October 30th marked the first major deadline for PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) university presidents to notify the faculty union about faculty cuts. The contract between PASSHE and the faculty union, APSCUF, sets October 30th as the date by which tenured faculty members must be notified whether they will have a job the following academic year. However, this does not mean that the number of faculty cuts announced on October 30th at Clarion, Edinboro, and East Stroudsburg, Mansfield – not to mention the still sketchy situation at Slippery Rock – is the last we will hear of the budget ax this academic year. There are three deadlines on the horizon:
- December 1: tenure-track faculty members who have completed more than two years of their five-year probationary period must be notified if they will be cut.
- December 15: tenure-track faculty members who are in their second probationary year must be notified if they will be cut.
- March 1: tenure-track faculty members who are in their first probationary year must be notified if they will be cut.
And while the total numbers of faculty cut as a direct result of “retrenchment” is already well beyond anything ever seen in PASSHE during its 30+ year history, local union leaders are also expecting university administrators not to renew the contracts of many temporary faculty members – even at PASSHE universities who have stated they will not be retrenching tenure and tenure-track faculty members this year. Understand that temporary faculty members are hardly “temporary” as the term implies. Temporary faculty members represent up to 25% of the faculty on PASSHE university campuses. And, as much as university administrators like to refer to temporary faculty as “flex workers” or “temporary” the fact is that the positions are not temporary. That is, from one academic year to the next, the number of temporary faculty positions at any given PASSHE university remains roughly the same. PASSHE administrators view the people who occupy those positions as “temporary,” not the positions themselves. So, as much of the media coverage has focused on the gutting of tenured and tenure-track faculty and the elimination of programs thus far (as it should have), the story is hardly over. And, I am told, that APSCUF is paying close attention to the total number of “non-renewals” of temporary faculty – a de facto second, or shadow “retrenchment” – which may not be known before summer 2014.
Workforce Plans Be Damned – Fight is Far from Over
Despite the release of the first round of notifications to tenured faculty members that administrators planned on eliminating their positions – kicking faculty to the curb after years if not decades of service – the fight is far from over. This past Friday, students and faculty members at Mansfield University held a rally against the their administration’s retrenchment plans. Here is a report of the event from Mansfield APSCUF’s Communication Liaison, Lee Wright:
Mansfield University APSCUF and students held a rally in support of Mansfield University’s threatened programs and faculty prior to Chancellor Brogan’s visit to campus on Friday, November 8th. More than 200 students, faculty and staff attended the rally. Dr. Lee Wright – (Mansfield APSCUF Communication Liaison) introduced local APSCUF President Dr. Ron Straub who spoke to the crowd gathered in front of Straughn Auditorium stating “We are here today to let Chancellor Brogan know that retrenchment is not the pathway to provide quality programs that the students deserve and the State System of Higher Education was founded to provide. We are here today to remind Chancellor Brogan he needs to champion the restoration of appropriate funding rather than meekly accept what the legislators of Harrisburg are willing to offer. We are here today to let Chancellor Brogan know we will not quietly accept his willingness to allow this generation of students to be the last generation of Mansfield’s sons and daughters.”
Dr. Rob Clark, an Anthropology professor and vice president of the faculty union addressed those assembled by noting “It is the mission of PASSHE to provide the highest possible quality education at an affordable price to citizens of the Commonwealth. College is not simply about training someone for a job, to mechanistically fabricate the product of worker drones.”
Two MU students, Molly Flannery an Art Education major and Cole Black a member of SGA also expressed their concerns about proposed program and faculty cuts by pointing out the need for greater support for Mansfield University and PASSHE.
The rally concluded with the singing of the Alma Mater led by the Mansfield University Choir led by Choral Director, Dr. Peggy Dettwiler. Following the rally Chancellor Brogan spoke to students and faculty inside Straughn Auditorium but avoided specifically addressing questions he was asked about the need for cuts by repeatedly stating “I just got here.”
Talks continue between Mansfield University administrators and local APSCUF to try to find ways to lessen or eliminate cutting faculty and programs.
Across the state at East Stroudsburg University, students and faculty continued to organize locally to stave off university president Marcia Welsh’s austerity plan. Grace Kavanah, a graduate student at ESU who has also contributed to Raging Chicken Press, pushed forward with efforts to educate students about ESU’s retrenchment plans and efforts to stop it. Yesterday, she release an open letter to students about retrenchment:
What is retrenchment? Students should understand the use of word retrenchment by university faculty and administrators. Present-day use of the word is employed in the fields of political science, international relations, and public policy. The root of the word is from the Latin and is defined as a method of reduction or cutting away. Typically, it is a tool used by corporations to achieve the goal of financial stability within business. Although retrenchment is not an entirely ineffective policy tool in corporate business, it has been found to be largely ineffectual when used by university administrations and is not the answer to budgetary problems, especially at East Strousburg University. Dr. Allan N. Benn, an ESU professor, explains why it is not a useful policy tool for ESU and outlines an alternative budgetary plan here.
Why is retrenchment being implemented at ESU? In the case of ESU, retrenchment is a political process; it is not a budgetary process. ESU President, Dr. Marcia Welsh, as well as ESU administrators are attempting to implement retrenchment under the guise of a budgetary plan. Faculty and students are asking why retrenchment? A pressing question for President Welsh is, what is the root cause of such a dramatic political statement? If the role of university administration by definition were one of maintenance and supervision, why then would a public employee whose job it is to serve the community deliberately attempt to subvert the goals of students, faculty, and the common good? According to Chris Parr writing for Times Higher Education, one answer might lie in institutional corruption. The article notes, “Unfortunately, university leadership does not always demonstrate a high commitment to addressing fraud.” These are just some of the questions and concerns that have arisen from ESU students, faculty, and the community. We deserve answers, President Welsh.
Retrenchment is a threat to the community of which the university administration serves. Students themselves have maintained that if the process of retrenchment continues, they will leave ESU. In addition, the fact that austerity is a discredited idea is becoming more commonly recognized throughout higher education nationally and internationally. The process of retrenchment is an expression of an austerity regime, which will continue to discredit and diminish the state of higher education in Pennsylvania if people do not begin to stand up against austerity measures and against retrenchment.
How is the process of retrenchment carried out? Retrenchment is carried out by the administration. The role of the chancellor is to serve and direct the interests of the 14 universities within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education also known as the PASSHE system. The PASSHE chancellor is Frank Brogan. Brogan is the executive lead that carries out the process of retrenchment. Brogan was hired on to the PASSHE system as an outsider in order to facilitate this austerity regime, along with President Welsh. President Welsh knew precisely what she was getting into when she was hired on at East Stroudsburg University. In a 2005 article published in Newsday, Welsh laid out what is necessary to expand a university; but, what she is doing at ESU is the exact opposite.
Why are our PASSHE administrators invested in the retrenchment process? When Chancellor Brogan visited Mansfield University and Kutztown University campuses this month Brogan is quoted as stating, “Retrenchment is by definition made necessary by budgets.” It is worth noting and important to revisit something Vice President Joe Biden said once: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” By that measure the Scranton native reveals the values of Governor Corbett and members of statewide administrations abating his position, including Brogan and Welsh, who show a fundamental antipathy to higher education. In Debra Erdley’s article from July 2013 she cites, Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who writes about staffing at colleges, who showed that “administrative bloat” is widespread. “Nationally, administrative growth accounts for about 40 percent of the cost increases at American colleges. At most schools, administrative growth is mainly internally generated, not a response to federal mandates or other external factors,” Ginsberg said. Research shows what is valued within current administrations within the PASSHE system, as administrative bloat continues to consume what is left of higher education in Pennsylvania. Our PASSHE administrators are invested in retrenchment because it serves their economic greed.
In conclusion, I will leave you with an essay written on the subject of University Administration: Nurturing vs. Managing. Harvard Emeritus Professor Henry Rosovsky wrote of university administrators, “They are facilitators – servants of the faculty and students. Their task is to implement educational policy set by the faculty … and to make student learning more efficient.” The essay is an excellent critique of the changes that have taken place within the university system. Rosovsky concluded, “All these changes together are monumental and threaten to undermine the traditional and appropriate role of universities as seats of education, social and political criticism and innovations, and moral leadership.” This current trend towards the privatization of education continues to be a disastrous movement by Republicans, a movement dedicated to failure due to its adherence to outdated economic polity. At this point, any state that has withdrawn support for higher education has fundamentally abandoned a traditional principal that is obligatory as a public institution. ESU is founded on such principles.
Temporary employee of APSCUF
If Marcia Welsh thinks that students and faculty are simply going to put their tails between their legs and go sulking off into the next room and despair, it looks like she’s in for a rude awakening.
The organizing does not stop there.
Next Thursday at 7 pm, Clarion University’s Council of Trustees will be meeting in Room 107/108 in Eagle Commons. Clarion faculty have been organizing from the moment the first word of a possible retrenchment was uttered – most notably through their Faces of Retrenchment – Clarion Facebook page. And, they plan on being at tonight’s meeting as well. Here’s the announcement posted on their “Meeting of Clarion University Council of Trustees” Facebook event page:
Please dress in black. Bring Clarion clothing or memorabilia to return, indicating your displeasure with the way that administration has treated your university.
Can’t make it? Send your clothing and other items to Jeanne Slattery, Psychology. Those at Venango College can send your items to Ellen Foster, English/Venango. We will make sure that it is shared with people who do not have items to return.
It may be getting cold out, but faculty and student organizing is heating up. As this battle continues into a mid-term election year, and as Governor Corbett has to defend his deep cuts in education as part of his bid for re-election, the faculty and students who are organizing now will become serious political players.