I hope you enjoyed your Purim holiday. It is always a delight watching the children (and adults) dress in their costumes and show great enthusiasm in “booing” the name of the evil Haman. More importantly, Purim reminds us that the Jewish people, especially those willing to take risks and lead, can persevere through any challenge.
Prior to start of Purim, on Wednesday morning, I had the opportunity to participate with 15 others on an “Umbrella Tour” of Portland State University (PSU). This three hour experience would include visits to several classes at PSU followed by lunch with PSU President Wim Wiewel. This was not my first time on the campus, yet was really my first deep introduction to the university as a whole.
Let me start by saying, I graduated from Emory University 20 years ago. It is easy to forget the rich course offerings and activities a university provides to its students and community. This tour highlighted classes in the Graduate School of Education and how they are preparing teachers for 21st century education, several jazz ensemble performances in the School of Fine and Performing Arts, and ended with an introduction to the Russian Flagship Program where students learn fluency in Russian while pursuing a second major preparing them for international work in whichever field the student chooses. (Unfortunately, not on this tour, let’s not forget the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies, which will soon be offering Judaic Studies as a major degree, and Greater Portland Hillel, both created by our Jewish community.)
Following the class visits, President Wiewel joined the group for lunch. There he provided insights into the university and here is some of what I learned:
PSU has been committed to serving the Portland community since its founding in 1946. Its goal is not to be an “ivory tower” that works in isolation – instead, the university partners together with the local private and public sectors. Its focus is on “excellence” (to produce knowledge and innovation) and “access to opportunities” (for a broad range of students in the community). The school hopes to grow from 29,700 (currently the largest enrollment in the state) to 36,000 students over the next ten years. To do this, the school plans to bring in the best and brightest students and faculty, create wonderful physical space, and find dedicated volunteers to support its efforts. To do this will require substantial financial resources.
Interestingly, the cost to educate a student today is the same as it was 15 years ago, if adjusted for inflation. What has changed is the university’s “funding mix” where in the past the state covered 2/3 of the cost for each student while today the state covers only ¼ the cost for the education. So the university works to be as effective and efficient as possible while increasing its donor base and resource development efforts. In some ways this is similar to the history of Federation and its allocations to our partner agencies as a percentage of their overall growing budgets.
Going forward, the university is focused on:
Providing leadership through partnerships by being a strong civic partner, deepening its role as a critical community asset and serving as an “anchor institution” for the metro area.
Improving student success with higher satisfaction, retention and graduation rates.
Achieving global excellence through accomplishments of its faculty, reputation of its programs, and preparation of its students for a diverse global economy.
Enhancing educational opportunities by creating more effective pathways to move students from K-12 to higher education.
Expanding resources (funding from state, private, business partnerships, research and tuition) and improving effectiveness by matching investments to strategic priorities.
Why do I share all of this with you? This is not a marketing campaign for Portland State University (although I was impressed). It is more to share how our goals at Federation and in our Jewish community are really quite similar. Borrowing from the five points above:
Federation continues to see itself as an “anchor institution” within the Greater Portland Jewish community.
We can improve the success of Jewish communal institutions by creating greater connections, increased long-term affiliation, and higher satisfaction.
Strong volunteer and professional leadership committed to enhancing Jewish communal opportunities will create excellence.
Our community can enhance educational and participatory opportunities by creating more effective pathways for “cradle to grave services” and involvement.
And, we too, need to expand our financial resources (annual campaign, permanent endowments, and capital funds) to improve our effectiveness by matching philanthropic investments with communal priorities.
At the end of the lunch, President Wiewel said success going forward includes greater collaboration within the Oregon University System, enhanced marketing and public relations, more partnerships within the local community, and more philanthropy. And, interestingly, when asked how PSU is viewed by others, President Wiewel stated, “Perception often lags reality by 10 years. We are not the same university as we were then. We have a broader vision, greater reach, and an emphasis on change and excellence.”
I ask you, is this any different than the aspirations and current reality of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland?
PS – Please do not forget to take our East Side Survey. We have over 420 responses to date on our way to over 500. Spread the word -- especially among men! The survey will close March 15. So please provide your input as quickly as possible.