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PSU Board of Trustees to study hiring sworn police officers on campus

Portland State’s new Board of Trustees has formed a committee to study hiring sworn police officers and asked campus leaders to prepare to act swiftly if the plan is approved.

In their first full meeting as PSU’s official governing board on Sept. 11, some trustees said it is urgent to approve a recommendation by the 2013 Task Force on Campus Safety to add sworn officers. But they decided to wait to give a special board committee and the campus community more time to discuss the proposal. 

“It seems pretty critically clear that we can’t afford not to act,” said board member Swati Adarkar. 

University leaders will present the recommendations to the Faculty Senate on Oct. 6 and host a town hall on campus safety for students, faculty and staff at 9 a.m. on Oct. 7 in the Smith ballroom. The Board plans to vote on the recommendation Dec. 11. 

Phil Zerzan, chief of public safety, said PSU needs sworn officers to respond to the needs of an urban campus with increasingly complex issues such as mental health, sexual and domestic violence and substance abuse. PSU is the only large public university in Oregon without sworn police officers.

Sworn officers can be armed and have full powers to arrest, detain, investigate and apply search warrants. PSU now relies on the Portland Police Bureau for those services, resulting in a slower response time. 

Non-sworn campus safety officers can respond to a report in less than two minutes, but they have no ability to stop an active shooter, Zerzan said. 

 “The question in my mind isn’t whether we move to this, but how we do it,” said board member Margaret Kirkpatrick. Forming a special board committee to study the issue enables the board to make sure that the new force receives training tailored to the needs of PSU, she added. 

In other action, trustees approved Wiewel’s proposal to start a campus-wide discussion about the direction of the University and complete a new strategic plan by fall 2015. 

The plan will guide PSU over the next five to 10 years toward its vision of becoming a “leading public urban university known for excellence in student learning, innovative research and community engagement.”  

Wiewel will start the process by forming a large team with representatives from across campus and smaller teams to discuss specific topics in more detail. Students, staff and faculty members can share their opinions in surveys, town halls and other campus discussions throughout the year. 

“This process is very important, because it’s about leading a broad discussion with all constituency groups about where we are, where we are going and how we get there,” Wiewel said.   

Wiewel’s other priorities for the year are: continuing the reTHINK PSU initiative, prioritizing academic programs, reviewing the structure of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, launching the new School of Public Health, preparing for the 2015 legislative session, serving as convener of the Oregon public universities presidents council and hiring new vice presidents.

For board meeting agendas and materials go to: pdx.edu/board

Pictured above: PSU President Wim Wiewel tours the new Collaborative Life Sciences Building with faculty and board members.

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