
  • Trustees serving since 2017:
    • Gregory Hinckley is the president of Mentor Graphics Corporation and serves as vice chair of the Board.

How did we get here?

Before PSU had a Board of Trustees, there was a statewide board overseeing all seven of Oregon’s public universities. The Oregon State Board of Higher Education existed from 1929–2015 and served as a centralized oversight, budgeting and management body for each university.

The single, eleven-member board was appointed by the governor of Oregon and confirmed by the State Senate.

In 2009 and 2010, PSU and the University of Oregon began advocating to change university governance models. They argued that allowing each public university to shift toward its own individual board would better enable the institutions.

In 2013, former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber outlined the benefits in a statement: “Local governing boards at our public universities will produce increased transparency and public accountability, while at the same time leveraging increased private investment and community engagement.”

The new boards would enable Oregon’s public universities to lobby donors and the state both individually or as a group. When the legislation to decentralize public higher education governance was first proposed, there was some concern smaller universities wouldn’t be able to compete for donors as effectively.

In a 2016 Oregonian story, several leaders from the state’s smaller schools expressed cautious optimism with the new board system.

The piece also featured one of the most vocal critics of the new decentralized system, Oregon State Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.  “Once you break up centralization, you create seven or eight turfdoms,” Courtney said. “It’s just a war.”

After the shift to individual governance, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education was replaced by a new body, the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission. HECC continues to perform certain statewide higher-ed functions, like presenting collective budget recommendations of the state’s public universities to the Governor’s office and approving new academic programs.