Last Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Pennsylvania System of Higher Learning (PASSHE), Dr. Daniel Greenstein, spoke before a crowded Philips Autograph Library as part of a tour of all 14 universities in the State System. Greenstein, who formerly held the position of Director of the Post-Secondary Success Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was announced as the next candidate in May. While Karen Whitney served as the interim chancellor of PASSHE, he assumed the position in September. This June, the previous chancellor, Frank Brogan was appointed by President Donald Trump and confirmed the Senate as the Assistant Secretary of Education and will now serve in the Betsy Devos-led Department of Education.
Greenstein began his address with a short list of the challenges facing the PASSHE system, saying, “Bluntly, we’re struggling to deliver a quality education to all of our students using instructional support and business models that have been around since the 1950s. We focus typically on high school graduates and educating them for careers in business and industry and in the civic and political services. These models we’re using may have served us and our students incredibly well for decades, but their effectiveness is waning because the demands of our student body are changing, the demands made upon us by their employers are changing, and because our funding models have changed fundamentally. Especially in Pennsylvania, where the size of the high school-leaving population is projected flat until 2025 and then precipitously declining. There are more seats than there are students to fill them. And there are potential other populations of students that we could educate: adult learners, lower income students, students of color, working parents.”
The forum, which was open to students, faculty and staff, was scheduled to take place for an hour and a half, of which Greenstein spoke for 25 minutes, leaving time for seven audience members to ask questions. Below are a few of Greenstein’s responses, edited for brevity.
An unidentified audience member asked, “So what’s the grand vision, and by that, I mean what do you want us to become? Is there a model system; the Cal. system, Virginia system, New York system that we should try and emulate rather than reinventing the wheel?” Greenstein responded, “I want you to define what is correct, and I want to create a system environment which enables you to pursue it.”
A reporter from the Quad was present to ask, “Over the past three decades, higher education has experienced many changes, but a big one has been the increase in administrative staff, budgets and overhead. Do you see that as a problem for the PASSHE system?” Greenstein responded,“I don’t. You see there’s a lot of memes out there, which I don’t find to be helpful. One that I keep running into is that ‘faculty only teach 12 hours a week.’”
Another unidentified audience member asked, “At what stage did students have a voice in [choosing a new chancellor]?” Greenstein responded,“Cindy Shapira opened up the process of inviting students and faculty on the search committee, but not to put too fine a point on it, you pay 75% of the bills. Not listening to you, bad idea. Ultimately, a lot of that’s going to fall on the university as they begin to develop strategies and figure out where to go they should be doing that. They should be hearing not only the voice of students who are on campus, but also prospective students who might come on to campus and think about what their needs are, what their price-points are and what their aspirations are.”
Bradley Flamm, the Director of the Office of Sustainability, asked, “A couple of weeks ago, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report which was described widely as having a very dire message and created a sense of urgency for economic, social, political, educational and ecological change required to keep climate change and global warming to levels that are conducive to continued human existence on this planet. West Chester University has maintained a strong commitment to sustainability over the decades. We’ve made some very important progress: our carbon emissions have dropped by about 20 percent over 15 years, even as our student body and our square footage has increased significantly as well. But the challenge remains, and the message of the report was on urgency, and I’m wondering, have you thought about how PASSHE can be a positive and productive part of a societal response to this existential threat?” Greenstein responded, “I have not. But it’s interesting to think about whether or not there are sustainability goals which actually contribute to cost efficiency.”
Aaron Gallant is a fourth-year student majoring geography and minoring in Latin American studies and anthropology. AG851503@wcupa.edu