HARRISBURG -- Nearly 100 faculty from across the State System of Higher Education turned out in protest for this morning's board of governors meeting to urge an end to the longest faculty contract dispute in the system's 30-year history.
The protesters gathered outside the Dixon University Center here before the start of the 9 a.m. meeting and then moved inside, ringing the meeting room with some toting signs that said "Be fair" and "Settle so we can teach."
The roughly 5,000 members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties have been without a contract since June 30, 2011.
The dispute has added another layer of financial uncertainty to the 14 state-owned universities already operating with a 20-percent-smaller state appropriation than they received two years ago and an enrollment loss this fall that could be the largest in 30 years.
And it comes one day after fired California University of Pennsylvania President Angelo Armenti Jr. filed a federal lawsuit accusing system leaders and the CalU faculty union president of orchestrating a campaign to oust him.
The board of governors and the protesters were generally cordial, and at one point board Chairman Guido Pichini told the professors, "We value your opinion and we certainly value your service to the System."
But there were some pointed remarks during the public comment portion of the meeting.
A man who identified himself as a Kutztown Uniersity English professor told State System Chancellor John Cavanaugh that he can't say he wants top-flight faculty while pursuing a contract that weakens faculty earnings.
"Chancellor, you can't have it both ways," he said.
In a statement, the State System says it is committed to reaching a fair contract.
"That agreement needs to include cost savings and flexible work rules, results (the State System) already has achieved with five of its other bargaining units ...," according to the statement.
Also at today's meeting, the State System released data showing total enrollment has declined this fall to 114,784 from 118,224 a year ago, a loss of 2.9 percent or 3,440 students.
Eleven of the 14 universities saw declines, including all western Pennsylvania campuses except Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which saw an increase of 3.5 percent to 15,668.
The systemwide loss in numbers is the largest at least since 1990 and may be the largest since the State System's founding, officials said. Still, the total enrollment remains higher than it was in 2008, due to more than a decade of record enrollments.
The largest percentage loss was at Endinboro University, down 9.7 percent to 7,462.
Other western Pennsylvania campuses that saw declines were CalU, down 9.2 percent to 8,608; Clarion University, down 6.7 percent to 6,520 and Slippery Rock University, down nearly 1.8 percent to 8,559 students.
State System officials have cited declining high graduation rates, in particular across Western Pennsylvania, as well as other economic contributors as reasons for the declines.
The State System said it has worked to offset some of the decline in traditional students by working to enroll more returning adults in new programs addressing their needs and the needs of businesses that employ them.
It also said it is conducting a study of campus pricing as it affects market demand and a brand value examination.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1977.