Kutztown University administrators seem poised to get a jump start on cutting faculty, staff, and programs in the 2014-2015 academic year. This past Friday, department chairs received emails requesting they attend a meeting with the Provost, Carlos Vargas-Aburto, and several other high-ranking administrators to review each department’s “majors, enrollment in classes, retention, faculty workload, budgets” and other related issues. According to several department chairs I spoke to this afternoon, they have not been told details concerning the purpose of the meetings or what they should prepare in advance, despite repeated inquiries.
Kutztown University is no stranger to deep budget cuts and the process of “retrenchment,” that is, deep cuts in programs and faculty. In 2011, Kutztown University administrators announced they were eliminating 47 jobs including 6 faculty members. That announcement came after over 18 months of painful speculation and around the clock efforts of the local chapter of the faculty union, APSCUF, to prevent the worst of the cuts. As APSCUF President, Steve Hicks, wrote in the union’s newsletter at the time:
a lot of the threat at Kutztown has been abated. Thanks to the hard work of local APSCUF leadership, and especially the tireless networking of Paul Quinn, chapter president, what looked like to be a multi-million dollar hit to KU programs — I think 8 were in peril at the high water mark – now only 3 programs are still under discussion…It looks like, instead of something like 35-40 faculty losing their jobs, we might lose a handful, if that.
And, of course, Kutztown University was one of the 14 universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) that sent out letters to the faculty union this past summer announcing the possibility of retrenchment. While Kutztown president, Javier Cevallos, eventually announced that his administration would not pursue retrenchment during the 2013-2014 academic year, he warned of cuts on the horizon for 2014-2015. Here’s how he put it in his October 2, 2013 “President’s Update”:
On Friday, we shared with APSCUF leadership that we will not be issuing any new retrenchment letters this year. This does not mean that our financial situation is resolved. For the 2013-14 year, we used a combination of base budget cuts and one time funds to address the deficit. Current estimates project a $10.3 million deficit for 2014-15, which will be addressed through a combination of base budget cuts and one-time funds. We will continue to review all aspects of our university in the coming months to formulate a balanced budget for next year in light of these continuing serious fiscal challenges.
Given Kutztown administrators’ penchant for crying “budget crisis” every year despite evidence that Cevallos and his administration have had a strong hand in manufacturing said crises – through policies that traded beautiful buildings for deep debt and accounting practices that hid piles of cash on hand – many close observers were puzzled why Kutztown did not share the retrenchment fate of Clarion, Edinboro, East Stroudsburg, and Mansfield. Some faculty and staff felt they found answer to that question when Cevallos announced that was leaving Kutztown for a job at Framingham State University in Massachusetts – don’t want bad publicity in the middle of a job search, ya know.
Some faculty and department chairs are being cautious about assuming that the Provost’s “invitation” to a meeting to discuss the departments’ “majors, enrollment in classes, retention, faculty workload, budgets” means that retrenchment is on the table; others are not so optimistic. One source who was involved in the last round of retrenchment at Kutztown put it this way: “this feels a lot like 2010.”
Soon, we will get more information about the content of these meetings as the first ones are scheduled in the coming weeks. Will Kutztown’s administration lead the charge into the next round of retrenchment at PASSHE? At this point, that seems plausible, if not likely. As the new PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan put it in an October 10, 2013 press conference, “make no doubt about it, retrenchment is here.” And, with an outgoing university president upon which the current administration can heap the blame, it seems like the war on public higher education in Pennsylvania will continue.