An Intimidating Prospect: The Records of Peter Kohler

The Portland Bubble tram image

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This post is by Archives Assistant Jeff Colby.

This past year saw the Historical Collections & Archives crew involved in a massive, all-hands-on-deck project to conclusively finish organizing the massive amount of records (of all types) gathered primarily through the period of administration of OHSU President Peter O. Kohler, which spanned from 1988 to 2006. They include not only Dr. Kohler’s own papers but those of his Vice-Presidents as well. As is to be expected, reams of bureaucratic paperwork are pretty charmless in and of themselves. However, at the end of it all, it gives one a greater appreciation of the sheer breadth and depth of the concerns of a major modern academic medical center.

Waterfront plan, 2000
early plan for South Waterfront development, circa 2000

An old saying is that money runs the world, and in this case finances were an integral part of the collection. And an especially alarming part, as a series of politically motivated tax laws and continuing budget cuts led to the drastic decision of OHSU to cut loose from the State and re-invent itself as a Public Corporation. While this did not totally stop OHSU from trying to massage funding from State and Federal Legislatures, it did lead to a much wider net being thrown to haul in more private investors. This would lead to the “Oregon Opportunity” campaign, which endeavored to bring more biomedical research into Oregon.

Partnerships with other local entities, like the City of Portland and Portland State University, were another major component of the collection. Like the Public Corporation and Oregon Opportunity, these efforts were part of an overall process of strategic planning in which it was felt essential for OHSU to give up its “Shining City on the Hill” aloofness and come downtown. We joined with PSU in the new South Waterfront campus, now up running and still expanding, with the OHSU Dental School, OHSU/PSU School of Public Health, and the Center for Women’s Health.

The Portland Bubble tram image
early tram inspiration, from a 2005 PowerPoint presentation

Other important issues are likewise dealt with, such as Medicare/Medicaid and the medically under-served populations of rural Oregon. The first is a perpetual headache that must be survived. The second had a happier outcome with the extension of rural clinics and Area Health Education Centers (the AHEC program) to help create a new generation of healthcare workers themselves living in these rural areas.

This in turn led to attention to curriculum changes to take advantage of all these new efforts and incorporate the lessons of this new research into our own student lessons. Add to all this the miles and miles of budget files and the personnel files with their many (restricted) grievances, one gets a mind-boggling idea of the scale of things heaped up on our Administrations’ plates … ‘tis not for the weak of heart.

For more information, review the finding aid for the Office of President Peter Kohler records (collection number 2010-014).