For an example of institutional hypocrisy, I would highly recommend you to send an email to PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh. Seriously, send an email to email@example.com, and ask him why he openly thanked Governor Tom Corbett and the Pennsylvania General Assembly for Senate Bill 367 – the Indigenous Mineral Resources Act – which opened all universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to mineral resource extraction and natural gas drilling. At last week’s PASSHE Board of Governor’s meeting Chancellor Cavanaugh included his “thank yous” in his opening statement saying: “[w]e are also very grateful to the General Assembly and Governor Corbett for all the support and the passage of the Higher Education Modernization Act as well as Senate Bill 367…” [The link of the audio can be found here.] If Chancellor Cavanaugh has the time to respond to your inquiry, you will see the following friendly reminder to save the trees under his name that reads “As part of PASSHE’s Green Technology Initiative, save a tree. Print only when necessary.”
On a more serious issue, we must understand that this attack on public higher education along with the other attacks – via previous budget cuts – on K through 12 education have gone beyond the old passé privatization approach, embracing instead a “Shock Doctrine” approach. For those who may not know what “Shock Doctrine” is, it is the new form of privatization. It essentially uses a disaster – either natural or man-made – as an excuse to privatize public services such as education. A text book example of this approach is what happened to the New Orleans Public School district after Hurricane Katrina decimated the city. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and the PA Republican dominated legislature – and now the PASSHE Board of Governor’s led by Chancellor Cavanaugh – are using their man-made financial disaster to sell off Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.
In Pennsylvania, we’ve been told this myth – this lie – that we need to cater to the natural gas industry, that we need to allow this industry to pillage our environment, our parks and our state forests, and we have been told that they need to do this with as little government interference as possible – whether it’s the laissez faire regulations from the Department of Environmental Protection or too-little-too-late, one-time severance fee they have to pay. Essentially the natural gas industry is getting a free ride, while essential public services are gutted to the bone, roads and bridges continue to crumble, and tens of thousands of people are stripped of welfare and state-supported medical insurance. And what happens to cash-strapped schools and universities in such in environment? They have to go begging at the feet the natural gas industry to have proper funding restored. The shift in distribution of these funds, from the public’s responsibility through taxation to these essential services going to the industry, has created the “shock” treatment that the state universities and public school districts are receiving. Before I demonstrate these shock doctrine therapies, let’s take a look at who exactly sits on the PASSHE Board of Governors.
The Board of Governors
Members of the PASSHE Board of Governors may not exactly have direct ties to the natural gas industry (excluding the Governor and some legislators), but they are key decision makers that fundamentally shape the future of the State System of Higher Education. They consist of the governor, legislators and businessmen who hold or who have held high-ranking positions. They are the ones responsible for allowing these attacks to education to happen because like most businessmen or pro-business hawks, they believe that government and services should be made into a commodity that they can profit from.
Along with Governor Corbett, state legislators or gubernatorial appointees include: Senators Jeffery Piccola (R) and John Yudichak (D), Representatives Matthew Baker (R) and Michael Hanna (D), and Ronald Tomalis – the Secretary of Education. Senator Piccola is the Senate Education Chairman and is a large proponent of privatizing public education through vouchers and school choice legislation. Senator Piccola has also received endorsements from organizations such as the Thomas Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Senator Yudichak is the minority leader for the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committee, and he describes himself as someone who will “fight for higher education.” He is also a critic of the governor’s environmental policies regarding the Marcellus Shale. According to Representative Baker’s biography, he is the “fill-in speaker” when Speaker Sam Smith is unable to attend, and Baker chairs on the House Health and Human Services Committee. Representative Hanna –The Democratic House Whip – was a critic of the governor’s first round of cuts to public higher education in 2011, and he wrote an op-ed for the Center Daily Times entitled “Keep Higher Ed within Working Families Reach.” He also sits on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boating Commission, and last year when legislation was proposed to open Pennsylvania waterways to drilling, he asked his constituents to weigh in and decide if they would want to pay more fees for fishing license and raise taxes to prevent drilling in Pennsylvania waterways. Lastly, Ronald Tomalis was Governor Corbett’s Secretary of Education Appointee, and he is an advocate for privatizing public education. According to PASSHE’s Board of Governor’s Website, Tomalis was the “director at Dutko Worldwide/Whiteboard Advisors, where he was the principal adviser to numerous nonprofit education groups and foundations, along with for-profit education related companies. “
This is an example of “words and deeds,” where these legislators, especially the Democrats, may say one thing, but their actions do not match their words.
I am not as well-versed about the businessmen who sit on the Board of Governors, but I do know that the Chairman of the Board, Guido Pichini, has benefited off of state ran contracts in the PASSHE system. Mr. Pichini is the president of Security Guards Inc. – a security contracting firm based in Wyomissing, PA. His company is contracted with Kutztown University to write parking tickets, a cash cow for the university. So not only is this man making money from his company writing parking tickets, he is dipping his hand into the cookie jar a second time serving as the Chairman as the PASSHE Board of Governors.
In Shock Doctrine, No one is safe.
Senate Bill 367 will fundamentally change the way Pennsylvanian’s value education, because the bill will force universities to drill for natural gas as a means for funding public higher education. The state will set up future cuts to the State System of Higher Education, because the state can use Senate Bill 367 as an excuse. While PASSHE schools were saved a second round of deep budget cuts last year, I do not expect the same this year. This scenario is already being played out in school districts across the state.
Since the state feels the need to continue an endless assault on public education through budget cuts and a growing number of charter schools, school districts around the state are being forced to open their lands to natural gas companies and to pipeline construction companies. In 2011, one of the first school districts to open their land to the gas industry as a means to fund public education was the Blackhawk School District. As NPR State Impact reported, the school district received a $300,000 rent payment and will receive royalties from the producing gas well. In a previous article I quoted the State Impact story as follows: “the Wilimington, Shenango and Mohawk school districts have all considered opening up their land to Shell, Halicorp Energy and REX Energy.”
Another example of a school district leasing out land to a gas company is the Wyalusing Area School District in Northeast Pennsylvania. In 2010, the school district signed a lease with Chesapeake Energy and sold 75 acres to the company receiving over $5,000 per acre. But in 2012, construction for the Marc-1 pipeline came within 800 feet of the schools. In a video below, Scott Cannon from the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition shows the close proximity the school is to the construction of the pipeline, and in the video you can clearly see silica drilling sand on the lawns surrounding the school, which poses a clear safety question because if particulates that large are being transferred by wind to the construction site, where are smaller particles going? In the middle of the video, Mr. Cannon shows that there is a children’s day care center within 50 feet of a silica dumping station. Again, this poses a safety question because of the exposure risks silica dust creates. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, “prolonged or repeated exposure to fine airborne crystalline silica dust may cause severe scarring of the lungs, a disease called silicosis.”
In this sick game of no-holds-barred extraction capitalism where profits are privatized and risks are socialized, the governor, chancellor, legislators and the board are all complicit in devaluing the learning opportunities for working and middle class college students. We’ve been force fed this lie that we must accept the systematic destruction of public education and higher education so that the natural gas industry can bleed every last cubic foot of gas out of the ground with no repercussions. When will people start saying enough is enough?