Rahmat Shoureshi is stepping down as Portland State University president after 21 months at the helm.
He spent the last few under intense scrutiny, sparked by stories from The Oregonian/OregonLive that questioned Shoureshi’s treatment of staff, his spending habits and his overall approach to the job of running one of Oregon’s largest universities.
Shoureshi’s resignation letter, made public Friday, doesn’t mention the controversy, nor does it mention the university’s Board of Trustees, which had met repeatedly in recent months to discuss whether to continue working with or force out the president they’d hired.
Instead, Shoureshi refers to accomplishments, such as creating two new “Centers for Excellence” focused on homelessness and digital urban development.
“I am truly proud of our exemplary achievements, and I will cherish my service here, but the time has come for me to focus on my family first,” Shoureshi wrote.
According to the university, Shoureshi will be on paid administrative leave through Dec. 14, or seven months. Late Friday afternoon, university leaders were still making plans for the transition, but said in a written statement that “The Board of Trustees on Monday is expected to name PSU’s College of Urban and Public Affairs Dean Stephen Percy as acting president until an interim president is appointed.”
On a call with reporters, PSU spokesman Ken Ma declined to go into the specific causes behind Shoureshi’s departure. But he confirmed that the Board of Trustees had received audits from investigators hired earlier this year to look into Shoureshi’s spending and other practices as PSU president.
“The board had a copy of the audits, they went through the audits, they held executive sessions, and today they reached a settlement with the president,” Ma told reporters.
In addition to his paid leave through mid-December, Shoureshi will be paid a severance package. The university will pay him $880,000 between now and August 2020, Ma said.
“That would be the end of his third year,” Ma explained, essentially meaning Shoureshi will be paid as if he worked another whole year at Portland State.
But many details of Shoureshi’s departure will remain secret. Ma said the audits that the public university paid for and that trustees examined as they negotiated with Shoureshi, will not be released.
“They feel that the audits are confidential, and they’re privileged personnel records,” Ma said.
The terms of the settlement were not immediately available. Ma said that aspects of the deal may remain confidential, but said that a settlement document would be released to the public on Monday.
The negotiations that led to the president’s departure are also clouded in secrecy, with Ma saying that protecting the specifics of who was involved or when they met was necessary to maintain confidentiality. Oregon universities are governed by state public meetings laws that require meetings to be open except in specific circumstances. Closed executive sessions are allowed for sensitive conversations, but officials are required to publicize them. Members of the media can attend those meetings, but they’re not allowed to report what transpires.
Ma said negotiations between the university and Shoureshi were finalized Friday afternoon. But the last time the university alerted the public about an executive session was for a meeting last Sunday.
Ma said the Board of Trustees will meet in open session on Monday to will vote on whether to name Stephen Percy as acting president. Trustees are expected to then lay out plans for a search for an interim president to lead the university for the next several months after Percy’s immediate tenure. The university plans to conduct a longer, national search for its next permanent president.
Shoureshi’s departure comes at a volatile time for Portland State University as trustees plan to review a possible 11% tuition hike at its meeting on Monday.
The college has also been wracked in recent months by the issue of whether campus police officers should carry guns after PSU police called to break up a late-night fight shot a man downtown last summer. At the same time, Portland State is in the middle of a construction effort to modernize its downtown campus, as part of its efforts to attract and retain students in an increasingly competitive higher education context.