If students haven’t heard, Gov. Corbett is proposing a 20% budget cut to PASSHE schools, Temple University, Penn State, and community colleges. Students at West Chester University have taken a stand against them, but they are not the only ones trying to inform others about the budget cuts.
Faculty and staff have been very proactive about getting the word out and educating others on the budget cuts.
Dr. Lisa Millhous, a professor in the Communication Studies Department at WCU and President of the WCU Chapter of APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) is taking a stand and educating the campus on the budget cuts.
“It is not that this is a one time thing,” Dr. Millhous said. “This is over the last decade or more. We’ve gotten cuts practically every single year.” Dr. Millhous explained that the past four years have been dramatic with budget cuts, “even under Randell, we were being cut,” Millhous said.
According to Millhous, in 1989, the PASSHE schools received 55% of their educational and general budget from the state. “So student tuition dollars paid for about 45% of our operating costs,” Millhous said. Millhous explained that now the state funds 21% and students pay 79% in tuition of WCU’s operating costs.
“We have lost a lot of funding at a time when we have tripled in size and costs have increased,” Millhous said.
Millhous also explained that the funding comes in separately for the construction of new buildings around campus, which has been a major question mark for students who are wondering why there are new buildings being constructed during a budget crisis. “We also have other funding that comes in to build buildings,” Millhous said. “It doesn’t come in through the same revenue stream. Governor Corbett did cut some of that money as well and some of that money comes in through donations. Buildings are a different pool of money.”
Millhous is baffled by Gov. Corbett’s proposal to cut funding for public education over other things.
“What is bothersome about this is that he increased funding to other groups, so it is not like he is cutting everybody,” Millhous said. “Last year, he heavily funded the corrections and prisons. In terms of what we do for the economy, every single dollar that he spends at a university school, we pump $6 into the economy.”
Millhous went on to explain how universities bring people into the world that are future workers who are available to take jobs.
“They paid roughly $4,000 for a student to come [to West Chester University.]” Millhous said. “It costs $40,000 to house an inmate for a year; you have to think ‘where are the priorities here?'”
Millhous put into perspective the $82 million budget cut that Gov. Corbett put for all 14 PASSHE schools. “The cost for the salaries of all of the faculty and coaches at West Chester, which is roughly 900 faculty and coaches, is only $56 million,” Millhous said. “So basically, you would have to cut a whole school or more – but of course you can’t because you would lose all the student tuition.”
Millhous explained that Gov. Corbett has said that it was not that much out of PASSHE’s budget to increase tuition. “I think if you divide it up among all the schools, the WCU President said it was $9.5 million that was West Chester’s share,” Millhous said. “Well $9.5 million is about 95 full senior, top-of-the-scale professors. It is roughly 190 temporary faculty members. So if you are going to cut 100-200 of our faculty, that is huge!”
Millhous is worried that faculty cuts would hurt the quality of education by increasing class size or irresponsible use of distance education.
“PASSHE is the people who manage the system,” Millhous explained. “So there is the Chancellor, John Cavanaugh, who is in Harrisburg. He has a staff of roughly 110 people who run our system.”
“Each of the 14 schools has a president and a provost and vice presidents and deans and they all are responsible to Dr. Cavanaugh,” Millhous explained.
“Because Dr. Cavanaugh takes state money, he is not officially allowed to lobby,” Millhous said. “It is sort of a conflict of interest for state employees to use state money to try to change the legislature. So he has some restrictions on what he is allowed to do and what he is not allowed to do.”
So what is APSCUF’s role in all of this?
“APSCUF is the faculty union. We represent all of the PASSHE faculty across the state,” Millhous said. “We are not restricted by law from lobbying, so we are allowed to approach the legislators and tell them how important the System is to their district and the Commonwealth as a whole. However, I cannot use my faculty time, but I can use my personal time.” Millhous explained that the money that she uses to lobby comes from the union not the state, so she and other APSCUF members use that money to talk to politicians.
“APSCUF is in front trying to say “look, we need to fund public education, we need to have schools that are affordable and that offer quality courses and good quality professors that are just not online people who grade papers; that we really are doing our jobs,” Millhous said.
Recently, Gov. Corbett proposed that universities cut down on operating costs instead of raising tuition.
Millhous finds this statement a bit difficult.
“We can’t really cut the advising center for pre-majors because students need that guidance. There is the counseling center but that would be harmful to cut,” Millhous said. “We can’t cut Public Safety, we’ve already cut the gardening staff, the painting staff, and we’ve cut so many staff positions.”
Millhous even explained that there was a rat infestation in the fall because there was a major cut to operating costs that the garbage was not being picked up. “We’ve already cut so much.”
“It might look like we’ve got money in the bank,” Millhous said, referring to the new construction going on and being planned around campus. “West Chester has one of the worst facilities, so we have to spend the money. We’ve already put off a lot of spending.”
Millhous even explained that cutting the Children’s Center was devastating. “There were not that many schools for students with kids. What I heard about were students from inner-city Philadelphia who had children who were looking for a school that wasn’t far that offered child care,” Millhous said. “We saw a lot of those students looking here for that purpose and now we don’t have that anymore.”
Millhous really encourages students to get involved.
student voices heard,” Millhous said. She encourages students to register to vote and to vote. Millhous’ goal was to get people at the rallies.
Millhous also encourages students to attend a rally in Harrisburg on March 28. “I have funding for one bus and possible two,” Millhous said. Last year, Millhous found about nine students to go to Harrisburg. Millhous said that she would love to get the education students to attend because “it’s their jobs. Their future livelihood is at stake.” Millhous also hopes that the student media will take part in the rally.
So what is in the future for WCU with the budget cuts hovering over the University?
“We won’t know until June 30 at midnight, how much [of the budget] we’ll actually get,” Millhous said. “So usually the Board of Governors will set tuition in July.”
“Yes, we will have higher tuition; it is a given, but I don’t know how much,” Millhous said. “It could be as much as last year, it might not be.”
Millhous believes that effects of the budget cut might not be felt until the Spring 2013 semester because by the time the Legislature votes, we’ve already got the fall semester planned. “But you might already notice fewer class sections available next month when fall registration starts as we brace for the impact.”
WCU President, Greg Weisenstein responded via e-mail to the question of how WCU will be affected.
“It is far too early in the budget process to predict our final appropriations from the Pennsylvania Legislature and the impact of state support next year on WCU. The Governor’s recommendations will be carefully considered by the Pennsylvania Legislature in preparing the fiscal year 2013 budget, including appropriations for public higher education,” Weisenstein wrote. “Therefore, it is likely to be some time before we know about our final funding level from the state for next year.”
Weisenstein wrote that he believes “it is important to be advocating for the PASSHE institutions by informing our legislators and the general public about the tremendous value that institutions like WCU bring to the citizens of Pennsylvania. Examples of public higher education’s impact on the life chances of students, the quality of life in our communities, cultural enrichment, and the creation of jobs are always areas of concern for our legislators. In telling our story, it is important to be accurate and provide examples, including personal examples about how public higher education has created quality, affordable education that would be financially out of reach without state support.”
Angela Thomas is a fourth-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at AT683005@wcupa.edu.