how to get scratches off discs: Ready to revitalize

Ann Cudd illustration

Ann Cudd's Journey to Leadership at Portland State

In the days leading up to her first day as Portland State University’s new president, Ann Cudd was summiting Colorado’s Mount Princeton, her 18th 14er. (For those not versed in mountaineering lingo, a 14er is a mountain with an elevation exceeding 14,000 feet.) While taking the lead toward the summit, Cudd recalls getting a little lost amongst the rocks and boulders. This particular path is marked by kairns (also known as small stacks of rocks).

“I said to my friend Ed, ‘We have to just sit down. I've lost my mojo, I can't go any farther,’” Cudd says. In that moment, Ed Russell offered her a mint. “I was thinking okay, we're in mortal danger here and he says, ‘Would you like a mint?’ So … I had a mint.”

The thing about mints is that they aren’t the most hiking-friendly snack, you need to finish the mint before continuing your journey. Five minutes later, mind and breath refreshed, Cudd says she was ready to push forward.

“When we got down safely, I told Ed this was a magical mint,” she recalls. “Now if I feel like I need to regain my mojo, I have a mint. I think that’s the secret.”

Although Cudd’s office is still being organized and decorated, there’s a bowl of mints (courtesy of Ed) resting prominently on a bookcase, just within reach, in case Cudd is in need of a little reset and rejuvenation.

Prior to PSU, Cudd served as the University of Pittsburgh’s provost and senior vice chancellor. In Pittsburgh, she is perhaps best known for implementing the Pitt Success Pell Match initiative, which mirrors Portland State’s Tuition-Free Degree Program. That and running marathons.

Family at Sugartree Farm
Cudd with her family at their farm Sugartree in Gambier, Ohio.

Cudd started at PSU on August 1 and serves as the university’s second woman president. As she meets with students, faculty and stakeholders, Cudd introduces herself as someone raised on a horse farm by two librarians in Ohio — meaning she grew up surrounded by books and understands hard work.

“Growing up on a farm is also like academia in that you're never away from it,” she says, the line between when you’re at work or away is blurred. “I got used to having work and home life being very mixed together.”

But Cudd recalls that she was also highly aware she had no interest in living on a farm as an adult or raising her children in a similar lifestyle.

“It’s a hard life and it’s also very isolating,” she says. “I’m much more attracted to the urban way of life than the rural way of life.”

Feminism, capitalism and equality

Her upbringing provided additional inspiration that informed Cudd’s worldview and understanding of her place in it.

“I was born in 1959. So the second wave of the women's movement hadn't even gotten going yet,” she says. “My mom was early as a professional woman. A white, middle-class woman, working outside the home full-time, while raising children, was not a normal way to live.”

Cudd draws on the example her mother set — and the experience of her grandmother who cared for 19 children and spent every day doing hard, physically demanding domestic chores — to advocate for equity in society while researching feminism and its intersections.

“Feminism is basically the theory that there should be economic, political and social equality between the genders, between the sexes. I think one of the things that has really struck me is that work that is considered ‘women's work’ (and it's often very much care work) is work that is valued less, but it's so incredibly valuable to society and to the world,” she says. “There’s this mismatch and feminism is really bringing that to the forefront.”

Beginning in the 1980s and into the ‘90s, Cudd was part of the feminist economics and philosophy movement that was just getting underway.

Historical photos
Left: Cudd's mother Bernice Daniels with her family in Wisconsin.?Right: Cudd's grandmother Ida Wilke washes laundry with Hannah Wilke circa 1900.

“I’m pretty attracted to the idea of the market — at least the ideal of the market where people come together and trade for the betterment of both sides,” she says. “People often say we’re worse off than our parents or generations back and I think women can almost always say, ‘Wait a minute, 100 years ago women had 19 children and were washing clothes all day. It was not a very pleasant life.’”

Capitalism, she argues, plays a role in the betterment of marginalized lives. In the 1800’s, life expectancy was 30 years. Now it’s 80 years. Women were expected to have many children (like her grandmother) and now the average is closer to two.

“Whose lives have been most changed? Maternal mortality, infant mortality: that most affects women’s lives,” Cudd says. “I think those are the things that have clearly happened because of capitalism, because of the innovations and changes in technology that capitalism has enabled, inspired and supported.”

I had that moment of realization that by participating in this system, I'm complicit in growing inequality. But I don't have to be.

There’s also the opportunity to choose how one wants to live — to an extent. That’s a problem Cudd says we as a society need to continue working on. Consider the fact that when a profession becomes dominated by women, it becomes a lower-paid profession than it once was.

“The feminization of different kinds of work has lowered its value,” she argues. “Not to mention that we still have never had a U.S. President who was a woman. That’s just a shocking fact.”

Studying these inequalities fueled Cudd’s choice to seek a leadership role and transition from teaching to administration.

“I believe firmly that talent is equally distributed across people regardless of gender, of their race or their socioeconomic background. So why is it that economic inequality is growing?” she says.

Cudd realized that students who are already privileged are far more likely to get into an elite higher education institution, just as those students are far more likely to persist and complete a degree. These students come from a higher socioeconomic background, with parents who have a college degree, and usually are white.

“It seemed like instead of being the solution to economic inequality, higher education was growing that difference to a greater extent. And here I was, participating and training up those already privileged, affluent, white students doing the best I could to help them get a leg up,” she says. “Suddenly I had that moment of realization that by participating in this system, I'm complicit in growing inequality. But I don't have to be.”

Some of the most impactful changes Cudd made included changing the financial aid policies at the University of Pittsburgh to offer an additional $35 million annually in need-based financial aid, shifting away from more merit-based financial awards that largely benefit students with higher socioeconomic status.

“As an administrator, you can also incentivize your faculty to evaluate teaching practices, research topics and related areas to help make students of color feel like they belong in the classroom and help them succeed better,” she says. “We need everybody’s talents.”

At Portland State, Cudd remains committed to addressing inequality and looking at gaps in student success while continuing to explore ways to improve social mobility.

“Of course, PSU’s mission is to improve social mobility, but we can always do better,” she says.

Portland illustration

New Year, (Re)New Portland

It’s not a secret that Portland has struggled to return to its pre-pandemic glory. If foot traffic is any indicator, the downtown core is only at 40% of its former self. But Cudd hopes the new academic year will begin to usher in renewed energy on campus and in Portland’s downtown.

“I want that kind of excitement, energy and feeling of being back,” she says as she thinks about her vision for Portland State’s campus come fall term. “I also hope we can sort of bottle the feeling that there’s a mandate for change.”

PSU is faced with a large budget deficit that will be felt across campus. In the first few weeks of Cudd’s presidency, she says she feels a sense of confusion and concern coming from the campus community about the university’s future.

“It’s going to require us to work together and to have a positive-sum mindset rather than a zero-sum mindset. We're going to have to be in it collectively to do the best for our students and for PSU — for the long run,” she says. “I hope people will come with a willingness and an understanding that hard decisions will be made. But they won't be made in a vacuum and there will be lots of opportunity for discussion — but in the end, choices have to be made.”

Cudd adds she wants students to feel PSU has their best interests in mind and see themselves as part of the revitalization of Portland. Personally, she will serve on Gov. Tina Kotek’s new task force that will focus on bolstering Portland’s downtown alongside local leaders. In Cudd’s eyes, this opportunity is just the beginning of Portland’s renaissance.

In a way, Portland State and the city it calls home is just finishing its mint and about to embark on the next leg of its journey — mojo rejuvenated. And Cudd is excited to take the lead.


Q&A with President Ann Cudd

Q: Portland is known for its craft beer, numerous cider houses and pinot noir. What do you reach for?
A: Pinot noir

Q: Favorite coffee drink?
A: Cafe latte — 1% milk; no flavorings

Q: Favorite song to run to?
A: “I'm Still Standing” by Elton John

Q: Favorite book (or most recently read)?
A: “Demon Copperhead” by Barbara Kingsolver

Q: Comfort movie or tv show?
A: Ted Lasso (of course)

Q: Favorite restaurant or meal?
A: Grilled steelhead salmon; caprese salad; pinot noir; ice cream with fresh berries — I came to the right place, didn't I!

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: 14'ers and 14'er paraphernalia

Q: Where in the world are you most interested in visiting?
A: New Zealand

Q: What’s an ideal day off?
A: Hiking with my husband

Q: What’s one fact everyone should know about you?
A: My favorite philosopher is Thomas Hobbes.

Q: For a long weekend, are you heading to the ocean or the mountains?
A: Mountains

Q: What’s the most unexpected piece of advice you’ve received?
A: Concentrate on where you want to be, not where you are afraid you will end up. (This applies literally in driving, skiing, biking, but also metaphorically in planning a life or a career.)

Q: What’s one item on your bucket list?
A: Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro

Q: Is there a quote that resonates with you, or that you find yourself repeating?
A: We measure our success not by who we exclude, but by who we include. (ASU motto)

Q: If you weren’t in academia, what would you do?
A: I'd be a trainer or physical therapist.

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