PSU halves tuition hike, hires interim president
Just over a month after the ouster of its president, Portland State University trustees named Stephen Percy as interim president on the same day the board re-voted on upcoming tuition rate increases.
Citing a boost in state funding and concerns about the heavy financial impacts to students, PSU's board of trustees voted Thursday, June 20, to rescind the prior month's vote on tuition and instead raise rates by 5% for the 2019-20 academic year. That's half the amount that was approved by a 6-3 vote in mid-May, when trustees approved an 11% hike.
"None of us wanted 11%," said Percy, who served as acting president since May, during Thursday's budget discussion. "We thought long and hard about it. ... We are aware that many students are one small financial challenge away from having to drop out of school. We all want to keep things as affordable as possible."
As a state university, PSU receives funding via the Public University Support Fund. It also means the college must get approval from the state's Higher Education Coordinating Commission for any tuition increase of greater than 5%. PSU's new rate increase falls just short of that, at 4.97%.
Amid heavy student protest, the board narrowly approved raising tuition rates in May, citing insufficient funding from the state and an anticipated $18.6 million budget shortfall.
The following month, the board returned and opted to re-vote on the issue.
A 2019-20 budget approved by the board Thursday will leave no money to funnel into reserves, but it is a balanced budget, PSU staff said.
"We are in a continuously falling enrollment," PSU trustee Irving Levin reminded fellow board members. "We have been trying to build reserves to an adequate level ... (this) gives us no wiggle room should enrollment drop."
"We aren't building up our reserves," cautioned Kevin Reynolds, vice president of finance and administration.
Just before budget talks, the board voted to hire Percy on as interim president, replacing Rahmat Shoureshi, who tendered his resignation in May and remains on paid leave until mid-December. Percy, who was dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs before stepping into the president role, is expected to serve through the next academic year.
"The person who stood out far above the rest was Stephen Percy," PSU Board Chair Gale Castillo said Friday. "The feeling on the campus is that he exemplifies the qualities that we need at this time."
Shoureshi's exit came amid controversy. He served in the role for just two years before the university launched an internal audit of his performance and behavior. Prior to that, he was coached on performance issues. Since the announcement of his resignation, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission has opened an investigation into Shoureshi's behavior while serving as president of the state-funded university, the ethics commission confirmed earlier this month.
Shoureshi is slated to receive his regular salary and benefits, which amounts to about $67,000 monthly until his Dec. 14 exit date, and also will receive an additional $400,600 payout, according to terms laid out in a separation agreement.