President Fiorentino’s annual address assured West Chester’s forward momentum would continue regardless of outcomes of the recent PASSHE system redesign.
Currently involved in a four-year system redesign after a “top to bottom” review in the fall of 2016, the Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE, revealed an opportunity to “leverage university strengths” and “capitalize on those strengths through greater collaboration.” Still, in the developmental stage, PASSHE doesn’t plan on revealing any changes until after the first of the year, so for now, the future is uncertain for all fourteen Pennsylvania universities in the system.
President Fiorentino confronted faculty sentiment when he asked, “what might happen to this place…where do I see West Chester today? Tomorrow?” and addressed their concerns over possible job eliminations when he characterized those questions as illustrating a “misleading, static picture.” He referred to an academic institution as something that was “constantly in motion” propelled by outstanding faculty and adept staff. “I don’t yet know,” he said, and urged them to “keep doing what you’re doing…it’s working and generating momentum.”
He reminded faculty and alumni alike that because of its constant growth, like new accreditations to the Psychology Department and Bio-Engineering, West Chester is the largest university in the PASSHE system with over 14,000 students, and ranked in the top 10% of the region. He brought attention to the 4,000 new students that choose West Chester every year, attracted by the well-maintained buildings, classes, IT infrastructure, and landscaping, but returned to emphasize the most vital attraction to new students and parents; the dedicated faculty and well qualified staff that deliver successful students and positive connections.
Fiorentino urged the faculty to worry less about what they couldn’t control and focus more on what they could. He emphasized the successes of the DECAP program that provides support to autistic students and the Promise Program for students in the foster care system. Motion with reason and purpose revolves around student success and inclusivity in a diverse society, he said, stressing a strategy that continued student successes and improvements to the institution would make it too difficult for PASSHE to impede West Chester’s momentum of progress.
In his long career at West Chester Fiorentino touched on his commitment to protecting improvements to the university’s programs, infrastructure, and technological upgrades. He most recently secured the new Sciences and Engineering Building and the Commons, along with a $3 million gift to the School of Music last fall from alumni brothers James and Richard Wells, the largest monetary gift in the university’s history. Fiorentino implored the faculty to trust in senior leadership to relentlessly advocate for the university and promised to “oppose any changes that weakened West Chester”, asserting that “the state system would not get stronger by making West Chester weaker.”
Finally, Fiorentino awoke the faculty to their less fortunate brethren throughout the system and guided them to “remain good citizens, we’re all better off if our sisters are better off.” It’s clear that whatever PASSHE does decide to implement, West Chester has the most to offer a collaboration and stands the most to lose. Fiorentino doesn’t plan on losing without a fight. The wait to January will be a long one.
April Strunk is a first-year student majoring in political science and media and cultures, and minoring in journalism. AS938710@wcupa.edu