by Justin Norton-Kertson
The Portland State University Board of Trustees received an ear-full from a crowd of dozens of students, campus workers, professors, and community members who packed today’s board meeting, and who are fed up with being ignored by university administration and leadership. The day’s action comes after years of being ignored, and was an escalation of a year of direct action by the Portland State University Student union (PSUSU) over the arming of campus security and a host of other issues.
The day’s action also comes just weeks after the president of the Associated Students of PSU, Dana Gazi, issued a statement calling for a mass student movement. That statement mirrored many of the demands that have been made by PSUSU such as disarming campus police, free college tuition, cancelation of student debt, a living wage for all campus workers, and an end to business model higher education. Gazi spoke at today’s meeting echoing much of the sentiment in their open letter.
Students spoke at the meeting about racism, Islamophobia, and a growing concern about open white supremacy on campus, as well the arming of campus security, poverty wages paid on campus, student hunger and houselessness, the cutting of arts programs, bloated administrative salaries and perks, and a host of other issues that the board has all but ignored student voices on for years.
Andrea Lemoins, a representatives from Portland Jobs with Justice (JwJ) was at the meeting and presented PSU President Wim Wiewel with a lump of coal for corporatizing education, ignoring student voice, and having an obscene salary while campus workers are paid poverty wages. Wiewel was the first runner up with over 1,200 votes in JwJ’s annual Scrooge of the Year Award contest.
Campus food service workers were also present to demand that the university stop subsidizing the poverty wages of corporations that do business on campus. Andrea Lemoins read a statement from one of the workers:
“I and AFSCME Aramark members join the community to urge the Board and the Administration to raise wages for all PSU and contract workers.” said Nicole Stroup, President of AFSCME Aramark union and PSU food court worker. “As responsible stakeholders in the community, PSU and the board of trustees have the obligation to require Aramark and other companies to pay their workers $15 an hour”
The day’s eventful meeting was brought to halt and shut down by PSUSU (which includes student members of 15 Now PDX and Portland Socialist Alternative) in a continued escalation of their campaign of direct action against university president Wim Wiewel and the Board of Trustees—a campaign that included disrupting Weiwel at his convocation speech at the opening of the school year.
Students gathered in a circle in front of the board members at the end of the public comment portion of the meeting, issued a set of demands, and declared that public comments were still open. The demands they issued included disarming campus public safety officers, lowering tuition by lowering administrative salaries, breaking ties with the low-wage employer Aramark as soon as possible, and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers.
Students continued to stand up and talk about all of these issues that they have for years been trying to get the board to take seriously, and the call was repeatedly made for President Wiewel and the board to take student voices seriously or else resign.
The board members remained for a short period of time before all but two of them got up and left, demonstrating with their actions once again the lack of interest and even contempt they have for student voices and for a growing student movement seeking important systemic change at PSU. The students vowed to occupy the meeting room until 5pm when the Board of Trustees meeting was officially scheduled to end. It is doubtful that any of the board members will take that opportunity to return and have a serious and honest dialogue with the students.
15 Now PDX stands in solidarity with PSUSU and their demands for $15 for all campus workers, for disarming campus security, and for bringing the process of lower tuition by reducing bloated administrative salaries such as that of PSU President Wim Wiewel, who makes $600,000 per year, has a huge house, a nice car, and a phone paid for by student tuition and fees, and continually and condescendingly ignores the students he is there to serve.