Looking Back: Spring 2019
Author: Kathryn Kirkland
Posted: June 4, 2019

50 years ago: Portland State becomes a university

ON FEBRUARY 14, 1969, Gov. Tom McCall signed legislation elevating Portland State College to Portland State University. The Oregon Legislature was key in raising the status of the then-college, particularly Sen. Don Willner. He and Branford Millar, president of Portland State from 1959 to 1968, worked hard to show the importance of the college to Portland and the state.

When the bill was signed, Gregory Wolfe was president of Portland State and John Nolan was president of the Associated Students. Both had testified for the bill before the Senate Education Committee, with many faculty and students in the audience.

The first doctoral programs for the University were Environmental Science and Resources, Systems Science and Urban Studies. 

A party celebrating university status was held for the entire school in the ballroom of the newly renamed Smith Memorial Center. Michael Smith, 1965 College Bowl team member, had died the year before from cystic fibrosis. Cake was served, loud music played and notables spoke, according to the 1969 Viking yearbook. 

“The new status guarantees one thing—opportunity,” wrote Viking staff. “Opportunity for more grants, opportunity for doctoral programs and opportunity for change and growth.”

Caption: Gov. Tom McCall signs legislation creating Portland State University on February 14, 1969 (above right). That same year, Michael Smith's mother, accompanied by professor Ben Padrow, unveils her son's name on the College Center (below right). Smith was a member of the 1965 College Bowl Team and died of cystic fibrosis in 1968. PSU's first doctoral degree was awarded to Chamberlain Foes (left) in 1972.