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The Oregonian: Rahmat Shoureshi starts tenure at Portland State with students at the center
Author: Andrew Theen, The Oregonian/OregonLive
Posted: August 14, 2017

Read the original article in The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Rahmat Shoureshi spent his first morning as Portland State University's president riding the MAX and streetcar through downtown, and getting to know the three student tour guides who led him around his new city and campus.

By a quarter past noon Monday, the tour was finished and the welcome party started behind him at the university's urban plaza. The crowd mingled and snagged cupcakes with PSU green frosting. But Shoureshi, a soft-spoken mechanical engineer who's spent the past four decades in academia, lingered with the three students for one more picture.

It was a telling gesture.

Minutes later, Shoureshi stood at a podium under a white canopy and addressed a crowd of students, staff, faculty and donors. "We are all here for the students," the 64-year-old said to the crowd. "I, as the president, as well as the rest of the administration, faculty and the staff are all here to serve our students."

Shoureshi, the ninth president of Portland State, inherits a school that looks much different than the one his predecessor, Wim Wiewel, took over in 2008. Nine construction or renovation projects moved forward during Wiewel's nearly decade-long tenure, and two more campus-shaping projects are expected to break ground in the coming months.

But the climate on campus has changed, too, as Oregon's public universities emerged from a recession and watched state operating support stay largely stagnant while attendance costs soared. In the past few years, Wiewel's administration was at odds with a vocal segment of the student population on a number of issues: from the decision to arm campus police to increasing tuition costs.

Shoureshi arrives in Portland after briefly working as interim president of the New York Institute of Technology. Though he's never been a long-time leader of a school, Shoureshi has worked or studied at nine universities in the past 40 years, including stints at public institutions like Purdue University and the University of Denver.

In an interview with news media before hitting the campus tour with students, Shoureshi said the budget situation in Oregon is "not anything new to me."

While he glossed over specific questions concerning state support, he said he appreciates the backing PSU receives now. "We need to think about other ways of expanding resources so that instead of just relying on tuition and tuition increases we could look at other sources to support the education of our students," he said.

FITTING IN WITH STUDENTS

Marwa Al-Khamees, Rina Alazas and Troy Craine spent their morning showing the school's new president around campus.

In between perfunctory photo-ops for media at the school's bookstore, and to take selfies with the Umbrella Man statue at Pioneer Courthouse Square, the students and Shoureshi shared a fluid conversation that carried on through rides on a MAX train and streetcar and on a walk to tour the school's engineering building.

Shoureshi, who is Iranian American, asked the students why they chose PSU. He asked follow-up questions, and inquired about what the school could do better.

The students praised PSU's diversity, but said the school could improve.

Alazas, who is from Hillsboro, said that PSU needs to introduce cultural competency training for professors. But she also said she appreciates the effort professors make to get to know their students.

The students asked why Shoureshi chose PSU, which is the state's second largest university with an enrollment of more than 29,000 students. "I could give you a long list," he said, but he cited the school's embrace of its status as the state's most diverse campus, and he was drawn to the possibility of partnering with Oregon Health & Science University, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University on projects.

"No one university can do it all by itself," he said.

He also felt he'd seen it all from his past experiences at other schools. "Being able to take that know-how from those experiences and come to a great university that is intertwined with a great city is an opportunity that doesn't come too often," he said.

Toward the end of the tour, the students said they really liked what they saw from Shoureshi.

Craine said he seemed like a "hardworking and humble kind of guy."

Al-Khamees said she felt Shoureshi was making an honest effort to get to know them.

"He wants to listen to us as students," she said.

MOVING IN

Shoureshi's corner office on the eighth floor of the school's administrative offices is virtually empty. The bookshelves are bare. The desk is a clean slate.

That'll soon change.

Shoureshi is already known among his staff as being a hard worker. When asked what he does in his off time, he said, "When I'm not working, which is really rare, I appreciate a great deal of art, especially the performing arts."

Under his new five-year contract, Shoureshi will be paid a base salary of $599,988, with $260,700 paid by the university and $339,288 paid by the school's foundation. 

He and his wife, Azar, had lived near Lincoln Center in the heart of Manhattan for the past several years. They're choosing to rent an apartment in the Pearl District to acclimate to the city and stay in the urban core.

The couple is already trying to get out on the town. Their 27-year-old daughter is a surgical urology resident at OHSU. They've already dined out at a couple of Portland's famed restaurants.

He's excited to get started at PSU and "move it to the next level."

But he believes he's inheriting a great school that is poised for bigger things.

"You can never say that you are where you want to be," he said. "There's always room for improvement."