PA State Senators Crafting Legislation to Allow Universities to Secede from State System of Higher Ed

Author’s Note: A version of this post was publish on Raging Chicken Press under the title, “Slow Train to Destruction of Public Higher Ed in PA?: Defund then Divide-and-Conquer,” on Saturday, Feb. 22. 

PASSHE Freedom to Secede SQUAREIf the fall 2013 semester saw the term “retrenchment” – the elimination of faculty, programs, and jobs – become part of daily conversations on campuses of Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities (PASSHE), during the next several months we may witness the birth of the next phase in the slow destruction of public higher education in the Commonwealth. This past fall, PA Senator Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson (R – 6th District) and Senator Andy Dinniman (D – 19th District) began working in earnest on legislation that would allow individual PASSHE universities to secede from the state system and become a state-related university – or even completely privatize. On Thursday, PASSHE’s new Chancellor, Frank Brogan, seemed to be laying similar groundwork during his testimony before the PA House Appropriations Committee. And, after three years of austerity policies stemming from Gov. Corbett’s slashing PASSHE’s funding and the System’s “shock doctrine” accounting schemes, there just might be the appetite in the legislature to begin the process of dismantling the 14 university PA State System of Higher Education.

The Tomlinson/Dinniman Alliance: 

Senator Tomlinson is by all accounts taking the initiative in drafting this legislation, but according to sources at WCU, Tomlinson said publicly that Senator Dinniman is so interested in the legislation that he will introduce it if Tomlinson does not. To understand why Senator Tomlinson, a Republican, and Senator Dinniman, a Democrat, would join forces in supporting legislation that would allow individual PASSHE universities to secede, you need only understand that both Senators have strong ties with West Chester University and that West Chester University is growing and thriving. Tomlinson serves on West Chester University’s Council of Trustees and is a WCU alumnus. Dinniman spent well over three decades as a professor at West Chester. Both Senators represent districts in which the university has a strong presence. West Chester University is the second largest PASSHE university, right behind Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is on pace to become the largest in the system in the near future. Continue reading

Trading Academics for Amenities: Move Over Faculty, Make Way for the Hot Tubs

Miami TshirtNote: This was originally published on Raging Chicken Press earlier today. 

I did my PhD work at Miami University. No, not in Florida – Miami University in Oxford, OH. There was a t-shirt in the bookstore that always provided a snarky retort to those who made the assumption that I was writing my dissertation in Florida: “Miami was a university, before Florida was a state.” Nope, I was far from Florida – a bike ride away from the Indiana border and about a half an hour from Cincinnati.

As a Central New York native, I had never heard of Miami University. This was before Ben Rothlesburger would help put Miami on the national map for Division I football and just about the time Wally Szczerbiak would lead the Redhawks  to the Sweet Sixteen in the 1999 NCAA basketball tournament. I found out about Miami because two amazing mentors, Jim Zebroski and Nancy Mack, spent part of a spring break coming up with a list of PhD programs in composition and rhetoric that they thought I should apply to as I was nearing the end of my Masters degree at Syracuse. Miami had one of the top PhD programs in the country in composition and rhetoric and I still think my decision to go to Miami for my PhD was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Many of my fellow doctoral grad students have become leaders in the field – Scott Lyons, Malea Powell, Pegeen Reichert Powell, and Gwendolyn Pough just to name a few.

I loved my time at Miami. My education was stellar and the intellectual commitment of the people I studied with was unparalleled. That doesn’t mean that Miami was some kind of utopia. In 1998, for example, I was one of seven students arrested for protesting a series of racial hate-crimes on campus. I was the one grad student and the only white student arrested in the protest. On the way to jail, we heard police refer to us as the Miami 7. We took the name and used it to fight our arrest and draw further attention to long-standing, institutional racism at the university. We refused a plea bargain and demanded a jury trial. In the year leading up to our trial, the discussion about racism and racial intimidation became intensely complex and complicated, but that did not change our resolve. We fought and we won. We were acquitted of all charges (you can read Pegeen Reichert Powell’s critical reading of the context of the protests and the administration’s handling of the issue here). Continue reading

Wall Street on the Susquehanna: PASSHE Bond Scheme Bleeds Budget for Beautiful Buildings (Abbreviated)

This originally appeared in Raging Chicken Press on October 21, 2013. It is a fairly long article detailing changes in Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) policies regarding new buildings and capital projects. The more I looked in the financial schemes at the system within which I work, the more it became clear that this story is not limited to PASSHE. So, while some of the specifics of this post may seem a bit parochial to some readers of this blog, I am hoping that some of it may be helpful for others in similar fights.  I am including Part 1 of the article here with brief excerpts from other parts. To read the complete article, click “READ THE FULL ARTICLE” at the bottom of the post or go to the original right now by CLICKING HERE

SLASSHE Sinking Ship

This past July, eight of the fourteen PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities sent letters to their faculty and staff warning of the possibility of deep cuts, layoffs, and program elimination (what they like to call “retrenchment”). University presidents at California, Cheney, Clarion, Edinboro, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, Mansfield, and Slippery Rock all shouted “crisis” and warned that unless they resorted to strict austerity measures, the end, would indeed, be near. Continue reading

Shock Turning to Anger and Mobilization at Clarion University of Pennsylvania

Note: On Monday of this week I posted an article about plans to cut 40 jobs, including 22 faculty members at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Earlier today, I posted another article on the situation at Clarion on Raging Chicken Press. This article features an interview with the President of the Clarion chapter of the faculty union, APSCUF. An excerpt is posted here. You can continue reading the entire article by clicking the link at the bottom or go there now

In the wake of the devastating cuts proposed by the Clarion University administration and President Karen Whitney, it took a few days for faculty, staff, and students to shake off the initial shock and disbelief. Shock and disbelief has given way to a mobilization effort to save the three programs slated for immediate cuts and to prevent the firing of 22 faculty and 20 staff members. On August 15th, shortly after students learned of the cuts, a “Save the Clarion Department of Music” facebook page was created by students to “join music education and music business students past and present, and all who participated in performing organizations at Clarion University, so together, we can unite to Save the Department of Music.” Shortly afterwards, Clarion University alum, Jed Millard, started an on-line petition to urge Whitney to put a halt to the cuts. As of this posting, the petition already has 2,021 signatures.

Faces of Retrenchment Day 1 - Leah Chambers Continue reading

PA State System of Higher Ed Begins Academic Year Taking Ax to Jobs and Programs

Note: This article was published earlier today on Raging Chicken Press. An excerpt appears below. You can read the full article by clicking the link at the end, or you can go to the original article now by clicking here

Last week, Clarion University announced what it called a “bold, ambitious workforce plan” that will result in the elimination of over 40 jobs, including 22 faculty. This is only the latest blow to a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) university in a state that seems hell bent on gutting public higher education. This past May, Raging Chicken Press reported on plans to retrench – that is, fire – faculty members at East Stroudsburg University and the long battles with austerity-minded administrators at Kutztown University is a familiar story to our readers.

What sets the move at Clarion apart from previous PASSHE cuts is that it may be the lead example of “transformation” at state universities championed by the system’s Board of Governors. PASSHE’s last Chancellor, John Cavanaugh, released a new vision for PASSHE in November 2010 called simply enough, “PASSHE Transformation.” That document laid out in general terms PASSHE’s intention to take the 14 university system in a different direction:

The vision includes four major components, all grounded in the need for transformation: (a) how, when, and where learning occurs; (b) how the resources necessary to ensure learning are pursued, retained, and sustained; (c) how our universities relate to their various communities; and (d) how we partner with the Commonwealth to create and deliver a shared vision for the future. Only through transformation, grounded in a thoughtful reexamination of our historic emphasis on high quality student learning opportunities, will our success be assured during these very difficult economic times [bold in original].

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New Chancellor for PA State Universities: Deep Roots in Right-Wing Attacks on Public Education

This article was originally posted on Raging Chicken Press. I will be posting a series of articles about the incoming chancellor, Frank Brogan, in the upcoming weeks. 

Brogan Florida squareLast week the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board of Governors chose Frank Brogan to become the next Chancellor of the 14 public university system. Brogan is currently the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida. Brogan becomes the third consecutive PASSHE Chancellor to make the 14 plus hour drive from Florida to Pennsylvania. Judy Hample, the former Chancellor of the Florida’s State University System, served as PASSHE Chancellor from 2001 to 2008. From 2008 until this past February, former President of West Florida University, John C. Cavanaugh, became the Chancellor that would preside over the longest faculty contract fight in PASSHE history. This “Florida Connection” has helped usher in an approach to public higher education that favors austerity, privatization, and anti-unionism.

Unlike every previous Chancellor search, this time around the Board of Governors decided to pass a new policy that required members of the chancellor search committee to sign confidentiality agreements. According to the new policy, passed unanimously on January 11, 2013,

Preserving confidentiality in the search for a Chancellor is essential to recruiting and retaining the most qualified candidates. All applications and deliberations about individual applications shall remain wholly confidential until the appointment of a new Chancellor is publicly announced. Each member of the search committee must agree to maintain this confidentiality. The Chancellor Search Committee Chair may at his or her sole discretion remove from the committee who violates confidentiality. Continue reading

Welcome to Wild West U: Kutztown University Opens Campus to Guns

This post originally appeared in Raging Chicken Press earlier today. If you are interested in this issue, I will continue to follow this issue as over the next few weeks – KM

Just over a week before Kutztown University will welcome the families and friends of soon-to-be graduates, the university has decided to revise a long-standing policy in order to welcome guns onto its 289 acre campus. While the massacre of students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT is still fresh in people’s minds and the families of the victims are still canvassing the nation in support of reasonable gun control policies, KU President Javier Cevallos and his Administrative Council decided that now was the time to make it easier for students, faculty, and staff to carry weapons on campus.

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Millersville U Commencement Speaker Controversy: It’s About Self-Respect

“An example I came up with: A guy stabs another guy and then
the victim is in the hospital. The guy who stabs him comes to the
victim’s bedside with the victim’s family, just to tell him everything
is going to be alright. That’s how I am feeling.”

Kyle D. Johnson
Millersville University Student
Class of 2013

[POST UPDATED 3/15/2013: Correction under "Free Speech Frame" heading]

Corbett Choice for MU Grad really squareA two year contract fight and several years of austerity apparently were not enough to persuade Millersville University administration that it should close out the year on a high note, celebrating the accomplishments of their students. Instead, the administration has thrown the university back into the political fires of Gov. Tom Corbett’s deep cuts in public education from Kindergarten through higher ed. Millersville University is part of the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), which Corbett targeted for a 50% budget cut in 2011. The state legislature softened the blow by passing “only” an 18-20% cut in State funding to public higher education (see details in one of my previous posts, “Flat Funding? Not in the Reality-Based World”). These cuts led to the elimination of three men’s sports: indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, and cross country. The university also cut or left unfilled 124 faculty and staff positions as a result of the deep cuts. So, how did Millersville University administration decide to close out this academic year? By invited Gov. Tom Corbett – the architect of austerity in PA – to be the 2013 Commencement speaker.

In an interview on the Rick Smith Show on Tuesday (3/12), Kyle Johnson, a graduating senior at Millersville, said that when he first heard the announcement, he “thought it was a joke.” The choice of Corbett as the 2013 Commencement speaker was a “smack in the face,” according to Johnson – a phrase echoed by dozens of students posting stories of their outrage on a petition against Corbett speaking at graduation, a “No Corbett at Milllersville” Facebook page, and a “No Corbett at Millersville Graduation” tumblr page.

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The Persistence of Crisis: Work Harder or Fight Back

At my monthly department meeting yesterday, the department’s representative to our University Senate gave his report on their last meeting. As part of his report, he told us some of the concerns our university president, Javier Cevallos, expressed about a recent drop in enrollment. Cevallos’s remarks before our University Senate echoed a statement he released in October 2012 in order to explain another $3 million shortfall:

Budget Shortfall 

This fall semester, Kutztown University is facing a problem of serious magnitude.  For the second straight year, the university has experienced a drop in enrollment.

Almost 300 students have made the decision not to come back to KU to continue their education for this fall semester. While we realize many of our sister institutions and private universities within our region are facing the same situation, the drop we are experiencing this year is much larger than we have had in the past.

Upon learning of this, we immediately identified the students and called them to determine their status and/or reasons for not returning.  Although we are still evaluating the information we have gathered, it is evident that we need to become more effective at retaining our students.

As I stated at our opening day gathering, each student we lose seriously impacts our budget.  With only 20 percent of funding coming from the commonwealth, and with our operating budget based on our year-to-year enrollment, the student body is our lifeblood.

As a result of this enrollment loss, we face a shortfall of $3 million on top of the reductions we have already made.  I have decided to cover this gap with carry over funds on a one time basis to meet the deficit in the current year.  Although this is only a temporary solution, it will provide us with time to thoughtfully consider base budget reductions, beginning next year, in the context of our mission.

I want to stress the importance of our role in student retention. We all need to go above and beyond to assist our students in persisting and graduating from KU.   It is crucial to the future of our university and the region.

I urge you all to put our students first, and do whatever you can to make KU a place they will take great pride in.   It is really going to take each and every one of us to help KU overcome this challenge in the future.

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PASSHE Chancellor Hits the Road, Attacks on Public Higher Ed in PA Likely to Continue

Ever since the attacks on public sector unions, working families, and public education in Wisconsin that began just over two years ago, my own writing has changed. It’s become less…well, “academic.” I find myself more interested in plowing through company SEC filings on Lexis-Nexis than some of the newest scholarship in my field. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking scholarship…there are days I wish I could carve out several hours to peruse the latest journals in my field of rhetoric and composition. Right now it just feels like the relentless attacks against education and the public sphere more broadly, is an exigence I cannot ignore. That’s one of the good things about being a rhetorician, I guess. There are times when you actually have to practice being a rhetor.

I posted a version of this piece earlier today on Raging Chicken Press, but very much wanted to engage in this space as well. There is something that I want to say here that is not quite fleshed out. Something about the kind of research into our own institutions that seems absolutely critical now. I will have to return to that which I do not articulate.

Today feels like a milestone for faculty in Pennsylvania, especially faculty in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE. Here’s why.

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