Changing world of higher ed outlined at convocation
Author: John Kirkland
Posted: September 20, 2012


Sona Andrews, Portland State University’s new provost and vice president for academic affairs, this week outlined an uncertain new world for both PSU and higher education – one with more questions than answers – at PSU’s annual convocation. 

The event for PSU faculty and staff is held each September to celebrate the opening of the academic year.

The world she described is one in which online education is assuming an increasingly dominant role in student life.  Classes from a growing list of prestigious universities are available online – for free.  Students only have to pay if they want college credit.

To drive home the point, Andrews said she is enrolled in three free online classes, including one on quantum physics from the University of California at Berkeley, which she displayed on an overhead screen to the packed audience at Hoffman Hall. 

“If I was a student at PSU, I’d ask will an employer really care where I got my education, or just care what I know?  And why should I pay PSU when I can get this stuff for free?” she said.

The challenge for the University in the coming years will be embrace the changes in higher education and to make sure that a degree from PSU maintains its value, she said.  She used that challenge as a call to action, saying she will work with faculty in the coming months to strategize PSU’s future.

Andrews began her position as provost on July 1, taking the place of Roy Koch, who retired in June after 30 years at PSU, the last seven as provost.  She has a 22-year career in higher education, holding the position of provost and vice president for academic affairs at Boise State University and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. She also was a professor of geography at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. 

Her presentation was preceded by comments from Pres. Wim Wiewel, who outlined notable recent successes at PSU, including a $5 million gift for the future Viking Pavilion project, the naming of PSU in US News & World Report as one of the country’s top 10 “up and coming” universities, and the near-record amount of money -- $935,000 -- raised for October’s annual Simon Benson Awards Dinner.

Wednesday’s event also included announcement of the recipients of this year’s Employee Excellence Awards. The recipients were:

  • Linda Walton, professor of history and international studies, recipient of the Branford Price Millar Award for Faculty Excellence
  • John Rueter, professor of environmental sciences and management, and director of the School of Environment.
  • Kerry Wu, an associate professor and the reference and instruction librarian for business and economics, recipient of the Kenneth W. and Elsie W. Butler Award for Library Faculty Service.
  • Aimee Shattuck, director of Student Activities and Leadership, recipient of the Mary H. Cumpston Award for Service to Students.