Clarion University scolded over plan to make cuts


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CLARION, Pa. -- With teaching jobs and long-standing classroom programs hanging in the balance, it took only minutes Tuesday for questions to become pointed during the first of three campus forums on Clarion University's controversial workforce plan.

Robert Bullington, an assistant theater professor who is among those likely to be let go, stepped to the microphone before nearly 200 people inside a campus auditorium and looked squarely at Clarion president Karen Whitney and top administrators seated on the stage beside her.

"When did you," he asked, "cease to value the liberal and fine arts?"

When Ms. Whitney replied that her administration does value those disciplines, Mr. Bullington, 54, shot back: "Your document doesn't."

So it went for more than two hours in Hart Chapel as faculty, students and alumni took turns saying there must be a better way to address the enrollment and financial woes facing the state-owned university than the reductions called for in the 32-page document.

Contained are up to 40 job eliminations, including 22 faculty, with many in arts and sciences.

There were passionate pleas to spare music education and to think twice before eliminating French and German.

Robert Garritano, 68, of North Huntingdon, who graduated from Clarion's college of education in 1966, was deeply troubled about what could happen if the university proceeds with a plan to dissolve the college and disperse education instruction to other colleges on the campus.

He said Clarion, a former teachers college, needs to keep those programs connected.

"I implore you not to let that college lose its identity," he said.

Speakers ranging in age from their teens to their late 60s expressed love for the institution but worry for its future.

Ms. Whitney politely held her ground in a session that went well beyond its planned 90 minutes. She said the workforce plan released Aug. 15 is difficult but essential if Clarion is to avoid a $12 million deficit and reposition itself for future growth.

She said much of the campus' operating budget is committed to labor and other costs beyond her control, and that the State System of Higher Education to which Clarion belongs has been unwilling to make up the bulk of deep state funding cuts by setting significantly higher tuition.

It's not as if she can control the decline in high school graduates that has been especially pronounced in Western Pennsylvania and has affected her campus 80 miles outside Pittsburgh. The 6,500-student university saw an enrollment decline of 7 percent last fall and could lose another 9 percent this year.

She said all of it has left her with few alternatives but to reduce expenditures.

"This is not game-playing or negotiating," she said. "We have a problem."

She objected to a suggestion that the plan was rolled out with little notice. She said her goal was to be open, that she managed to avoid these cuts in previous years and that her administration has met for months with employee representatives.

"I am profoundly sad for any of those who might have to leave this institution," she said.

Her defense of the plan did not waiver, even when a retired management professor drew applause from the audience by saying he would have given her workforce plan an F.

Some said they felt the campus and its leaders could do more to market the school's academic attributes.

Maggie Mae McWade, 20, a theater major from Unionville, said the wrong areas are being targeted for cuts.

"They're getting rid of the main reason I came here, which is my professors," she said.

One speaker wondered if the enrollment on Clarion's Venango campus should be moved to the main campus.

"You need bodies on this campus," said Ray Lichauer, 64, who graduated from Clarion more than four decades ago.

Another suggested that sports is a better area to cut, but Ms. Whitney said intercollegiate athletes at Clarion collectively have a 3.2 grade-point average and that sports helps fill seats. "It's a major enrollment driver," she said.

education

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.


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