Mon. May 16th, 2022

Photo Credits: Rob Cuthill

On March 3, Chancellor Greenstein of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) came to West Chester University. He appeared before a small crowd in Sykes Theater for an open forum where he talked for 10–15 minutes or so before a Q&A portion — really, a question and avoiding portion. According to the UMASS Amherst Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) report, the chancellor calculated about 1,500 jobs to be cut. During this session, however, the chancellor said the number would be far lower than that and that there was a lot of misinformation released over the summer. He stated, “we started [this fiscal year] at 110 faculty positions to be eliminated.” Of course, he didn’t say we must demand more state funding, or to avoid cutting jobs and services. Rather, I’d say the misinformation is on his end, as the 1500 or so jobs outlined in the PERI report dealt with not just this fiscal year but from 2019 employment numbers projected up to the year 2023.

I then asked the chancellor about the lack of funding for the state system being a cause for the debts many students have. 75% of the WCU 2020 graduating class left with student debt and had an average student loan debt of over $37K according to ticas.org. In my question, I noted, “we could have free public higher education, but [you are not fighting] for a fully funded state system of free public higher education.” Myself and several others held up signs with their student loan debt to showcase what the underfunding of PASSHE leads to: DEBT! I am around $17,000 in debt. Another student had almost $50,000 on their sign. This is thanks to the chancellor and others for not fighting for PASSHE. I asked, “What are you doing to make sure PASSHE can become free and actually get a fully funded state system to fix these equity gaps? [From about 1983-2008,] the state system never had appropriations below $625 million adjusted for today’s inflation, but you are only asking for $550 million.” The question was given some applause. After I finished speaking, the chancellor said, “I’ll take the gentleman behind you.” No acknowledgement of my question, he just moved on. Imagine being in class and after asking a question to your professor they don’t address it?

I’m extremely frustrated that the chancellor skipped over my question, so I spoke up again, asking if he was going to answer my question. Someone up front asked as well. In defense, he said, “I was expecting to collect questions, and I expected to get a bunch. I mean, I’m okay for you to run the meeting, but I think I’ll prefer to do that.” Odd, because he addressed the first question posed to him. In response, I asked him if he is trying to serve students. Clearly not if he isn’t willing to even pay lip service to a question. Then he said, “I am doing nothing to advocate for free college.” This chancellor doesn’t want to eliminate student tuition & student fees. The chancellor wants to uphold a system where students who don’t have the money to get a college degree must jump through hoops for aid, scholarships and awards and work multiple jobs, withmany still ending up in student debt.

Later, WCU graduate student Darryl Thomas asked “so many of us have to take out student loans and take out so much […] What are you planning to do to confront that?” The chancellor replied, “[My role] is to identify for the general assembly, the owners of the state system, what their policy choices are…that’s what I do.” I see this as the chancellor not working for students, rather working for the owners, aka legislators. Yet, the “owners” foot about 25% of the PASSHE budget with student tuition, fees, etc. funding the other 75%.

The final question asked by a faculty member at WCU was, “to follow up on the question on free public higher education, and I do appreciate your honest response, I believe the response was that you do not support free public higher education. I believe it was the direct response.” The chancellor responded, saying, “I was asked what I was doing about it and said nothing.” The faculty member responded, “You said nothing — you are doing nothing about it.”

The faculty member continued, “[The Chancellor believes] higher education is not an entitlement … that is part of the problem: K-12 is an entitlement. In New Mexico, community college is an entitlement … there’s a trend — even in Biden’s Build Back Better proposal he included higher education, community college, as an entitlement. There is a clear trend [of] thinking of extending it to higher education. We know that the funding is there … What we would like you to do is break from politics as usual,and we want you to call on the probable hundreds of thousands of people who support action to a day of action … use your position and platform. People’s lives [especially those directly impacted by consolidation and layoffs] are literally on the line.” The chancellor smirked and drank a sip of water. As the faculty member finished, the chancellor seemed to start to wrap up without really addressing the question or concerns from the faculty member.

Instead, President Fiorentino said a quote from former U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.” But the fact is the funding is there and we need to demand it! Additionally, President Fiorentino mentioned how the faculty member was being “idealistic.” But being idealistic is what creates real meaningful change. This change towards treating higher education as an entitlement can be difficult, but nothing good ever comes easy. Let’s continue to make sure public higher education is treated as a public good! Fight on for a fully funded state system of free public higher education and the abolition of debt!

And lastly, let’s say that it seems the Chancellor doesn’t want his lackluster appearance to be public, as the video (which was originally unlisted on the West Chester University YouTube channel) was live streamed. It is now accessible from a link on the West Chester University website. But the video was made private about 15 minutes or so after the event concluded. I personally saw some of the videos as soon as I got back to my class, but it seems like public higher education and public forums both aren’t entitled to the public.


Nick Marcil is a student pursuing a master’s degree in Higher Education Policy & Student Affairs. NM871511@wcupa.edu

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