WEST CHESTER, Pa. -- West Chester University's faculty union and faculty senate let the school's trustees know Thursday they do not have the full support of the campus in their backing of legislation that would allow the school and others doing well in finances and enrollment to leave the State System of Higher Education.
At the first meeting of West Chester's Council of Trustees since two state senators introduced legislation March 11 meant to give more autonomy to the 14 schools in the State System of Higher Education, faculty representatives told the trustees their concerns include potential tuition increases and a feeling that the trustees and the university president have kept them out of the loop.
"We want to have a conversation. It no longer feels like a conversation," said Lisa Millhous, president of the university's chapter of the Association for the Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty. "I need you to hear that the faculty does not support you in this legislation."
The bill, introduced by State Sens. Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks, and Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, is meant to address funding gaps in the State System and enrollment declines at its schools. Instructors worry about working conditions, faculty's ability to negotiate contracts, and students' ability to afford tuition, the faculty senate said in a written statement to the trustees.
"We thank you for your comments, and the council will make note of your concerns," Thomas Fillippo, chairman of the council of trustees, told the faculty groups.
The trustees passed two resolutions in which West Chester University would work with other schools within the State System. They approved a pilot program that will lower tuition starting this fall for students at the system's downtown Philadelphia campus that the university shares with Millersville, Cheyney and East Stroudsburg universities. They also pushed along a plan for a combined master's degree program with Millersville University, which now moves to the State System's board of governors for final approval.
"The legislation that's pending is getting a lot of press, but it should not take away the fact that these motions exemplify that West Chester University is committed to the success of the university, as well as every school in the system," said trustee Barry Dozor. "Our cooperation with those schools will continue."
Unlike the faculty representatives at Thursday's meeting, Jeff Stein, president of the West Chester University Alumni Association, said he supports the legislation. Mr. Stein said the association has been concerned for years about constraints the school faces because of bureaucracy and over-regulation. As an example, he cited the university's need to get approval from the state for new programs and buildings.
"Anything that will help free up West Chester and the other system universities to better fulfill their missions will be a welcome step forward, and our alumni will be overwhelmingly in favor," Mr. Stein said.