As president, Bernstine sees big future in partnerships

As engineers from Octavian Scientific Inc. bombard him with semiconductor lingo and engineering data, Portland State University President Daniel Bernstine nods politely.

When they finish, the genial Bernstine pipes up: How long, he asks, will it take for Octavian's research to make both sides 'rich'? Perhaps two years, they answer. 'That long?' he marvels teasingly to a chorus of hearty laughter as the meeting breaks up.

Portland-based Octavian already has hit the jackpot, in a way. The chip-testing developer is permitted to lease space in PSU's Fourth Avenue Building, as well as to use the school's research facilities.

In exchange, Octavian will give PSU stock as part of a recently enacted state law authorizing such swap-outs.

The arrangement illustrates Bernstine's passion for linking academia and business. He has built countless symbiotic relationships with Portland's business community during his six years here.

The strategy clearly has worked. Before Bernstine, many dismissed PSU as a second-tier institution forever dwarfed by the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.

'Four years ago, I would sit in meetings where PSU would be lucky to be mentioned,' said George Passadore, Oregon region chairman for Wells Fargo & Co. 'People would talk about

U of O and OSU.'

Not anymore.

'Today, PSU is always mentioned first,' Passadore said. 'And often, the others aren't even discussed. That's become more common than not.'

Prominence achieved

Consider some of the milestones that PSU has passed thus far in Bernstine's tenure:

• It grew to become the largest university in the state in terms of enrollment (24,000).

• Its work force swelled to 4,800, making it one of Portland's 10 largest employers.

• Its campus was more tightly integrated with downtown, and the entire University District was enlivened, by extension of the Portland Streetcar line to the campus.

Each achievement required Bernstine to forge relationships with Portland's business community, which he began doing shortly after moving to Portland.

'On several occasions, I and others have been guests at his home,' said Passadore, who's served on PSU advisory committees. 'He'd gather us together to solicit advice and input from the business community overall.'

Bernstine also quickly recognized where the city's power base lay, immediately joining the then-Association for Portland Progress. When the group morphed into the clout-heavy Portland Business Alliance, Bernstine was host for on-campus alliance meetings.

He continues to lead regular 'umbrella tours' of the campus for business executives.

'He'll bring in, say, 15 executives at a time for a few hours and show them the campus,' said Scott Dawson, dean of the school's business administration program. 'It's a great way to expose people to the university.'

Bernstine also has solidified PSU's relationship with Intel Corp., the region's biggest private employer. Morgan Anderson, Intel Oregon's education manager, said the company keeps close tabs on the university.

For example, Portland State and officials of the big semiconductor company co-devised a 'compressed work week' curriculum that allows midlevel engineers to earn master's degrees around their staggered work schedules.

About 800 Intel employees hold PSU degrees, Anderson said. Since 1999, a program in which Intel matches employee donations to their alma maters has seen a sevenfold increase in gifts to PSU, she added.

More housing coming

On Bernstine's watch, PSU has spurred significant development in its neighborhood. Ground was broken recently on a $49 million, 217,000-square-foot student housing facility at

Southwest Broadway and Jackson Street. Students will occupy the mixed-use project in the fall of 2004, and the university is negotiating with a large retailer to fill the ground floor.

PSU also is supporting such projects as the South Waterfront development and light rail expansion, said Sam Adams, Mayor Vera Katz's chief of staff.

Bernstine, he said, 'is willing to jump in with both feet at any opportunity to strengthen the (city-PSU) partnership.'

While the PSU president is a consensus builder, his personality doesn't fit the backslapping stereotype. He's relatively quiet. And when he does talk, it's no-nonsense.

'I enjoy working with him,' said University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer. 'He's very straightforward. He doesn't hold back when he believes something. He doesn't have a hidden agenda.'

But his honesty also may suggest why Bernstine is also a bit guarded. He won't touch the subject of race, even though his rŽsumŽ lists papers written in the 1980s dealing with minority issues.

Background steeped in law

Asked what it's like working in a city with proportionately fewer people of color than most American cities, Bernstine replied, 'There hasn't been anything negative. People here are supportive, but you never forget who you are.'

So who is Bernstine? He's 55, divorced and grew up poor, a janitor's son, in Richmond, Calif. He played football (guard and linebacker) and basketball (guard) in high school.

The University of California at Berkeley graduate retains a rabid interest in Golden Bears teams.

'I've lost a lot of bets to professors here who went to Stanford,' he said.

After 16 years as a labor and education attorney, Bernstine served two years as interim dean of the Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., then went on to become dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School until joining PSU in 1997.

Bernstine has set some lofty goals for the remainder of his PSU tenure. He wants even more partnerships with local businesses. He sees PSU sharing more research with Oregon Health & Science University. And he sees Portland State doubling the number of its engineering and computer science graduates over the next decade.

But what the janitor's son from California seems to want most is global recognition for the university he heads.

'We want to become the school of choice for international students,' he said.

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