PSU President Wiewel’s Consulting Business is Unique Among University Presidents
Monday, September 14, 2015
As GoLocal has reported previously, Portland State University President Wim Wiewel owns a private consulting business, Wiewel Consulting, and lists his PSU-owned home on SW Military Avenue, valued at $2.1 million by Zillow.com, as the business' address.
Wiewel also uses his executive assistant, a PSU employee, to communicate with clients and schedule meetings for the for-profit business, which earned Wiewel $4,322 over the past five years.
Scott Gallagher, the university's Director of Communications, previously told GoLocal that Wiewel's consulting firm is not only allowed by his contract, it is encouraged.
"This is typical of all university presidents and many faculty," Gallagher said. "It is the expectation that he will publish books and do some speaking...It helps raise the profile of the university."
Despite Gallagher's assertion, GoLocal has learned that the Presidents of Oregon State University, Western Oregon University, Southern Oregon University, the Oregon Institute of Technology and the Oregon Health and Science University do not list private for-profit businesses on their mandatory Statement of Economic Interest forms registered with the Oregon Ethics Commission.
Cary R. Nelson, a Professor at the University of Illinois and co-author of "Recommended Principles to Guide Academy-Industry Relationships," also refuted Gallagher's stance.
“I've never heard of it,” Nelson told GoLocal regarding Wiewel's business dealings. “It's rather unusual, and completely unethical, and it sounds like it would be grounds for dismissing the President.”
When asked to comment on why Wiewel is earning a supplementary income using University resources while other Presidents do not do the same, Portland State University provided this statement from Chris Broderick, Associate Vice President for University Communications at PSU:
“GolocalPDX continues to suggest that President Wiewel secretly runs a side business out of his presidential home. There is nothing secret here—Dr. Wiewel writes academic books and makes speeches. That is allowed under his contract and state rules, and those activities are encouraged by PSU to advance the university’s academic mission. He receives small royalties and honoraria for those activities. He reports that income on state and federal tax and disclosure forms. Last year, his royalties on his nine books and honoraria for speeches totaled $2,042. In 2013, his income from these activities totaled $47. To suggest that this amounts to a secret 'consulting firm' is misleading and inflammatory.”
GoLocal has not said Wiewel's consulting business is a secret.
Alyssa Pagan, a student organizer with the Portland State Student Union, a horizontal advocacy group that campaigns for the rights of PSU students, told GoLocal that Wiewel's actions were disappointing but not surprising.
“[Are Wiewel's actions] ethical? No,” Pagan said. “I know that ethics are subjective. My orientation is so clearly different than his.”
Pagan said she would like to see Wiewel be made to stop using University resources for his own private business, but said she did not expect that to happen anytime soon.
“In my mind this infraction fades in comparison to the many other manifestations of a man who oversees the mass stress of poverty and debt while enjoying such lavish compensations as free housing in a mansion with cleaning service on top of his nearly half a million a year salary,” she said. “This is to say nothing of the year-long paid sabbatical he has been approved of by his own Board of Trustees.”
“Not Content With Just Having More Money”
Mark Alfano, Associate Professor of Ethics at the University of Oregon, told GoLocal that Wiewel's actions are especially jarring in context.
Wiewel makes over half a million dollars annually as president of PSU. While the cost of living in Portland is higher than the national average, Wiewel looks to be making roughly 100x what it takes to live comfortably in town,” Alfano said. “One wonders why he feels that he needs even more from a consulting firm. One wonders whether PSU, where over 1/4 of first-year students are not retained into their sophomore year, and the 6-year graduation rate is less than 40%, would be better served by a president who devotes 100% of his effort to the university.”
David Longanecker, President of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, told GoLocal that he did not think Wiewel's actions were “appropriate.” He also doubted whether they were typical of those in Wiewel's position.
“I'm not sure whether it is common practice” he said. “It sounds unusual to me. I don't think the job of a university president would leave much time for other activities.”
Nelson, with the University of Illinois, said that many times, college and university presidents will refuse to take paying positions with for-profit companies to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
“He seems to have moved way past the appearances phase,” Nelson said of Wiewel. “This is absolutely not usual or typical, and I don't know why anyone would think it is."
Alfano, with the University of Oregon, also said that Wiewel “speaks to the toxic corporatizing of American higher education.”
“These days, the hyper-rich are not content with just having even more money. After a certain point, more money doesn't buy you anything. Instead, what they crave is something that's harder to buy: deference, respect, and even admiration,” Alfano said.
“We've seen this with Wall Street bankers who cry bloody murder every time Obama looks at them funny. We've seen it with CEOs who claim that they would invest in American workers if only people would give them credit for being makers, not takers. And we're increasingly seeing it with university presidents and other high-level administrators, who surround themselves with yes-men and -women.”
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