PASSHE’s Austerity Magic: Save Your Despair for Better Days

I have a rule when I hear Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) administrators explain the “budget crisis” in the system or at any one of the 14 state-owned universities: the first two reasons they give are generally throw-aways, but pay attention to the next reasons they give, because that’s how they are assigning blame – and by extension the solution.

Here’s what I mean. We all know that there was an economic crisis in 2008 that took a toll on all aspects of the U.S. economy. And, by now, it’s well established that the crisis was brought about by Wall Street schemes that eventually collapsed, taking the rest of us down with them. So, reason #1 is usually that “big” national issue that impacts just about all of us. It’s a “we” moment – a “we’re all in the same boat,” point in the argument.

Reason #2 generally focuses on PA Governor Tom Corbett’s budget cuts to public education and PASSHE. As you’ll recall, Corbett called for a 50% cut in state appropriations to PASSHE in his first budget in 2011; the legislature whittled that cut down to about 20%. The next two budgets did not restore funding to PASSHE, they maintained the 20% cuts. Again, very real and something that most Pennsylvanians know about. And it shows in the polls. The latest Franklin and Marshall College Poll shows that 62% of Pennsylvanians say that the state is headed in the wrong direction and only 20% believe that Corbett deserves to be reelected – a historic low for any sitting governor in PA.

Both of those “reasons” are well established facts in our lives. However, PASSHE administrators do not seem all that concerned about those two reasons when it comes to solutions. For example, what is a solution to reason #1? Have the State of PA or PASSHE directly sue Wall Street financial institutions for revenue stripped from the state and redistributed to the remaining big banks? Or, perhaps, it’s a strong push to close the infamous Delaware loophole that allows multinational corporations to deny the state tax revenue by incorporating their logos or “intellectual property” in Delaware? Or, just maybe the PASSHE Chancellor or Board of Governors is banging on the doors of state legislators, demanding public hearings and calling for significant investments in public education and PASSHE? Nope, nope, and nope. The fact is that PASSHE administrators and PASSHE university presidents are virtually silent on any of these “solutions” to reason number one. They would rather treat the 2008 economic collapse like a natural disaster – it just happened and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Photo: Kevin Mahoney. Student/APSCUF rally against Corbett's cuts to PASSHE universities, March 28, 2011.
Photo: Kevin Mahoney. Student/APSCUF rally against Corbett’s cuts to PASSHE universities, March 28, 2011.

Perhaps, then, we’d see strong pushes by PASSHE officials to publicly take on Governor Tom Corbett’s policies. Certainly, Corbett’s cuts were not a natural disaster. They reflect Corbett’s political priorities, the same priorities that were ushered in state after state following the 2010 mid-term elections. Surely the leadership bodies charged with the well-being of the 14 state-owned universities would put their collective energies toward defending the institutions they preside over, right? Not exactly. For all the talk about wanting ensure access to an affordable, higher education by the Governor, the former Chancellor, and university presidents their advocacy seemed for the most part perfunctory. University presidents and the former Chancellor called for faculty, staff, students and administrators to stand together in opposition to Corbett’s cuts. But when the rubber hit the road, it was only faculty, staff, and students standing on the steps of the Capitol building in Harrisburg and knocking on doors of legislators.

I can already hear the objections from those who would point to the former Chancellor making the case for rolling back Corbett’s cuts during the PA House and Senate budget hearings. And those objections are warranted. It’s true that the Chancellor, the Chair of the Board of Governors, and even some university presidents testified before the PA House and Senate and made cases for the importance of the PASSHE universities and some of the impacts of Corbett’s cuts on universities (click here to watch a video from the 2012 budget hearings. Testimony by Chancellor Cavanaugh; Chair of the Board of Governors, Guido Picchini; Kutztown University President, Javier Cevallos; and a pre-med student). And, it should be said, that there were members of both the PA House and Senate budget committees – Democrats and Republicans – who spoke passionately about their experiences as students in the PASSHE system. But, they all knew they were facing an uphill battle against a Governor and a right-wing dominated legislature who have been hell-bent on slashing public education budgets.

In my mind, the quality of your advocacy is measured only in part by what you do through expected official channels. Budget hearings happen every year and every year representatives of PASSHE appear before House and Senate Committees to make a case for PASSHE’s budget requests. That is, frankly, part of their job. And, I don’t mean some vague sense of “that’s what they should be doing.” I mean that’s part of what they get PAID for (and paid handsomely, I might add). The quality of your advocacy is also measured by what you do and how you do it when you DO NOT get what your ask for through expected, official channels. That that brings me to reason #3 – the reason (or reasons) that tell you about where PASSHE is willing to commit resources to deal with budget struggles.

Here’s a sample of what we’ve been seeing over the past several weeks:

  • In a radio interview on August 21, 2013, Clarion Provost Ron  Nowaczyk cited his #3 reason as “rising costs” in particular, “personnel costs.” That is, the salaries of faculty and staff – especially, unionized faculty and staff.
  • In Edinboro’s workforce plan released last week, their “reason #3” is, you guessed it faculty costs: “Teaching faculty represents 63% of our personnel budget and we can only achieve necessary expense reductions if we address academic expenses as well as other areas on campus.” In particular, the report states, “we have too many faculty for our declining population of students.”

    From: Kutztown University Budget Forcast for Fiscal Year 2013-2014. Presented spring 2013.
    From: Kutztown University Budget Forcast for Fiscal Year 2013-2014. Presented spring 2013.
  • Likewise, at the end of the spring 2013 semester, Kutztown University’s administration began to roll out its projections for the 2013-2014 fiscal year through a series of power point presentations around campus. The presentation shows an over $1 million “deficit” resulting from faculty and staff salaries in addition to an over $3.3 million as a result of a drop in enrollment. An updated version of those presentations, preaching the same sermon began circulation on campus again two weeks ago.
  • In a statement made to the Kutztown Patriot regarding PASSHE’s decision to increase tuition by 3% for the 2013-2014 academic year, Karen Ball of PASSHE media relations explained the need to increase tuition as the result of two straight years of “flat funding,” and an increase in costs, especially, “pension and health care costs.”

The case of Kutztown Unversity’s budget projections are telling for a couple of reasons. First, we can see one of the ways that a university builds a case for a “budget crisis.” Kutztown administrators made a couple of assumptions for 2012-2013 – both of which proved to be faulty. As you can see in the chart to the right, Kutztown assumed enrollment to remain even. These same assumptions pointed to no increase from SCUPA and APSCUF collective bargaining agreements. Did I mention these were assumptions? OK. What happens next? Well, we see an enrollment decline of 4.4% resulting in a $3,365,168 deficit. Then we see an increase in SCUPA and APSCUF collective bargaining agreements by 3.27% and 2.35% respectively. Those increases result in a $1,019,2361 deficit. Still following me? Good.

So, according to those figures Kutztown faced an over $4.3 million deficit as a result of a decline in enrollment and an increase in faculty and staff salaries. That same trend is expressed in Kutztown’s 2013-2014 Budget Projection. Once again, tuition is assumed to remain flat. This time, with all collective bargaining contracts settled, we see a 4.1% increase in salaries. In that scenario, Kutztown was looking at an $8.3 million deficit.

But, wait, it gets worse. Remember the enrollment assumptions? Well, they were wrong again. At the latest round of budget presentations given to APSCUF-KU and the University Senate, turns out that Kutztown saw a 5.5% decrease in enrollment. As a result, Kutztown faces a $9.9 million budget shortfall. That’s right, almost $10 million.

Let me put that in context. Edinboro University announced a $5.5 million budget shortfall and laid out plans to eliminate over 40 faculty and 9 staff members. Clarion University is claiming it will face a $12 million budget hole if it does not cut $8.3 million dollars this year which includes cutting 22 faculty and 13 staff members and the elimination of several programs and departments. If Edinboro and Clarion are setting the standard, it becomes difficult to see how Kutztown’s administration will not follow suit and bring down the ax, cutting faculty, staff, and programs. Kutztown’s “crisis” seems even more stark when viewed through their slideshow presentation – and while the recent dip in enrollment has had a real impact on the university’s finances, it is something the university can do little about at this point as the semester has already begun.

The only things left to cut are faculty and staff. After all, they continue to cause costs to rise, right?

The Perfect Storm v. Math

The draconian cuts taking place on PASSHE campuses are premised on the notion that costs must be cut and that one of the key drivers of costs is the increase in faculty and staff salaries – especially, faculty salaries.

In an article I posted earlier this year, “The Persistence of Crisis @ Kutztown U: Work Harder or Fight Back,” I recounted Kutztown’s perpetual state of financial crisis since I started working at the university in 2002 – the same year that President Javier Cevallos became university president.

Show Us the Money.ppt
Slide from APSCUF-KU response to Kutztown University’s budget crisis claims. Click image to view entire presentation.

In that article, I mentioned a slideshow put together by two APSCUF-KU members, Ken Ehrensal and Glenn Richardson, responding to Kutztown’s last round of faculty downsizing, aka “retrenchment,” in 2011. The presentation called “Show Us the Money!,” asked three “Fundamental Questions”:

  1. How can it be that, while Kutztown University is in a financial crisis requiring cutting budgets and retrenching faculty, other schools, such as West Center University appear to be healthy and hiring faculty?
  2. If KU has one of the lowest costs per credit hour of instruction, how can we not be viable while other higher cost universities in the system are viable?
  3. If the crisis is not PASSHE-wide, how has KU’s administration gotten the university into this situation?

The title of the presentation stemmed from the faculty union’s growing skepticism about how the administration was doing its math. In short, the administration’s budget numbers did not make sense given the what had been happening on KU’s campus since 2002: a rapid increase in the number of students (from about 8,000 to nearly 10,000); the long-term use of temporary faculty to fill vacancies from mass faculty retirements in 2004; and, the significant increase in class size, especially the opening of a new large-classroom building, the Academic Forum, in spring 2007. Frankly, the university’s budget numbers did not make sense. Ehrensal and Richardson were able to show that once the administration’s budget numbers were adjusted for inflation, their claims that faculty costs were increasing significantly didn’t pan out. In fact, the adjusted figures found that instructional costs had declined by nearly 20% and that faculty salaries had declined by over 10% since 1994-95. However, over the same period of time, non-instructional spending had increased by nearly 40%. The faculty union wanted to know what all this non-instructional spending was, but the administration was not exactly forthcoming with the information.

“Show Us the Money!” was not simply an academic exercise. In 2010-2011, Kutztown’s administration was seeking to cut over 50 faculty members and eliminate numerous programs and majors. At the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, APSCUF-KU was able to reduce the number of faculty who lost their jobs to nine, in large part because of the union’s pressure on the administration to produce accurate budget information. While nine is better than fifty, it’s difficulty to call firing nine faculty members – many who were tenured and had worked at Kutztown for well over a decade – a victory. As part of their downsizing efforts that year, Kutztown’s administration cut the Advising Center, the Early Learning Center, the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching, the Theater major, the Nursing program, virtually all programs designed to assist at risk students, and more. While the faculty union was able to strip away the myth of the university’s budget numbers, it was unable to completely prevent the administration’s austerity measures.

The deep cuts being advocated for at Clarion and Edinboro right now are disturbingly close to the experience at Kutztown in 2010-2011. Kutztown along with four other PASSHE universities are still waiting for the ax to drop after receiving letters from their university presidents indicating that retrenchment is likely on the horizon.

When I heard that Ken Ehrensal was back at work crunching numbers after gaining access to additional budget information, I decided to sit down with him to see what he found. Given PASSHE’s commitment to austerity and its less than honest use of “financial crisis” to cut faculty and staff, I wanted to know how real the current crisis is. True to form, Ehrensal is once again exposing Kutztown’s administration’s fuzzy math.

Wonk With Me, Will You?

Let’s recall that PASSHE universities who are advocating deep cuts in faculty and the elimination of programs are claiming that one of the drivers of the budget crisis – at least a driver that university administrators have control over – are faculty and staff costs. From the perspective of university administrators, they see faculty and staff salaries as one of the chief contributors to university budget deficits. And, as a result, their solutions depend largely upon the firing of faculty and staff and the elimination of programs and majors. This is austerity 101 and Kutztown University provides a telling case.

According to Ehrensal, however, the narrative of out of control faculty salaries is inaccurate, if not disingenuous.

In order to understand what’s been happening at Kutztown University, Ehrensal argues that it is necessary to pay attention to at least three things:

  1. The mix of in-state and out-of-state students at the university
  2. The significant increase in the university’s operations budget due to new buildings
  3. The long-term, inflation-adjusted trends in the university’s instructional costs

Let me take these one at a time.

1. Mix of in-state and out-of-state students. In the midst of Kutztown’s last round of retrenchment, there was a meeting held in Harrisburg between local and statewide representatives of APSCUF and PASSHE to discuss Kutztown’s desire to cut faculty and programs. “It was an interesting day,” recalls Ehrensal who attended the meeting. On the university’s side sat Kutztown President Javier Cevallos, his team, and representatives from Chancellor’s office. Ehrensal recounted a moment in that meeting:

At one point we were going around the table and I raised an issue. I said, “OK,I don’t understand something.” I said, “How is it that Kutztown can be growing and be one of the fastest growing campuses [in PASSHE] and yet we’re not economically viable?” One of the vice chancellors was there, a woman and I don’t remember her name, she was vice-chancellor for personnel or finance or something. She turns and says, “You need to understand, when Dr. Cevallos grew the university, he ended up with an inappropriate mix of in-state and out-of-state students.” I actually felt sorry for Cevallos at that moment, because he sort of got slapped. On the one hand, they praise him for diversifying the campus, and that’s a good thing. And he did it by growing the campus. But in growing the campus, he only grew it with in-state students who met his diversity goal.

According to Ehrensal, the vice-chancellor was pointing to the fact that they have some formula for the “appropriate mix” of in-state and out-of-state students. So, for example, for every ten in-state students President Cevallos brought in, he should have brought in one or two out-of-state students, depending upon what PASSHE’s formula was. That matters because out-of-state students pay more tuition than in-state students. Essentially, the vice chancellor was saying that its financial model depends upon increasing the number of students who pay more tuition without having to increase the cost of tuition over all. At this point, one of the key questions is where is Kutztown’s administration in this mix right now and has President Cevallos “corrected” his approach after being chastised by his boss at that meeting?

2. Significant increase in Kutztown’s operating budget. During the 2011-2012 academic year, Ehrensal said that he raised an issue at Meet and Discuss (a monthly meeting between the faculty union and the administration to address ongoing issues) about new construction on campus. “We know that the operations budget has been growing,” he said. However, the key problem was to figure out how to account for the way it was growing. “I had been talking to a couple of faculty members who know about these things more broadly and they clued me in to the kind of questions we needed to ask.” The university was in the midst of a major renovation of its Schaeffer Auditorium. At the meeting, Ehrensal asked, “when the new Schaeffer is done, how much will the building add to the operating budget?” The administration said that the renovations and expansion of the building will add just under $200,000 per year to the operating budget. “They have a formula by which they multiply the square footage by a constant factor” to determine the cost of buildings, Ehrensal told me. He proceeded to put the renovation of Schaeffer Auditorium in context:

Think about my time here at KU – 23 years. In more or less this order, we have doubled or more the library space, we added the annex to DeFrancesco [a classroom and office building]; we tore down the old Boehm science building and built a much larger building; we doubled or tripled the square footage of the Sharidin Art Building, added the academic areas to the Academic Forum [the infamous large classroom building]; and, then we took dormitory space in Old Main and converted it to faculty offices, which means it moves from the auxillary budget to the operating budget.

All of these expansions of the university’s physical infrastructure meant an increase in cost following the same formula the university administration determined the increased cost from renovations to Shaeffer Auditorium. “So, now we have a beautiful campus,” comments Ehrensal, “but we can’t afford to educate the students in it.”

The investment in making the university’s campus “beautiful” is certainly not confined to Kutztown. “One of the things the people from the Left to the far Right say is that parents and students are demanding luxury dorms, rock walls, beautiful buildings with atriums, or they won’t come to a school. To some degree that has created an ‘arms race’ among campuses.” But, like the Cold War arms race, it comes with a cost. “This comes back to tuition,” Ehrensal points out. “In PASSHE’s case, parents want this experience for their children, but they want it at public school prices. And, obviously, management and the legislature think they should have the beautiful campus experience at a public school price.” It would be one thing if the Pennsylvania state legislature decided that all PA students should have the beautiful campus experience and then invested resources to ensure that universities had the funds to beautify their campuses. However, just the opposite is the case.

As Sean Kitchen reported in Raging Chicken Press earlier this year,

Between 2008 and 2013, Pennsylvania cut higher education spending per-student by 29.9 percent, or $2,082 per student (inflation adjusted).  The State System in Higher Education is included in this equation.  At the fourteen PASSHE institutions, state spending per student was reduced by 29.6 percent or $1,632 per student during the same period, the trend is not comforting.

The trends of state legislators and university administrators insisting upon keeping tuition low while allowing for the increase in universities’ operating budgets for “beautification,” and the long-term cuts in state appropriations to PASSHE universities, has not exactly benefited students and their families when it comes to their pocketbooks. Again, Kitchen shows:

During PASSHE’s first official year of existence (1983-84), roughly 65 percent of its budget was supported by Commonwealth appropriations while a smaller 35 percent came from tuition and fees charged to students.   Over the last 30 years, those numbers have flip-flopped.  Fast forward to the 2008 recession and the percentage of support coming from the state had shrunk to 37 percent.  By 2012-13, state support had shrunk to 26 percent.  That means for  the average in-state resident student is that tuition and fees have increasingly taken up a larger chunk of their family’s income.  In 2001, tuition and fees at PASSHE universities took up 8.5 percent of the median family income in Pennsylvania; in 2012, they take up nearly 17 percent median family income.

While state legislators and administrators seem committed to reinforcing the narrative of “greedy teachers” causing university budget crises, the actual budget numbers do not support their story. “Part of the problem then,” argues Ehrensal, “is we’ve blow up – exploded – these infrastructure costs.” To add further dysfunction to the equation, university administrators have often significantly increased spaces for what they determine to be “premier programs,” even if enrollments in those programs are not sufficient to compensate for that increased space. Premier programs, like beautiful campuses, are often those programs that increase a university’s public relations profile and look good on promotional materials. So, on the one hand, university administrators scrutinize every penny spent by regular academic programs in philosophy or anthropology, for example, but they seem to throw open their purses when it comes to their pet programs with little attention paid to their budget impacts.

Given the significant increase in Kutztown’s operating budget because of new building projects, two questions become important. First, where does the money come from to pay for these projects given the cuts in state appropriations? Second, what kind of increases are we actually talking about?

The short answer to the first question is that the money comes directly out of the university’s “Education and General Budget,” or E&G. “The university has a line in the E&G called ‘operations and maintenance’,” explains Ehrensal. So, for example, in 2006-2007, Kutztown University’s operation and maintenance budget was $18,900,000. In 2011-2012, the budget is just shy of $26 million – $25,997,000. But these numbers are exactly accurate – or, more precisely, they are not accurate for determining the real increase in costs because they are the costs as expressed in dollars at that time. That is, “what you need to do is adjust for inflation. That is, put it in what we call ‘real dollars’. When you do that, the picture gets a little different.” If you adjust the numbers for inflation using 2011-2012 dollars, the budget for 2006-2007 is actually about $20.9 million dollars instead of $18.9 million.

But we’re not done. “The other thing you need to look at in a university, particularly when you look at this place in the long run,” says Ehrensal, “is the number of students.” In the 23 years spanning Ehrensal’s carrer at Kutztown, the university has growing from about 5,000 students to almost 10,000. “So, you need to adjust the dollars.” If you’re head is beginning to hurt at this point, you’re not alone. I had to ask for clarifications and repeated explanations just to make sure I was wrapping my head around this stuff. If you think about it, it makes sense. It would be inaccurate to simply point to an increase in a budget line without accounting for the increase in the number of students. After all, the increase in the operating and maintenance budget might just be due to a near doubling of the student body over 20 plus years. So, if you want to know the actual increase in the operating and maintenance budget, you need to figure out how much was spent per student – specifically, a full time equivalent (FTE) student since not all students attend classes full time.

You need to adjust for how large the school is. You need to take the budget number and divide it by FTE students, because the real measure is how much am I spending per student. And, it turns out, that from 2006-2007 to 2011-2012 when I adjust for inflation and do it per FTE student, operations and maintenance has gone up close to 20% over that period from about $2,400 per student to $3,000 per student. Just under a 20% rise.

So, even though Kutztown’s enrollment increased from 8,704 in 2006-2007 to 8,955 in 2011-2012, that was not enough to account for the total increase in the operations and maintenance budget.

The other place where the university is spending significantly more is in Student Services. That budget has gone up by 16.5% over that 2006-2007 to 2011-2012 period. However, according to Ehrensal, the actual dollar amounts are much smaller and don’t have as significant of an impact as we see with operations and maintenance.

Another important thing to know is that Kutztown University’s enrollment peaked in 2010-2011 at 9,337. So, there we do see a one-year decline in enrollment that does have an impact on the budget. This is the kind of one year decline that university administrations love to point to a proof that there is a crisis. However, like with the increase in the operations budget, we will see that that one-year drop does not account for a “budget crisis.” Let’s see why.

Going Deep Into the Magic Budget Forest – You Still Here?

Library of Congress | Zan Zig performing with rabbit and roses, including hat trick and levitation. Advertising poster for the magician (who seems to have left no other trace behind).

3. The magical decline of instructional costs. Yes, it’s true, we’re deep into it now. And the fact that we have to dig so deeply into a university’s budget tells us a lot about why it’s just much easier to believe that faculty members get paid too much. Truth has never been the province of the lazy, distracted, or apathetic. It certainly is not the province of those with an agenda that they’d rather not tell you about. So, deeper I go.

Crunching the numbers further, Ehrensal tells me that he began to see something interesting in the E&G budget over time.

The E&G budget has gone up about 5.5% per student between 2006-2007 and 2011-2012. And, the instructional spending over the time period has only gone up 3% per student. And, a big hunk of that increase was in 2011-2012 because, essentially, we spent the same amount in instruction that we spent in 2010-2011 with 300 or 400 fewer students. So, if we actually look at the change between 2010-2011 and 2011-2011 the instructional costs per student really takes a hit, because there are the same number of faculty, the same number of seats, but fewer students.

The instructional costs from 2006-2007 to the peak enrollment in 2010-2011 shows only about a 2.5% increase. You get an increase in cost in that last year due to a decline in enrollment.

So, we see an increase in the E&G budget by 5.5%. Instructional spending increases by about 2.5% with the additional problem of that one year enrollment decline. At the same time, we get a 20% increase in operations and maintenance and a 16.5% increase in Student Services. Then, if you look at total revenues adjusted for inflation, they have been effectively flat.

But, says Ehrensal, “When you take total revenues and then subtract the auxillary revenues, revenues have actually declined 2.8% over that same period. Auxillary revenues include the dorms, the student clubs, all that stuff. Auxillaries are those things that are not E&G expenditures – the student union, the dorms, students clubs, all those things that the student activities pays for.” Much of that decline can be attributed to a 26% decline in state appropriations over that same period.

Ehrensal pauses for a moment and looks up from his notebook and budget documents he’s been walking me through. He’s got a sparkle in his eye. “Let’s go back to instructional costs,” he says, “because this is where there is magic in history.”

Here’s how he explains the magic:

Instructional costs per FTE student peaked at this university in 2002-2003. At that point (in 2012 dollars) it peaked at $7189 per student. We can compare that with the expenditure in 2010-11 – before the enrollment decline. In 2010-2011, instructional spending per student was $6453. That’s a 10.25% decrease over the peak spending per student. If we go to 2011-2012 which includes the enrollment decline, the spending is $6649. The $200 increase is accounted by the drop in enrollment because real spending is still the same. But even with the drop in enrollment in 2011-2012, KU is spending 7.5% less per student on instruction than we did at the peak.

He stops for a moment to review his figures then continues,

What’s the history since 2002-2003? First, there was a huge retirement incentive  in 2004, so the administration cleared out the full professors. You can see the numbers falling. They replaced them with temporary faculty for years. Then what did they do? They brought on the Academic Forum – the large classroom building – and started doing some restaffing. So, with restaffing with some tenure-track faculty, you get little uptick in costs. But if you think about what you’ve got, you’ve got a huge drop and an uptick off the bottom. This is why having this year’s and last year’s budget tells us nothing. It’s only in the context of this long time series that you can see the real problem.

And that’s the kicker. This is where our wonk in the budget woods takes us. PASSHE university presidents are moving a light speed to cut large numbers of faculty. However, in Kutztown University’s case, instructional costs are not driving the crisis. “The fact is,” Ehrensal says pointedly, “when you look at efficiency gains, retrenching faculty is a non-starter. Instructional costs are not the issue.”

So, you can continue to hate faculty – especially unionize faculty – if you want to. But those hated faculty salaries and benefits that the right-wing in this country and in this state are going after with foaming mouths, have little to nothing to do with the reason why PASSHE universities are having a budget crisis.

Networking Resistance to PASSHE’s Austerity Tour

PASSHE Transformation FB Cover

PASSHE’s austerity tour will undoubtedly spread beyond Clarion and Edinboro. Of the fourteen PASSHE universities, eight received letters indicating “retrenchment” is being considered. One of the difficulties faculty and staff face as they deal with this latest wave of austerity is that the discourse of crisis is so prevalent that is seems true. In addition, while PASSHE’s administration has moved in the direction of greater centralization, faculty and staff do not have a long history of state-wide mobilization in any systematic way outside of contract negotiations. Most faculty spend the bulk of their time teaching, developing programs, doing service work, conducting research within their departments at their specific university. And, for better or for worse, academics can take a long time to move from the diagnosis of a problem to organizing collectively to resolve a problem. However, PASSHE faculty have the advantage of being unionized and they have just come off two-years of contentious, protracted negotiations. The fact that faculty at Clarion University were mobilizing rallies, direct actions, emergency meetings, and social media campaigns within hours of hearing the news that their administration intends on cutting 22 faculty positions indicates that at least some faculty are refusing to accept austerity as the only option.

One of the reasons I have spent so much time wading through PASSHE administrators’ claims about a “budget crisis” in this and other articles is in hopes that we can begin to see patterns across the fourteen universities and begin to develop strategies and tactics for combating this most recent assault on public higher education in Pennsylvania. In fact, later this afternoon after my classes and office hours have concluded, I will be driving to Harrisburg for APSCUF’s statewide Legislative Assembly. I expect retrenchment will be the main order of business and APSCUF members will be itching to develop plans for mobilizing state-wide, networking our local efforts in a chorus of resistance against austerity and in defense of public higher education.

I have been part of too many meetings over the years in which faculty members have embraced the administration’s narrative of crisis, that there is no alternative to deep cuts. I have left more than one department or union meeting with the scene from the movie Animal House running through my head – that one in which a young Kevin Bacon goes through an initiation rite for a fraternity. You may remember it: “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”

But that is not what I am hearing from faculty, staff, and students at Clarion and Edinboro who are loudly and forcibly replacing a discourse of despair and reluctant acceptance with one simple rallying cry, “Enough!”


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