On Thursday, June 18, the Board of Trustees will meet to approve the 2020-21 budget and vote on a proposed tuition increase. President Percy will also be speaking to the board regarding the budget, tuition, and the campus police.
We encourage all members to testify to the board about any or all of these topics. You can prepare written testimony and/or sign up for a 2-minute speaking slot. You can find some sample talking points below, although we encourage you to also bring your own expertise, questions, and concerns to the board.
Issue 1: Campus Culture, Equity, & Policing
PSU-AAUP was pleased to receive President Percy’s Friday email saying that he is listening to the “calls for change to address systemic racism [that] are being voiced across our campus.” We are looking forward to seeing what he will present at the board meeting, and we acknowledge that we have a very long way to go to create a campus “where equity is a reality."
As Professor Ethan Johnson shared at the Friday rally, “Anti-Black violence is Portland State University putting Black people on the front page of the website almost every day and claiming PSU is the most racially diverse university in Oregon, while 10 Black faculty and administrators left PSU last year and Black students at PSU have the lowest graduation rate.” His words echoed those of a recent student op-ed in the Mercury, calling out “The Hypocrisy in Portland State University's Response to Racist Policing.”
Additionally, if you support the Disarm movement, we encourage you to email the board and PSU President with the AAUP letter we made public insisting that PSU Disarm campus police. The board can be emailed at email@example.com and President Percy at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can also sign on to it here.
Issue 2: 2020-21 Budget & Tuition
Details on the 2020-21 budget and tuition projections were presented to the Board’s Finance & Administration Committee last week. Although PSU-AAUP recognizes the new uncertainties introduced by the COVID situation, PSU-AAUP remains concerned about a long-standing lack of transparency in budget projections, a lack of true shared governance in setting budget priorities, and a failure to acknowledge the ways that continuous cuts affect student success.
- Budget Pessimism - For years, PSU Administration has been over-estimating expenses and under-estimating revenues at budget time. By the time end of year actuals are released, we find that we have made many unnecessary cuts to our campus operations, often coming directly out of department budgets and impacting instruction and student services. Between 2015 and 2019, PSU’s net pessimism amounted to $51.5 million. At the February 26th budget forum, PSU presented slides showing projections of increased enrollment numbers for the next 5 years while narrating a projected decline. We know the COVID situation introduces new uncertainties, but what is different about this year’s estimates from past-year’s estimates? Are they also overly pessimistic? What evidence do we have that they are actually well-grounded?
- Reserves - Since 2015, PSU has grown its central reserves by nearly $40 million dollars and operating reserves by over $15 million (slide 76). Now is the time to use these reserves. Moreover, if it is possible to grow these combined reserves by over $10 million per year -- last year alone these combined reserves grew by over $17 million -- how cautious must we be in spending them in this time of true crisis?
- Tuition - In a time of a pandemic and widespread unemployment, a tuition increase is both out of line with PSU priorities and potentially detrimental to University efforts to increase enrollment. After twenty-five years of tuition increases that have significantly outpaced inflation, there’s little remaining elasticity in student credit hour pricing. As an access institution, further increasing tuition at PSU continues to run the risk of pricing out the kinds of students we primarily serve. With mostly online courses being the norm for a majority of institutions for at least fall term, there’s significant risk that those taking online classes may choose other options. OSU is proposing to raise tuition 0% for their continuing undergraduate students, and a smaller ~3% hike for new students. Other colleges across the country are freezing tuition, reducing tuition, and/or offering new scholarships for students affected by COVID. At PSU, the difference between a 0% tuition increase and a 4.9% increase is only projected to be about $4 million in net increased revenue. This is less than 1% of PSU’s total budget, but creates a significant burden for the individual students who would have to pay for yet another tuition hike. Even with the University having limited reserves to lean on, now is the time for a bold strategy that better aligns with this moment. PSU should freeze tuition for Fall 2020 and send a clear (and marketable) message that we are here to serve the city at a time when an extraordinarily large number of people have the capacity and need to take advantage of what we offer.
- Furloughs, Cuts, and Austerity - While we understand that this is a unique moment, we remain frustrated that both part-time WorkShare related furloughs and full-time unpaid leaves are disproportionately falling on some of the lowest paid workers at PSU. After years of continual cuts to departmental budgets, faculty and APs know first hand how much student success is suffering as advising positions remain unfilled and retiring faculty go unreplaced. In years past, many of us have seen first-hand how repeated cuts have, in fact, fueled further revenue losses, as our departments chose to reduce summer course offerings even as students were interested in registering for those courses. Some of us have seen our departments implement new or tougher selective admissions policies at the Junior level -- turning students away who were otherwise successful, as we did not have the capacity to teach them all. Similarly, many of us have experienced how unrealistic cuts to RGS led to an understaffing problem in the sponsored projects office that hindered our ability to bring in grants. There are times when cutting instructional and research budgets can result in a net loss when cost savings are overshadowed by larger revenue losses. Further austerity measures run directly counter to University goals of student success, as well as our instructional and research mission. We cannot afford new, more extreme, austerity measures within the instruction and research budgets. Beyond spending out of reserves, where else might we find savings in our budget, other than the paychecks of front-line student-facing workers, and especially those who have some of the lowest salaries in the University? Are there savings to be found by cutting salaries at the top of the PSU salary table? Are there savings to be found in reducing our subsidies to Athletics or the PSU Foundation? How much money is spent funding CPSO? How much could be saved if we de-funded the campus police?