On July 30, PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) administrators announced their intentions to deepen the austerity at five state-owned universities: Mansfield, Edinboro, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, and Cheyney. These are the same five universities that claimed “financial hardship” last year and experienced sweeping cuts to faculty and programs. Despite growing evidence that a good deal of the financial hardship at some PASSHE universities stems directly from Governor Tom Corbett’s unprecedented to public education and a history of sketchy accounting schemes by university administrators, PASSHE officials are trotting out the same Janus-faced public relations strategy as they did in the past: cry “fiscal crisis” in one breath; invest in pretty buildings and new pet programs in the next. It is, as we have argued repeatedly, shock doctrine plain and simple.
This past Thursday, Mansfield University was the first to announce that it was going full-steam ahead with its austerity plans. Writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bill Schackner reported that Mansfield University’s president announced plans to
place several academic programs in moratorium and lay off 12 faculty amid financial stresses that include enrollment losses and reduced state aid.
Being placed in moratorium are the business program, the education and special education programs (exception music education,) and the school library and information technologies online master’s program, the university said in an announcement of the move.
The 12 faculty targeted to be cut loose include the faculty in the above programs as well as faculty in sociology and anthropology which were placed in moratorium last year.
Ken Mash, president of the faculty union, APSCUF, did not mince words in his response to the announcement:
Today is a sad day for public higher education. Under the guise of ‘aligning programs for a strategic vision’ and ‘workforce needs,’ President Fran Hendricks announced yet another round of faculty retrenchment at Mansfield University; it is a maneuver that the university has used three times in as many years. Despite the verbiage of working on behalf of students, these proposed cuts and layoffs will be detrimental. Mansfield students and all of our students deserve more than politicking and wordsmithing; they deserve a high quality education.
This is not about ‘a strategic vision for Mansfield;’ it is a symptom of Governor Corbett’s $90 million cut to the PASSHE appropriation in 2011-12. All of the schools undergoing retrenchment now are the same schools that claimed financial hardship last year.
It is disturbing to hear the Orwellian language used by PASSHE officials as they construct catchy phrases to mask stark financial realities. It is nothing short of doublespeak to say you want to prepare students for future employment and then rob them of the types of courses that provide the skills that business leaders consistently say they desire in employees.
Last year’s deep cuts to faculty and programs led to a strong push-back from faculty, students, and community members. Clarion University faculty’s “Faces of Retrenchment” campaign, spirited “Believe in ESU” rallies, and student sit-ins at Edinboro University became part of what it meant to be a student or faculty member on campus. With this year’s gubernatorial election just a month away, APSCUF seems to have the dual focus of stopping the retrenchment ax and targeting Governor Corbett and his appointees as responsible for starving public higher education for political ends. As Ken Mash put it,
A university does not get better by hurting its current and future students; doing so only creates a downward spiral. No university has ever increased enrollment by announcing to prospective students that their desired majors might soon disappear. Rather than creating new buzzwords and rationalizations for the irrational, PASSHE and university officials must be true advocates for public higher education.
Raging Chicken Press will continue to follow PASSHE’s austerity measures.