Downsizing From Academic Renaissance to Trade School: An Open Letter to East Stroudsburg University President, Marcia Welsh

Downsizing. Photo: Cian Ginty, Flickr

Editor’s note: For all of our coverage of PASSHE layoffs and cuts click here. Follow #slasshe on Twitter for the latest news and resistance. 

From the moment that East Stroudsburg Normal School opened in 1893 it has continued to grow from a small privately owned school into a contemporary university offering both undergraduate and graduate programs. Until this year, the university has exemplified an honorable tradition of providing students with challenging programs founded by outstanding faculty leadership. What would East Stroudsburg University be without the vision and vitality of such creative and engaging professors? If it were not for such devoted faculty, East Stroudsburg University would not be what it is today.

East Stroudsburg University’s mission statement explains that the education obtained from this academy will be provided within “a learning community that promotes diversity” and that such a place “views teaching as the university’s primary focus” as well as promotes “leadership and service in the educational, cultural and economic development of the region.” If these two principles are honestly adhered to, how can any administration – most significantly a person in the position of university President – consciously eliminate entire departments that are crucial to student success in a global economy? Unfortunately, as you know, this is the disastrous state of political and economic affairs at East Stroudsburg University. The neoliberal focus on education as job training that you seem to support along with the idea of the university as a glorified job-training center are the main factors to blame in your disaster opportunist agenda. How can it be that the direction that your administration is taking with this university directly contradicts the principles that the institution was founded upon?

In 2010, I graduated from East Stroudsburg University with honors and received a B.A. in History with a minor in German Studies. Presently, I am near completion of my M.A. degree in History, also at ESU. I truly believe in the dynamism and devotion of the History and Political Science Departments as well as the opportunities that the German program has offered me throughout my time here as a student. From my perspective, higher education is intended to broaden the character of the individual through the fostering of education, learning, and research. It might behoove you to read Benjamin Franklin’s 1747 essay, “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania [sic].” If you peruse Franklin’s proposal, you might begin to understand just how crucial modern languages, physical fitness, and natural sciences were to the founding of the university right here in the state of Pennsylvania. Franklin believed in a liberating BenFranklinDuplessis Gagliberal arts education. I reason that Franklin would rejoice in what East Stroudsburg University has transformed into since it opened in 1893. Judging from his writings, I know that Franklin would wholeheartedly support the continued development of a thriving German program and a varied modern languages program. In present terms, all you have to do is pick up a newspaper or examine statistics to see how relevant the study of German is in an area originally established by the Pennsylvania Dutch, with a business economy desperately reaching for interaction within the global sphere. The decision that you have made to cut crucial modern language programs is dismal news for a region that needs more, not less, linguists to conduct its global business and diplomacy.

It would seem to me that your way of demonstrating a commitment to public higher education is quite odd, considering the process. It certainly does not uphold the values of the institution that you claim to dutifully be presiding over. Nor are you ethically concerned, it would seem, about the community of which you claim an active part because, if you were, you would understand how much time and attention has been invested in forging connections with international academic and business programs. What a waste it is to thoughtlessly cut such an investment. These profoundly shortsighted decisions reflect a lack of thoughtful planning by you and your administration. Your actions reveal that you are a simple gun for hire, a mercenary hired on as a retrencher. A neoliberal hatchetman sent to downsize and basically Walmartize this university to trade school status. You may claim that you are committed to higher education but you seem to have no commitment to East Stroudsburg University or what it has always stood for, to prepare students to serve the community. What is the measure of a university to you, President Welsh?

Recently, I read a transcript of a meeting that took place at East Stroudsburg University where you reacted angrily to resistance from the university community regarding your plans to retrench. You noted that you “had a strong and valued commitment to higher education at this university.” If you truly believe this then your understanding of valued commitment is very different from my own. Your career opportunist idea of valued commitment seems to be to create a retail environment for the consumption of education. So, as you continue to attempt to execute this top down process of retrenchment while offering no transparency to either the faculty union to access the university budget or to the community that has invested decades of time and energy into this institution, please understand that your ethics and values are entirely transparent. Your efforts mirror the shortsighted political power plays of inept state administrators such as Governor Corbett and Chancellor Frank Brogan.

It is public knowledge that this state has reduced its commitment to higher education under Governor Corbett. Since 2010, Governor Corbett has repeatedly cut educational budgets making the cost of running the university largely dependent on student tuition and other fees thus transforming higher education into a retail operation in a conniving sort of way. To be quite honest, I have to wonder about your willingness to be in Tom Corbett’s higher education demolition crew. After all, I am sure that you knew who was governor in this state, and what the attitude has been in Pennsylvania for many years regarding placing the main burden for funding PA schools on the backs of students. That act of de facto privatization of higher education has pushed many students into taking out student loans that require the focusing of their education on degrees that will enable them to pay back their loans. However, that focus then turns the educational experience into a purely material transaction, that shrinks student choices—because schools eliminate uncompetitive and “impractical” degree options and fire the professors who teach those subjects. And this leads to the impoverishment of the educational opportunities available to all students, not merely to those who major in allegedly expendable studies.

You see, President Welsh, when areas of study are entirely eliminated, education then becomes a pop contest to shape the university into a private enterprise, essentially transforming it into a ground for glorified job training. The misuse of your position as the president of a university is a power play process that is potentially extraordinarily destructive for the community. It is utterly disrespectful to both East Stroudsburg University students as well as the faculty that have cultivated dynamic academic departments and programs, working tirelessly on behalf of students. Most importantly, your narcissistic careerism is devastating to the cultural and academic life of East Stroudsburg University as a whole.

Apart from your blatant careerism, what is even more troubling is that you refuse to explain how you determine the measure of the university experience. In fact, you seem absurdly contradictory in your statements regarding higher education. An article from Newsday dated August of 2005 quotes you; “We have 46 faculty coming to the campus,” said Adelphi Provost Marcia Welsh. “That’s a tremendous number of new hires.” She said 23 of the 46 are coming into new positions; the rest are replacing faculty who have left the university or retired. In four years, Adelphi in Garden City has increased its full- time faculty from 189 to 276, Welsh said. “Fifty-five percent of our faculty were not here in the spring of 2000,” Welsh said, “So, if you think about revitalization of curriculum, new ideas, new energy, I think it’s just kind of a renaissance of the university.” The language that stands out to me here is “revitalization of curriculum, new ideas, new energy” and a “renaissance”. Those statement contrasted with statements made recently, just eight years later, you use this language to describe your commitment to higher education; “The changes we’re making are truly directed toward improved student learning outcomes that today’s students need in order to prepare for the global job market that awaits them.”

Is downsizing from an academic renaissance to a trade school going to become your legacy, President Welsh? Since, at the least, you seem confused or dissembled about what you view as the components of strengthening the educational experience, do you not owe the people of this area and the students and faculty of this university some explicit answers concerning how it is you think what you are doing, what you are enabling, is building a “renaissance” at this university? Or, is it simply that you do not think this university rates a progressive, expansive, rebirth, but rather you view your job as caretaking this university’s downsizing to a trade school?

Very truly yours,

Grace Kavanah

Editor’s Note: A version of this Open Letter also appears over at The Big Slice. If you haven’t already, check them out and tell them Raging Chicken Press sent you!

 

 

 

 

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