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June 13th, 2007 Nicholas Deshais | Q & A
 

Daniel Bernstine

PSU's soon-to-be ex-president doubled enrollment and raised big cash, but angered many students and faculty. Why?

     
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IMAGE: cameronbrownephoto.com
Dan Bernstine likes to smile.

And it's hard not to chuckle when he drops one-liners. Bernstine, you are sure, is your friend.

So why, when the state Board of Higher Education voted him in as Portland State University's president 10 years ago, did faculty members at the meeting boo him? And why do many students still consider him a mystery man who was never on campus?

After all, Bernstine, 59, ended up raising a lot of money in PSU's six-year-long capital campaign, which ended in 2006. But in the same time, tuition and fees increased 55 percent and, according to the faculty union, wages remained stagnant.

Before Bernstine leaves PSU to run the Law School Admissions Council in Newtown, Pa., he'll shake my hand and hand me a diploma at Saturday's commencement ceremonies. As a PSU student for the past five years, I've witnessed faculty demonstrations, watched as classrooms were packed beyond capacity and witnessed the raising of monstrous new buildings. Needless to say, I've had my own thoughts on Bernstine.

When I sat down with him last week, Bernstine gave me that smile.

WW: Have you accomplished everything you set out to do here?
Dan Bernstine: Well, you never do. Monetarily we did. Our initial goal of the [capital] campaign was $75 million and we ended up raising $114 million.

What do you tell critics who say you were more concerned with raising money and socializing than academics?
First of all, I'm not sure it's true. But the job of any president now is much more external than internal. When I'm out doing things, it's in service to PSU. When I'm out raising money, I'm not in a vacuum. I'm raising money for programs, scholarships, professorships.

But tuition keeps rising. Where's the money going?
External money is usually designated. It's not money for salaries...the state is the one who provides money for salaries. You can't look at the capital campaign and say the salaries aren't going up. People don't give money to raise salaries...people don't give money for tuition. They give money for scholarships that may turn into tuition. There's no relationship between the capital campaign and basic services like salary, tuition increases, deferred maintenance. Those things are the responsibility of the state.

So you blame the Legislature and governor?
Well, the reality is that state investment has continued to decrease as a percentage of our total budget.

Why did you let enrollment grow so rapidly?
Because we were able to take students, and with their tuition we did some things we otherwise wouldn't have been able to do...we changed the demographics, too. More out-of-state and international students. Those students pay three times the tuition...[of] an Oregon resident. You tell me how it changed. Right now, we have over 1,600 international students, which is the largest number we've ever had...they also add to the diversity of the educational experience.

Since I started here in 2002, my tuition rose sharply, class enrollment increased and fewer professors teach my classes. What's the benefit of increasing enrollment when all that is happening?
At least you have the classes. If we hadn't grown, we wouldn't have had a lot of programs that we have. We wouldn't have had some of the faculty. You think about doubling the enrollment and subtract how much that would be from the budget. You figure out what the impact would be...growth isn't always a negative.

How would you like history to look at you?
Probably as a guy who came and left the university in a better place than when he arrived...I think I'm leaving at the right time. I may be leaving a year too early, but that's better than leaving a year too late. I've done my thing—I can't start another campaign. That's not a one-year commitment, it's a multi-year commitment. But 10 years, that's enough. Time to move on and let somebody else come and have some fun.

When you were hired, some members of the faculty booed you. Has your relationship with the faculty warmed over the years?
It was never cold as far as I was concerned.

Was hiring Jerry Glanville (Q&A, WW, May 2, 2007) this year as football coach the capstone to your career at PSU?
Yeah...well, we'll see. We haven't played a down yet. Hopefully hiring Jerry will be good for PSU football and PSU sports in general. Hopefully it will rejuvenate people in terms of re-engaging them with football. I think Jerry is a quality coach, he's a good citizen. He's more than just a football coach. He wants to be part of the overall university and the Portland community as well. I wouldn't have hired him just because he's a celebrity. When we talked, he convinced me that he cared about the students as much as he cares about football. That's what's it's all about. 'Cause in the end, you want the students to graduate because that's why they're here...I think sports are an important co-curricular activity. It's another window into the university. You've got to win, but you've got to have athletes who are good citizens. So far, we've had a pretty good combination of both. If that continues, then I think sports will be in good standing. Hopefully I'll be back for a game or two next year...they'll probably make me buy tickets now. They'll say, "Dan who?"

How does PSU compare with OSU and U of O?
We have a lot going for us in the sense that we're not only in town, we're downtown. We're a major developer of the south end of downtown. We've been working hard to create a neighborhood with all forms of public transportation coming into the campus. Outside of Pioneer Square, we're probably the largest transit stop in the system. We're putting retail in the ground floor of all of our buildings. Not only are we trying to build a campus, we're trying to build a neighborhood and a destination. I think a lot of that has paid off. We're in charge of our destiny, and that's the way we like it.


Under Bernstine, PSU's enrollment went from 12,165 students to over 25,483 students and its research money increased from $17 million to $40 million.

State funding per student is $3,858 in Oregon. At PSU, it's $2,962, last among Oregon's seven public universities.

 
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