The Founding of Portland State University
Portland State University’s roots trace back to the summer of 1946 when the Oregon State Board of Higher Education approved the opening of a temporary school in North Portland to offer lower-division coursework. Vanport Extension Center (VEC), named for its location between Portland and Vancouver, was situated in Vanport City, a wartime housing project that promised resident and classroom space for the students attending VEC. Spearheaded by founder and director, Stephen Epler, VEC soon became known as “Vanport College” and was immediately successful in meeting local demands for higher education by returning World War II servicemen and women. When fall term registration closed at VEC, more than 1,400 students enrolled, eclipsing the projection of 500 and signaling future success for the center.
Seemingly ending VEC’s future, the 1948 Memorial Day flood of the Columbia River destroyed Vanport City, including the center. Epler and his colleagues kept the school alive, using federal funds to reinstate the campus at “Oregon Ship,” a former Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation site. The school’s commitment and fighting spirit earned it the national reputation as “the college that would not die.” Students, faculty, community groups, and legislators were strong advocates for the school, spurring its permanence and move in 1952 to its present location in Portland’s South Park Blocks, where it became the Portland State Extension Center in the former Lincoln High School (now Lincoln Hall).
In 1955, the legislature created Portland State College as a four-year degree-granting institution. Graduate work was added in 1961; doctoral programs began in 1968, and the institution became Portland State University in 1969. The University has grown from an initial enrollment of 1,410 students in 1946 to become one of Oregon’s largest universities.
“Portland State formed a legacy of courage, leadership, dedication, and collaboration during its founding years, 1946-1955. These qualities enabled a small extension center to become a four-year, degree-granting college. Today this legacy inspires Portland State University to enhance the intellectual, social, cultural, and economic vitality of Portland, the Pacific Northwest, and beyond.”1
The Founder and presidents who have served the University are:
- Stephen E. Epler (Vanport Extension Center), 1946 to 1952;
- John F. Cramer, 1955 to 1958;
- Branford P. Millar, 1959 to 1968;
- Gregory B. Wolfe, 1968 to 1974;
- Joseph C. Blumel, 1974 to 1986;
- Natale A. Sicuro, 1986 to 1988;
- Roger N. Edgington (interim president), 1988 to 1990;
- Judith A. Ramaley, 1990 to 1997;
- Daniel O. Bernstine, 1997 to 2007;
- Michael F. Reardon (interim president), 2007 to 2008;
- Wim Wiewel, 2008 to 2017;
- Rahmat Shoureshi, 2017 to 2019; and
- Stephen Percy, (interim president 2019 to 2020) appointed president 2020-present.
From Creating Portland State: 1946-1955.