In an email sent late Friday afternoon to faculty at Kutztown University, local union president Paul Quinn reported that there will be “no new retrenchment” this academic year. This doesn’t exactly mean Kutztown will be spared the budget ax entirely. Quinn explained:
APSCUF-KU just got done meeting with the administration. There will be no new departments named for retrenchment [aka layoffs] this year. There are still three theatre professors that may be retrenched, but I am optimistic that APSCUF-KU will be able to successfully help them. Now that we know our status here at KU, we need to focus some of our energies toward the faculty at our sister institutions who are less fortunate then us.
Earlier this month, California University of Pennsylvania, shocked many faculty, staff, students, and parents when their sophomore president, Geraldine Jones, announced that the university did not have an $11.8 million budget deficit as previously reported. Instead, the results of an audit of the university’s books showed a $5.8 million surplus. As Bill Schackner reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The audited figures reported were by all accounts a dramatic turnaround — a swing of nearly $18 million — for a university that began the year with a projected deficit of $11.8 million. It was achieved by difficult spending cuts in an operating budget that by the end of the fiscal year had been reduced to approximately $111 million.
The school the previous four years balanced its books by dipping into reserves.
Surprise and delight over the figures were evident among board members who had weathered the ouster of the school’s former president Angelo Armenti Jr. in May 2012 and a parade of negative publicity before and after his firing.
The news that Kutztown would avert faculty layoffs this year, has only intensified questions from some members of the faculty union, APSCUF, about what exactly is going on with the financial books at PASSHE universities. Before Friday’s announcement, Kutztown administrators were projecting a $9.9 million budget shortfall. The faculty union had been raising questions about major increases in transfers to the KU Foundation, the use of funds from the Education and General Budget (E&G) to cover interest payments for a slew of building projects, and the way the university does its accounting. For example, just over a week ago, I posted an article on Raging Chicken Press featuring an interview with KU professor, Ken Ehrensal. Ehrensal explained that despite the administration’s desire to blame faculty and staff salaries for increasing costs, the actual cost increases were coming from building projects funded, in part, by the E&G Budget. When we look at the real numbers and adjust for inflation, we see “magic in history,” Ehrensal told me:
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.
Details about what happened to Kutztown University’s $9.9 million projected shortfall have not been released as of this post. It is also unclear what will happen to the three remaining Theater Department faculty members that face the threat of the budget ax. Nor is it clear whether or not administrators will turn around and slash non-faculty jobs at the university. It will take some time to fully explain how and why Kutztown and California chose to do an about-face, while Clarion, Edinboro, East Stoudsburg, and Mansfield seem hell-bent on austerity.
Faculty members across the PA State System of Higher Education should take the last sentence in Quinn’s email to heart: “Now that we know our status here at KU, we need to focus some of our energies toward the faculty at our sister institutions who are less fortunate then us.” If faculty from Kutztown and California choose to rejoice in being spared the budget ax and turn their backs on fellow APSCUF members at Clarion, Edinboro, East Stoudsburg, and Mansfield, then the future of PASSHE will remain in question.
However, if the spirit of APSCUF’s Legislative Assembly carries the day, we may see a significant increase in state-wide solidarity actions. Coming off a hard-fought contract victory this past spring, on the last day of the Assembly, APSCUF delegates voted to approve a “negotiations-style fund to fight retrenchment.” A hopeful sign indeed.