Talking with Behind-the-scenes man on campus

Name: Jason Porth
Age: 42
City: San Francisco
Position: Executive director of University Corporation, San Francisco State University


J.: What exactly is the University Corporation and what does it do?

Jason Porth: UCorp is a not-for-profit corporation, and we do things for the campus that are easier for us to do than for the university to do. We run all the commercial services and eateries, the bank, the convenience store, the coffee shop and food trucks — all those activities that create a sense of place for the university community. We also oversee the bookstore and partner on real estate development efforts, and we partner with faculty and staff to support initiatives they work on.

Jason Porth

You also improved transit to S.F. State by introducing a fleet of energy-efficient BART connector buses. What projects are you working on these days?

We’re taking 27 units of currently low-density housing near campus and transforming them into retail space and other service amenities on the ground floor, and it will have additional housing for our students.

And one really exciting effort we’re working on right now is finding a way to get every single SFSU student a transit pass so they can ride BART and Muni at a greatly reduced rate. Right now, a student coming from the East Bay can spend over $10 a day, so chipping away at that number could really reduce the cost of attending SFSU. We’ve been in conversations with Muni, BART and the Metropolitan Transit Commission to come up with a program.

You’ve been at SFSU for nine years, but you were a civil rights lawyer before that. What kinds of cases did you work on?

I represented plaintiffs in employment issues, like sexual or pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, or when an employee isn’t paid the wage they’re supposed to be. I also did some disability law. There were some high points where I worked on interesting cases and did work I found fulfilling because I was having an impact on people’s lives, but I found that the daily life of a litigator is one that’s based on an adversarial system, and that is not for everyone.

Civil rights law is what drew me into law, but I hadn’t thought it through enough — that law is inherently adversarial by nature, and I’m much more of a collaborative person. I left because it wasn’t a fit for me.

You’re a former president of the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club. Ever thought about being more involved in politics yourself?

No, I don’t see myself running for office. I have the benefit of being a public servant without standing for an election. At S.F. State, I serve an extraordinary community of well over 30,000 students, faculty and staff.

What about your wife, Abby Michelson Porth, the associate executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council who’ll become executive director next year when Rabbi Doug Kahn steps down? She’s sort of a Jewish community politician, no?

She has the passion, drive and commitment of someone that typically finds themselves in politics, but I think the way she goes about her work is much more based on a consensus model than most politicians follow. We didn’t meet through anything political; we met through BBYO and then again at Brandeis University.

Ever think about going to work for the Jewish community yourself?

I’m on the board of Jewish Community High School of the Bay, which is going through a strategic planning process right now and I’m chairing that process. I worked in the Jewish community in my college days as an intern, but find I can contribute more in a lay leadership role.

Do you ever feel like a rebbetzin, as just about everyone in the Jewish community knows your wife?

There’s no greater title than that of Mr. Abby Porth. She brings me great nachas and pride from the work she does, and I am deeply inspired and driven to try my best in my own work because I see her working so hard. She’s an enormous inspiration, and yes, it is an apt comparison.

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Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."