Halt to college faculty cuts sought

Union leader hoping for alternatives to layoffs across State System

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With announced faculty cuts across Pennsylvania's state-owned universities already nearing 100, the union's statewide leader said Thursday he will seek a halt to the terminations so alternatives can be explored.

Steve Hicks, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said he will make the request when he meets with incoming State System of Higher Education Chancellor Frank Brogan, who starts the job Tuesday.

Mr. Hicks said academic program and personnel cuts already made by three State System universities -- and the potential that other universities will follow -- pose a threat to the system's overall reputation and its efforts to attract students.

"I'm going to start by asking him [the chancellor] to take the retrenchment letters off the table, and for everyone to back up, take a deep breath and take a serious look at the finances of these institutions," Mr. Hicks said.

"My concern is not just one university at a time anymore. It's about the image of the State System," he said. "I think the chancellor needs to understand that the State System and the state-owned universities are taking an image hit in all this."

On Wednesday, Mansfield became the third of the State System's 14 universities to announce cuts similar to those made earlier by Clarion and Edinboro. Mr. Hicks spoke Thursday shortly before trustees on the eastern Pennsylvania campus of East Stroudsburg University met in a late-afternoon session amid speculation the school may soon become the fourth campus to announce substantial cuts.

In addition, four other universities notified their faculty by letter of possible layoffs effective at the end of this academic year, but one school -- California -- subsequently rescinded the letter.

Administrators on campuses announcing cuts say a slower-than-expected economic recovery has worsened effects of both an 18 percent cut in the state's appropriation and three consecutive years of enrollment declines.

Along with faculty layoffs, Clarion and Edinboro officials are planning staff and administrative reductions and changes to or elimination of low-enrolled academic programs. Mansfield has not yet identified departments affected.

The recommended cuts were accompanied by plans to roll out new or reorganized programs in disciplines seen as having increased job demand.

To date, planned faculty cuts announced include as many as 22 at Clarion; 42 at Edinboro and 29 at Mansfield -- largest in the system's three-decade history, Mr. Hicks said.

He and Elizabeth MacDaniel, head of the faculty union's Clarion chapter, said teaching cuts there will actually be higher because up to 20 adjunct instructors working in departments facing cuts would have to be terminated before 22 tenure and tenure track faculty can be let go.

Clarion president Karen Whitney disputed that Thursday, saying it was premature to predict impact on adjuncts since the university's announced workforce plan "only addresses tenure-related faculty."

East Stroudsburg's enrollment this fall of 6,793 students is down just over 2 percent from a year ago and 10 percent less than its peak of 7,576 students in 2009, said spokeswoman Brenda Friday. The university as of June faced a potential $7.6 million deficit in its budget for 2013-14, which was expected to be voted on at Thursday's trustee meeting.

Ms. Friday said before the meeting she could not speculate on potential cuts, but said East Stroudsburg is developing a workforce plan. She said 12 under-enrolled academic departments along with the nonacademic department of counseling and psychological services are undergoing a review.

"I think these are difficult times for the university and hard times for everyone, but we love and respect our faculty and all of our employees," she said.

education - state

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


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