By Kaes Vanderspek
Our new president, Wim Wiewel, is a somewhat controversial figure. He has an impressive resume, having spearheaded incredibly successful fundraising campaigns at Portland State University (PSU), where he was president for nine years, while still maintaining a focus on environmental sustainability.
However, in a statement released by the PSU Student Union last summer, some rather troubling claims were made against his administration.
“(Wiewel) is not suited to uphold any position of power,” the statement said. “(He) has perpetuated the corporatization of higher education … has drastically increased tuition … (and) voted to begin arming and deputizing PSU campus security … the same night a grand jury ruled against the indictment of Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri earlier that year.”
These are very serious claims, and have sparked a good deal of concern within the LC student body. However, they only tell one side of the story, and it is essential that we understand both sides.
Wiewel stressed his commitment to the LC educational experience, and to the financial goals of the institution.
“My specific tasks in that, for better or for worse, revolve significantly around money,” Wiewel said. “Making sure that the money is there, that allows us to have the faculty that is excellent, the staff that is excellent, and enough of them that we can give the kind of personalized attention that I think Lewis & Clark is really really good at. So that means I will spend a lot of my time fundraising.”
In response to accusations concerning tuition spikes at PSU, Wiewel generally denied them, with a slight qualification.
“It’s actually not true,” Wiewel said. “The last six years, I think, the average tuition increase was about 3.5 percent and then only this last year it went up by I think 5.75 percent. So, the first thing is, it is simply not true. Now there were a few years ago I think, 2010 or 2011 … when the recession hit and the state cut its support by 20 percent, well, unless you want to fire a whole lot of faculty, we did have to raise tuition a lot. It’s just a matter of looking at what the operation requires and that was the only option we had.”
According to the PSU tuition records and data released by the College Board, not only does Wiewel’s data check out, but rising tuition rates at PSU fall well within national averages.
When questioned about his role in deputizing and arming the PSU campus safety, Wiewel noted that at first, he was very against the proposal.
“My Vice President of Finance and Administration and the Chief of Public Safety had told me that they thought we should go to a sworn police force,” Wiewel said. “I resisted that, you know, the Netherlands (his birthplace) is a country where there are no weapons … I am very anti-gun. So I didn’t like that idea at all. So the first few years I said I don’t even want to think about it, I don’t want to talk about it.”
However, as campus and school shootings rose and PSU became more saturated with heroin dealers, Wiewel began to consider the proposal. “It really wasn’t about being armed, it was about being a sworn police officer,” Wiewel said. “(As a sworn police officer) you can serve warrants so you can pursue cases even if they go off campus … when you go knock on somebody’s door to serve a warrant or you stop a car, you need to have a bulletproof vest and be armed, because you don’t know what the guy behind the door has in his dashboard or in his pocket. So, I became convinced that it was a good idea.”
Finally, Wiewel defended his actions in spite of student protests.
“We do not make decisions in the University by popular vote,” Wiewel said. “I had a responsibility as president to do what I thought was right. Does this mean that I don’t listen to students? Absolutely not. We listened hugely to students, and to faculty, and staff but in the end … as a legislator or an executive, you ultimately have to vote to do what is the right thing. And you listen broadly but you cannot give away the responsibility for the decision.”