Finding the best president to lead Portland State University isn't a decision that's important only to the university community. This also is a crucial matter for the entire Portland metropolitan area and for its aspirations to compete in the national and international marketplace.
PSU is an urban university for all of Oregon, but its name places its priorities in exactly the right order - 'Portland' first and 'State' second. The destinies of a city that wants to be world-class and a university that desires international recognition are laced together. Neither can achieve its goals without a partnership with the other.
That's why the choice of a president to replace the recently departed Dan Bernstine is critical. The region's economic future is in part dependent on the ability of local and state education leaders to find a visionary, energetic and politically savvy president to take PSU to the next level of academic excellence and international esteem.
President must guide strategic plan
As reported in Tuesday's Portland Tribune, the selection of a president is just one issue confronting those who are mapping PSU's future. Former city Commissioner Jim Francesconi, who now serves on the State Board of Higher Education, is leading a strategic-initiatives committee made up of university leaders, businesspeople and elected officials to develop an overarching strategy for PSU.
The group already is concentrating on some of the university's obvious needs: more land, additional student housing, greater unity around a common vision for the university and increased cooperation with other Portland-area institutions to increase the university's offerings and academic excellence.
This planning effort is to be applauded, but it should not get too far ahead of the presidential selection, which is expected to conclude next March. While PSU's major needs may be becoming clearer, what will propel the university toward greatness is the combination of a compelling vision and inspired leadership.
When the president is hired, he or she must be the key owner, advocate and external voice for the strategic plan. And the new president must be capable of building support for this vision among education, business and community leaders.
To attract that broad support, the strategic planning process must be about more than facilities - a fact well understood by those serving on the committee. Beyond land, bricks and mortar, the planning process also must:
• Define the university's mission and further refine what type of university PSU must become.
• Identify the target student groups for PSU. The type of student attending the university will help determine physical needs - and not just the need for space.
• Go beyond the idea of making the university 'bigger' - a process that's already occurring - and get to the question of how to create a uniquely great university. What will that take, and how does the university achieve that? How have other urban universities accomplished this goal?
City, PSU must advance together
Taking PSU to the next level will be good not only for Portland, but also for an entire state that finds its economic center increasingly focused on the metro area.
There's no doubt, though, that Portland and PSU must strive together for greatness, just as major universities and major cities have done elsewhere.
Recruiting the right president and marrying that person to the right long-range vision can lead to even greater private-sector and legislative support for a university that can have tremendous influence on Oregon's economic fortunes.
Portland Tribune editorial board
The Tribune publishes editorials on local and regional issues every Tuesday and Friday.
• Steve Clark - president, Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers Inc.
• Dwight Jaynes -executive editor, Portland Tribune
• Mark Garber - vice president, Community Newspapers Inc.