UPDATE (5:18 p.m. PT) — The Portland State University Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to appoint its 10th president, interim president Stephen Percy.
Percy had previously been the dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs at PSU. He’s been at PSU since 2014.
“This is a time of opportunity that we must embrace,” Percy said after the board’s vote. “We must identify and take strategic actions consistent with our mission and values to strengthen PSU in an era of great change in higher education.”
Percy has been in his role as PSU president for about a year, after replacing Rahmat Shoureshi, who served for 21 months. Shoureshi resigned under pressure after allegations of poor treatment of staff and financial mismanagement.
In the resolution for Percy’s appointment as president, the board said Percy was named last spring “during a period of uncertainty and transition for the university.”
Due to COVID-19, uncertainty and instability continue.
Board chair Greg Hinckley said he and vice chair Margaret Kilpatrick came to the realization a month ago that “the world had changed.”
“We’re already faced — going into the year — with a decline in enrollment, which was affecting our financial capability,” Hinckley said. “Then we were struck with COVID-19 shutdown which vacated the dormitories causing more stress upon the financial stability.”
Given those reasons and a likely reduction in state funding, Hinckley said, a national search for a new president would take too long and cost too much at this time.
“We thought we would have less process this time,” Hinckley said.
Board leaders said they asked staff unions and student government about Percy’s leadership over the past year and that feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
Jennifer Kerns, president of PSU’s American Association of University Professors faculty union, said she agreed with the board’s approach.
“I do actually appreciate an internal hire rather than an external hire. It saves us a lot of time and money,” Kerns said.
She said, going forward, she hopes Percy and the board continue to work collaboratively with unions and be transparent, especially when it comes to COVID-19-related budget concerns.
PSU said it received 382 comments from students, faculty and staff, “the majority of them in full support of Percy’s appointment.”
The appointment isn’t final yet; Percy and the university need to negotiate and complete an employment agreement, which is expected to take a couple of weeks. The board said the agreement will include an initial term of three years, presidential goals to be presented by this fall and an early termination clause. Percy will not have allowances for housing or transportation.
The terms also state Percy will not make more than the median salary of presidents at similar universities. Percy’s current salary is $400,000, although he retained a 15% pay cut as part of recent cost-saving measures. The median salary of presidents at universities similar to PSU is $493,586, according to PSU officials.
During a call with reporters Wednesday, Percy outlined his likely goals for the year: continuing operations under COVID-19, finding new revenue and helping more students graduate on time.
He said PSU continues to monitor fall enrollment, which means working to retain students who have already committed to the university while also promoting itself to students in the region thinking about changing their plans to stay closer to home.
And as PSU waits for final details from the state on potential funding cuts, Percy said the school will continue to be resilient in serving its students.
“We know we’ll get some cuts, we don’t know how bad, so we’re trying to figure all of that out to sort of figure out where we’ll be fiscally — the fiscal realities of our world next year,” Percy said.