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President Wim Wiewel’s April 7 address to PSU Faculty Senate

Colleagues,

By now you have heard that PSU and the AAUP have reached a tentative contract agreement after 32 hours of negotiations over the weekend.  I want to thank the bargaining teams for both the university and the AAUP for their patience, perseverance and good-faith determination to reach a fair settlement of what have been difficult issues. 

This represents a milestone for Portland State, and not just because we avoided the first faculty strike in Oregon higher education.  I have not fully appreciated the extent of frustration and disagreement from the faculty about PSU’s direction.   Of course I read AAUP’s statements, but my own interactions with faculty and staff over these years gave me a more positive impression of the campus mood.  Probably this was some combination of your “Portland polite” and my perennial optimism.

I have heard you, and I’m listening.  You, the faculty and staff, have done an amazing job over the past years dealing with a rapidly growing institution with insufficient resources, in a national and state climate that devalues the role of faculty, of tenure, and of higher education in general.  There’s pressure to produce more graduates, to change pedagogy and shift to new technologies, while students are paying more.  In the face of that, you have improved retention and graduation rates, increased funded research, and engaged the community in ways that have led to more private funding and greater visibility.  

Obviously, many of the pressures are not unique to PSU; they are happening everywhere, and we are limited in what we can do.  But while it’s important to understand that external reality, it can’t be an excuse for not doing what we need to do right here.  

We have in the last six years begun to reverse the trend to more adjuncts and non-tenure related faculty, but it is not enough.  We should explore strengthening tenure by looking at developing a system that works for what are now fixed-term faculty.  We are sharing more budget information, and giving colleges and schools greater control over their resources, but we can and will do a lot more in regard to transparency and dialogue about priorities.  Through reTHINK PSU and the Provost’s Challenge, faculty and staff are telling us how they want to incorporate new technologies and styles of learning in pedagogy, while building on our strength of engaged learning. But we still need deeper and broader discussions with faculty on what the university will look like in the future.  When I arrived, I was dismayed by the weaknesses in areas such as student support, enrollment management, research support, diversity, and private fund-raising and we have made many improvements in all those areas.   But this has taken resources, and it is now time to invest more in faculty.

I pledge that once faculty ratifies the new contract agreement, things will not simply return to “normal.”  I and the other members of my leadership team, will work with the Faculty Senate, the unions, and students to start a deep conversation about the future of PSU.  I want to have an extensive dialogue about how we provide the best education that combines our historic missions of providing access and opportunity with being a research university and urban anchor institution.  About how we prioritize and allocate scarce resources, and how we develop a strategic plan that provides clear guidance.  We will start a discussion on how best to do this at the ALPS retreat next month and at a Town Hall meeting we will schedule soon.

I came here six years ago because I believed in PSU’s commitment to opportunity, excellence, and engagement.  I still do -- more than ever -- and want to work with you in a new way to achieve this.   

Thank you for your dedication to PSU.

Wim Wiewel, President

The President's Corner