Early today Raging Chicken reported that Clarion University joined Mansfield University on the list of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities facing the possibility of layoffs and program elimination. By the end of the day, that number had grown to five.
Faculty members at California University, Cheney University, and Edinboro University were also notified today that they too are facing the possibility of retrenchment. Raging Chicken had heard that there was a sixth university that was considering retrenchment, but can confirm that only five universities have received official notification.
According to the contract between the faculty union, APSCUF, and PASSHE, April 1 is the deadline for PASSHE university presidents to notify APSCUF of the “possibility of retrenchment due to program curtailment, elimination of courses, or the elimination of duties or services provided by FACULTY whose basic responsibilities lie outside the classroom.” In 2013, eight universities were giving retrenchment notices: California, Cheney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Kutztown, Mansfield, and Slippery Rock. In that round of cuts, 45 faculty members were targets. Following a strong push-back from the faculty union and, decisively, students, only 14 faculty members lost their jobs (or 6, if you don’t count faculty who found other work at the university, retired, or were moved).
In 2014, five universities – Cheney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, and Mansfield – were notified of the possibility of retrenchment. In that round, Mansfield University took the biggest hit: the business program, the education and special education programs (exception music education,) and the school library and information technologies online master’s program were all placed in moritorium and twelve faculty members faced layoff.
At the moment, faculty and students are still taking in the full impact of what this may mean for their universities and their futures. For many students and faculty members at the affected universities, this is not their first time facing retrenchment. But a few things have changed. APSCUF waged its first strike in the union’s history, successfully staving off PASSHE’s plans to fundamentally transform public higher education through diminishing educational quality and exploiting adjunct faculty. And, as we’ve reported, students have launched the PA Student Power Network to fight back against the rising cost of tuition, budget cuts, and austerity. We will see what kind of organizing and mobilizing emerges in the days and weeks ahead.
While only five of the fourteen PASSHE universities received notification of the possibility of retrenchment today, the remaining nine universities are not out of the woods. April 1 is the first to two retrenchment deadlines. PASSHE university presidents have until August 1 to notify APSCUF of the “the possibility of retrenchment due to changes in finances.” That is, if a university administration wants to claim that they have a “budget crisis,” they still have an entire summer to think about which faculty and which programs to ax.
No doubt that a renewed round of retrenchment amidst a contentious state budget season, will bring renewed discussions about how PASSHE got to the place it’s in today. No doubt we will be returning to APSCUF’s independent audit of PASSHE’s books which found that PASSHE universities had been diverting money from their Education and General funds to pay off bonds for new luxury building – a practice that Raging Chicken reported on as early as 2013. We might find a renewed interest in the ways that the universities were able to invests millions of dollars in luxury dorms, health centers, and failed “economic development” centers while crying poverty to the public. And, maybe we’ll hear more about that whistleblower lawsuit exposing PASSHE’s unethical accounting practices.
We shall see.
One thing seems certain. PASSHE administrators and Chancellor Frank Brogan aided by right-wing ideologues in the state legislature seem hell-bent on gutting public higher education in Pennsylvania.
We will continue to follow this story.