Clarion University to dissolve college of education

Financial pinch forces broad restructuring effort; at least 22 faculty positions cut

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Clarion University plans to let go up to 40 employees campuswide -- including 22 faculty -- and dissolve its college of education under a broad restructuring intended to offset sharply lower state aid, rising costs and enrollment losses.

The job cuts are part of a two-year workforce plan that university president Karen Whitney and other administrators say was drafted to help Clarion correct budget problems and position the state-owned university with 6,500 students for the future.

The plan discusses areas where Clarion intends to add resources, among them nursing, and other areas recommended for elimination, including music education. It says departments and programs within Clarion's College of Education and Human Services would be reorganized into other schools.

The idea is to ensure that Clarion by July 1, 2015, can meet future challenges and "continue serving students, employers and community partners as a public university," the 32-page document states.

The plan, shared electronically with university employees late Thursday, illustrates the escalating financial strains across the 14 schools of the State System of Higher Education, which saw its state appropriation cut by 18 percent three years ago and more recently has suffered enrollment losses as the state's high school graduation rate declines.

Clarion alone says it faces a deficit that would grow to $12 million if not addressed.

Steve Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said the recommended campus cuts, if enacted, would be the biggest in scope at any of the 14 universities since the system's founding in 1982. A union representative who attended campus briefings Thursday described silence and disbelieving looks in the room.

"People were shocked," said Elizabeth MacDaniel, chairwoman of Clarion's English department and president of the campus chapter of the faculty association.

She said she understands the need to respond to shifts in enrollment and to budget woes but said the school could have approached it differently, allowing the staff to shrink through attrition. She noted that the school plans to advertise for eight new faculty positions, while other employees with as many as 20 years of service would be put out of work. The faculty cuts, she said, would be effective in May.

"It's going to be dreadful," she said of the likely campus reaction. "People are going to be angry. It's going to be horrible."

She said the reduction would represent nearly 10 percent of the faculty at Clarion.

The plan is expected to be discussed at campus forums, including one on Aug. 28, two days after fall classes begin.

Part of the document outlines plans to shift resources toward areas of expected enrollment growth. For instance, it identifies as under development or under consideration a doctorate of nursing practice to be offered jointly with Edinboro University and bachelor's of science offerings in criminal justice administration, music entrepreneurship, nursing as well as nutrition and fitness.

Other areas of the plan discuss retrenchment. It says Academic Enrichment, an academic support program, is recommended for elimination along with music education. The plans says another program, modern languages, would be refocused.

The plan also identifies elimination of course offerings in German and French and reorganization in the college of arts and sciences.

According to the plan, the 22 expected faculty reductions include six in music, five in academic enrichment, three in English, two each in modern languages and psychology, and one each in geography, humanities, nursing and theater.

In addition, approximately 14 jobs are due to be lost among staff represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and another union, The State College and University Professional Association.

A total of four management jobs are due to be eliminated in student development, advancement, the print shop and sports information. Another 14 vacant positions would be eliminated.

According to the plan, actual job cuts in some areas may be avoided if there are a sufficient number of retirements. It noted that the college of education is not expected to see faculty reductions due to anticipated retirements.

Last fall, Clarion saw an enrollment decline approaching 7 percent. Other campuses also have faced budgetary woes or declines, and seven in addition to Clarion have notified the faculty union of possible retrenchment.

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


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