Portland State University has found a new president. The PSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday to offer the job to Rahmat Shoureshi.
Shoureshi gladly accepted the offer, telling the board he was "not only grateful for the selection, but I am also happy to see putting your trust in me for this very important position."
Shoureshi is replacing Wim Wiewel, Portland State's president for the last nine years. Wiewel announced his departure 10 months ago. At Monday's board meeting, a relieved Wiewel declared himself "probably the happiest person in this room" as Oregon's largest urban university prepared its first leadership transition in a decade.
Shoureshi has two grown children, both in the medical field. His daughter is a resident at Oregon Health and Science University, and Shoureshi said she was influential in convincing him Portland was an attractive place to live and work. Shoureshi's son is a doctor in Tennessee.
Shoureshi signed a five-year contract, but he sees the value in staying even longer than Wiewel has. He suggested ten years was a good time frame for a university president, based on his experience working with top college administrators.
Shoureshi said the first five years are about vision and strategy.
“And the second five years, you really put your heart into it, together with the community to make sure that that vision not only gets executed but is successful,” Shoureshi said.
Part of Shoureshi's vision focuses heavily on forming partnerships and collaborations with other institutions like OHSU, with businesses and alumni and on its own campus by getting schools and programs to work across disciplines.
Shoureshi wants to get faculty more involved in research and aims to improve PSU’s long-term affordability through fundraising and partnerships with businesses and alumni. He suggested expanding internships and co-op arrangements with businesses to improve connections between PSU and the business community and to expand the horizons of students.
The PSU board agreed to pay Shoureshi just under $600,000 dollars out of foundation and university funds. That’s not including $7,000 per month in housing and vehicle allowances and the potential for earning a $140,000 fundraising incentive in 2021.
Shoureshi was born in Iran and moved to the United States in 1976 to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned master's and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering. He says his background as an immigrant student at a time of conflict informed his view of controversial political issues affecting American universities.
A reporter for PSU's student newspaper asked Shoureshi if he supported keeping the university's status as a "sanctuary campus."
"Yes," said Shoureshi, before recounting his experience as a student at MIT, when the U.S. was deporting Iranians, and his institution worked to protect students like him. "Because of that understanding, and my own experience, I want to make sure that PSU students, number one, understand that university administration and especially myself — we are supporting them all the way."
Board of Trustees chair Pete Nickerson and Shoureshi agreed that of the three funding streams that PSU relies on most heavily — state funding, tuition and philanthropy — that philanthropy will be a significant focus for the incoming president.
PSU has had a strained relationship with business leaders in the recent past. Pressure from business groups led Portland State to shelve plans for a local tax measure that the campaign privately suggested could have passed. University leaders instead formed a group called the College Affordability and Success Coalition to raise revenue. That group has not published any recommendations since forming last year.
Shoureshi said he needs to learn more about those efforts but said generally, "I'm not sure, if you want to call it, 'taxation' is the approach that I would take." Instead, Shoureshi emphasized a focus on "mutual benefits" for the university and business community.
Shoureshi is serving as interim president at New York Institute of Technology. He’s also taught at University of Denver's School of Engineering, Colorado School of Mines and Purdue University.