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Roy W. Koch | Welcome Letter 2006

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September 8, 2006

Dear Colleagues:

It is my pleasure to welcome you back for the 2006-07 academic year at Portland State University. As we begin this new year, I hope you feel some of the same excitement and anticipation that I do for the many opportunities that lie before us.

At Portland State we also face challenges as do many other institutions of higher education. The context for higher education is changing rapidly and so are the expectations. We live in an increasingly global, increasingly connected world where the rate of change is rapid. There is a growing expectation that institutions of higher education will contribute to the social, cultural, and economic development of their communities and will prepare students to work in this environment. In my view, the institution is very well positioned to address these challenges; in fact, we are already leading the development of higher education programs into the 21st century. Our campus-wide initiatives on internationalization and diversity directly address the new global reality in which we live and work, and our commitment to community engagement and the expansion of our research activities directly connects PSU to our local community and to the broader world. As we integrate engagement more deeply into our academic activities, we thereby complement the historic mission of the university to engage in basic research and interact with students in the classroom. In doing so, we value equally this broader range of activities, including community-based learning and community-based and applied research, conducted in a rigorous manner and subjected to the same high standards as are the more traditional activities. In this way we directly integrate the service mission of higher education with our other unique missions of instruction and research while becoming intentionally connected to our communities and contributing directly to their well-being. Sometimes it may be difficult to appreciate from our vantage point, but universities across the country and around the world use PSU as a model for pioneering this approach to higher education. This coming year, and into the future, we must continue to develop this broader, inclusive approach.

One of the best ways to gauge our progress as an institution is to review some of our recent accomplishments including the external validation we have received. For the fifth straight year, we have been acknowledged by U.S. News & World Report as one of the "Universities to Look For" based on our approach to undergraduate education, including real-world experiences derived from the integration of service learning and community-based activities into the curriculum. After a year-long process, we are proudly displaying a new logo this month and rolling out an identity campaign that provides a cohesive set of messages and images for us that matches our enhanced and growing reputation. As a reminder that, in addition to our considerable intellectual contributions to the community, Portland State University helps fuel the economic development of our region, a new Portland State report was issued this summer, Our University: It's Not Just Academic. The report identifies and quantifies our contributions to the local economy from both our academic and business activities are identified and quantified. But as much as these markers of our progress”the college guide rankings, our new integrated marketing activities, and the economic impact statement”encourage us as we begin the new year, we know that they are only reflections of the deeper and very significant accomplishments that take place everyday at Portland State by students, staff and faculty. In the rest of this letter, I want to highlight some of the other work that demonstrates our accomplishments and the challenges we face.

Update on my first year priorities

Building our future while coping with budget limitations and the need to keep academic support in line with our institutional growth and priorities continues to be a challenge. In my letter last year I mentioned some items needing our attention. The following highlights some progress we have made on each item mentioned in last year's letter.

  • Extending the campus
    Our successful collaboration with community colleges to extend our campus was made publicly explicit. The Portland Area Higher Education Consortium brings together Portland State with Mt. Hood, Clackamas, Chemeketa, and Portland community colleges in an effort to increase collaboration on programs, policies, financial aid and IT systems. The Consortium will utilize the combined means of member schools to ensure the success of transfer students, and lead to a more efficient and effective use of the limited resources we all have. Other activities extend our campus through off-site locations and distance education. Examples include our recruiting and in-take advising offices, as well as upper division classes offered at the Rock Creek PCC campus in Washington County and the Cascade PCC campus in North Portland, and operating offices and classes at Chemeketa Community College in Salem and Mt. Hood Community College. For Fall Term over 700 students are enrolled in PSU classes on those campuses. We continue to offer a variety of engineering and computer science degree programs in Washington County as well as graduate degrees in Business Administration. We are currently examining ways to increase offerings in the region through expansion of on-line and hybrid on-line course conversion. While the Capital Center in Washington County has been sold by OUS, PSU will seek new facilities in the area during the coming year. Portland State University's first nationally offered on-line degree program in Criminal Justice, continues to do well with enrollments of 120 students from across the country in just its first year.
  • Restructuring and improving research administration and support
    Working with Vice Provost Bill Feyerhem, Vice President Desrochers and I appointed the Task Force on Research and Sponsored Projects Infrastructure last winter to make recommendations that would increase the availability and effectiveness of support provided to researchers with external funding while still preserving the necessary review functions. This activity not only responded to my own priority of improving research infrastructure but also helps us to respond to a similar recommendation resulting from our accreditation visit (discussed subsequently in this letter) late last fall. The Task Force members provided a comprehensive list of recommendations that have been considered by the Council of Academic Deans and are now being reviewed by Vice President Desrochers and me. We will work with Vice Provost Feyerherm and Associate Vice Provost Nancy Koroloff to develop a plan for implementation.
  • Establishing academic priorities as a basis for allocating resources
    Setting academic priorities is critical to advancing our mission in both the short and long term and is particularly important to making budget allocation decisions and guiding our next capital campaign. In last year's budget process, we used a historic set of priorities developed as a result of our activities over the previous few years in evaluating both reductions and enhancements. Following that experience, we are now in a better position to a engage in a proactive priority setting process working in partnership with faculty, staff and administrative groups. Building on past efforts in this regard, CADS members, along with a few other administrators, will begin this year with a retreat in early October. The objective will be to affirm our medium and long term goals and to develop a limited set of priorities for the coming academic year. The next step will be to hold our annual campus symposium, delayed this year from its usual fall schedule until January in order to allow the campus to participate in discussions based on the recommendations generated at the retreat. The results, derived from the campus-wide discussion, will be used as part of the ongoing budget allocation process.
  • Improving faculty salaries and building the tenure-track faculty ranks
    I continue to believe that these two issues are absolutely important but, having developed a much deeper appreciation of our current financial situation, I now better understand the difficulties in achieving significant short term gains in either of these areas. Obviously where resources are scarce and where other costs are increasing significantly, there is a tradeoff required between these two objectives, and both are also related to the generation of the tuition revenue that supports the institution. Even when considering the employees' benefit package, most faculty and staff at PSU, as at other institutions in Oregon, are underpaid. However, even assuming there are additional resources, funding for one of these priorities reduces funding for the other, requiring serious discussion. An equally significant issue is the status within the University of fixed-term faculty relative to their colleagues who are tenured or on the tenure track. All of these issues require our attention, and solutions will have to be developed and implemented over a multi-year time horizon and in the context of the trend toward becoming a tuition-funded institution.

Accreditation

In my letter to you last year, I wrote about the then upcoming visit of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. As most of you know, that visit resulted in reaffirmation of our institutional accreditation. The NCCU team's campus review was the culmination of a long-term effort by a team of faculty, staff, and administrators who helped create an electronic portfolio for Portland State University's self-study and coordinated the complex fall site visit. I want to thank all the staff and faculty who took time to meet with the accreditation team. Thanks again to Steering Committee Chair Sherril Gelmon, Terry Rhodes, and Kathi Ketcheson for their effective coordination. We received many commendations as well as a few recommendations that need our attention this year. The Commission applauded Portland State for its commitment and dedication to the institution's mission, current initiatives, and intellectual development of its students. Three recommendations require a formal progress report from us this fall: enhancement of infrastructure support for research (for progress, see research infrastructure above), greater participation and communication concerning priorities (for progress, see academic priorities above) and increased attention to the management of hazardous materials (recommendations and actions currently under consideration). The progress reports will be posted on the web in October. In Fall 2007 we will host a follow-up visit by the NWCCU and report on the fourth recommendation”assessment. We must provide evidence of what we have done to ensure that assessment efforts are effective and integrated. (This report link details both the commendations and recommendations.)

Campus initiatives and academic programs

The campus initiatives (Diversity, Internationalization, Academic Advising and Assessment) have been effective in raising the level of activity in those selected areas through the hard work of the various action councils. The Action Councils have made sufficient progress so that the initiatives are becoming integrated into our regular operations. We have begun this process as academic advising became the focus of a new standing administrative committee, with members from the faculty, the professional advising ranks, and the administration being charged with both advocacy and evaluation of advising activities. We are planning similar paths for Internationalization and Assessment initiatives in the coming year. Diversity remains a priority and has gained new resources through our collaboration with the National Coalition Building Institute. Martha Balshem will continue guiding the President's Diversity initiative from a new office in the Smith Center mezzanine. Our sustainability efforts were rewarded by our being certified as the nation's first "Salmon-Safe" university campus, and a new Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices was approved by the Faculty Senate.

We continued to move forward in the development of our academic programs during the past year. Two new Ph.D. programs were approved by the State Board of Higher Education, one in Biology and the other in Technology Management. A proposed Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Inequality was approved for an external review early this year, and, pending a positive outcome, will go forward for Board approval shortly thereafter. A multi-departmental undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies was also approved as was a graduate certificate in Transportation. Two other graduate certificates are pending: one in Computer Security and the other in Food Marketing and Logistics.

The successes of both individual and groups of faculty, staff and students are impressive but too numerous to mention and selecting examples from the list would only get me into trouble. So, for an in-depth look at the accomplishments of individuals and programs on campus, I encourage you to refer to the News section on the front page of the Portland State website. You can search by date or topic to learn about some of the more notable activities. The news releases reveal a rich pool of talent and an extensive array of accomplishments.

Organizational and administrative changes

As in most years, we have seen a few organizational and administrative changes. In response to budget reduction and an associated reorganization in the Office of Academic Affairs, the Center for Academic Excellence is now reporting to the Vice Provost for Instruction and Dean of Undergraduate Studies. Candyce Reynolds has accepted the position of Director for Teaching and Learning for the coming year and is coordinating the move of six instructional designers from OIT thus consolidating significant instructional support in CAE. The move is part of an effort to provide more integrated support for teaching and learning services to faculty.

In addition to new staff and faculty who will be introduced at Fall Convocation on September 19 and through notices in the Currently, I'd like to note a number of academic administrative positions that were successfully filled over the past year. Carol Mack, who most recently served as Interim Dean of the Graduate School of Education, has been appointed Vice Provost for Academic Administration and Planning after Mike Driscoll relocated to Alaska in July as Provost at the Anchorage campus. Randy Hitz, formerly Dean of the College of Education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, begins his first fall quarter as the dean of the Graduate School of Education. Barbara Sestak continues as Interim Dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts. Shawn Smallman begins this month as Interim Vice Provost for Instruction and Dean of Undergraduate Studies following Terry Rhodes' selection as Vice President for Quality, Curriculum and Assessment at the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington, DC. Dan Fortmiller continues as Interim Vice Provost for Student Affairs as our national search for the position progresses.

Budget

So as not to be cast as completely unrealistic and overly optimistic, let me at least mention the most obvious challenge we face”the all-too-frequent need to make difficult budget decisions. Given the general climate for funding public services, in general, and public higher education, in particular, we can expect that we will continue to operate in an environment of scarce resources, requiring careful management and occasionally very significant budget decisions, in the future. Although everyone involved in last year's budget process found it to be a difficult undertaking, we felt that it was at least accomplished with the participation and input of the broader campus community and using the information needed to make informed decisions in a timely fashion. We are working to regularize this process in the coming year given the importance and impact of the resulting decisions. As part of the budget process, a survey of faculty activities was undertaken to provide data on the broad range of accomplishments from across the campus community. We have received many comments on the survey but despite some of its specific shortcomings, the data still provided useful information that helped us make budgetary decisions and reminded us again that staff and faculty maintain a level of high productivity even when working with limited resources. We are currently reviewing the survey in light of the suggestions received from individual faculty, staff, administrators and the Faculty Senate Budget Committee. We will have a revised survey ready for use this fall to again inform the budget process and as part of a larger effort to make assessment and other data available in a reliable and accessible format through the Portfolio in order to inform our management decisions. I especially appreciate the work on this project by the staff of the Office of Institutional Research and Planning and members of the Budget Committee. Campus groups and individuals were either directly involved in the budget process or were provided frequent updates on an OAA site devoted to budget planning. The budget reductions were very difficult but the process also allowed us to reinvest in a number of areas. In addition to reinvestments in Student Affairs, Graduate Studies and Research, and four of the colleges/schools, funding was allocated for the support of two new centers: Transportation (approval pending) and Sustainable Processes and Practices.

Fall events

I anticipate that the year ahead will be as busy as our last. To help us get a good start, I invite you to participate in the opening fall events. I very much look forward to seeing you at Convocation on September 19 where we will celebrate the new year and our 60th anniversary together or at Focus on Faculty on September 20 where teaching and learning is the subject of a keynote address by John Tagg, author of The Learning Paradigm. Please join us.

Sincerely,

Roy W. Koch
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs