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].
In my review of Cavanaugh’s tenure as PASSHE Chancellor after he announced he was headed out the door for greener pastures in Washington, DC, I note that Cavanaugh’s vision of “transformation” was lock-in-step with what’s happening to public education at all levels across the nation:
Anyone paying attention to what was and is going on in higher education policy, especially in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, saw the coded language consistent with those seeking to privatize and profitize education at all levels. Take, for example, language from the Broad Foundation, founded by Eli Broad – #157 on the Forbes Billionaire list with a personal net worth of $6.3 billion. Broad is a major contributor to Democratic Party candidates with close associations with Democrats favoring anti-labor, Michelle Rhee-type “reforms” to public education. At the center of the Broad Foundation agenda is, you guessed it, “transformation” of public education. Cavanaugh’s “PASSHE Transformation” memo seemed to signal the austerity to come, squeezing PAASHE’s limited resources and striking a blow to our 6,000+ member union.
While Cavanaugh’s memo was short on specifics, what it meant was not lost on the faculty union. In a scathing piece of satire, “The Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of PASSHE,” president Steve Hicks and vice president Ken Mash of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) wrote:
Perhaps you’ve seen the Chancellor’s latest on “PASSHE Transformation?” It’s amazing how a document so short on details can still manage to rankle. The very notion that students and faculty will be transformed is enough to disturb, but its implicit anti-intellectual message really vexes. It’s hard to ignore the presumptuousness that could lead some to conclude that “transformation” is necessary or, even worse, that they somehow single-handedly possess the knowledge of what that transformation ought to be and that it should be imposed from above.
Clarion University’s new “workforce plan” reads more like an accounting ledger than it does a document that helps guide the university to best serve students of the Commonwealth. Clarion’s plan is clearly situated within the growing right-wing, “market-based” proposals to “reform” everything public. Rather than putting forth a strategic plan based on an academically sound rationale, we are treated to a consumer vision of higher education: “eliminating academic programs which no longer hold the interest, based on enrollment trends, of our students.”