The faculty tenure system at colleges and universities has always had its critics, but if Governor Corbett has his way, tenured professors will no longer be a problem in Pennsylvania.
The first example of Corbett’s influence occurred at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, one of the 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Edinboro’s president Julie Wollman announced back in September that 42 faculty members, including 18 tenured faculty, would be “retrenched” from the university, along with the elimination of the school’s music program. Outraged students delivered a 1,200 signature petition to the president’s office and sat in as they waited to speak to Wollman.
When she emerged an hour later, Wollman explained that, due to budget cuts and decline in enrollment, Edinboro did not need all of the faculty currently employed at the university. A student then asked why the university was spending so much on the construction of new buildings if they could not afford to pay the faculty, to which Wollman replied, “There are two separate pots of money.”
Every student enrolled at a PASSHE school surely remembers the budget cuts in 2011-2012, which reduced state funding by a shocking 18 percent. Ever since, many of the PASSHE schools have been scrambling to rework their budgets to find a way to appease both the students and the faculty—a task which is clearly easier said than done. Despite this struggle, West Chester is another example of a school in which new construction has barely been affected by the cuts, if at all.
According to an article on salon.com, PASSHE began a shift to raise private funding through capital campaigns under the previous governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell. This funding would in turn go to support new buildings.
“While Edinboro’s president is right that capital budgets and operating budgets are usually separate, at PASSHE, universities began funneling money meant for education into these public-private entities to cover interest and principal on capital bonds. The upshot? Money that could be used to pay tenured faculty is helping fund student dorms,” said James Cersonsky, a salon.com reporter.
Edinboro decided to keep the music program, dropping the layoffs to six, but Edinboro is not the only school feeling the effects of this retrenchment. Slippery Rock posted one tenured layoff, Mansfield three, East Stroudsburg seven, and Clarion nine.
“I think it’s going to impact enrollment. It’s all over the press here,” said Jean Jones, a professor of political science at Edinboro. “Exciting new young scholars would think twice about coming here to work.”
“While there’s no direct line between the money skimmed from salary and benefit discrepancies and increased revenues for capital projects,” said Ceronsky, “the auditors [of the seven PASSHE schools that are retrenching] note that with operating costs in the black, ‘additional cash flow has been used for debt service and capital projects…Without strict oversight of these budgets, university management should be extremely cautious when utilizing these budgets to project faculty and other personnel retrenchment in 2013-2014 and forward.’”
“The thing that worries me in the long term is that this is the new normal,” said Jones. “It’s really just destroying the academic community. A number of faculty have told me that they’re just going to punch the clock.”
West Chester did not make the list of tenured faculty layoffs this year, but if retrenchment is in fact becoming “the new normal,” as Jones alleged, it is a startling revelation that the tenured faculty of West Chester could be the next PASSHE employees on the chopping block.
Clare Haggerty is a third-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at CH757342@wcupa.edu.