Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Photo Credits: Governor Wolf Welcomes New PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein by Governor Tom Wolf CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr

Back in March 2022, a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) open forum at West Chester University became “heated” according to university officials who decided to unlist the YouTube video of the discussion. Since then, however, Pennsylvania State law enacted by WCU alumni has required hidden information regarding the forum to become available to the public, thus causing students to take to social media and cite their problems with PASSHE’s economic situation.

On March third of this year, Daniel Greenstein, Chancellor for the PASSHE, came to West Chester University to, among other intentions, host an open forum. The forum, which was covered by The Quad in March, allowed Greenstein to speak out about various PASSHE initiatives, while primarily being a platform during which student visitors could question and comment on PASSHE work so far. Student questions focused mostly on financials, with the idea of a significantly limited, if not free, cost to public higher education being desired by a majority of the audience.

Student financial commentary included the notion that “a huge portion of the [student] equity gaps lie in the fact that [schools] charge tuition fees,” as well as one student citing a previous Greenstein notion that “higher education is not an entitlement.” Many students even came to the forum bearing cardboard signs which listed their degree of student loan debt. These notions were met with Greenstein stating that he was “doing nothing to advocate for free college” as there had never been “a free college initiative [in Pennsylvania] that was successful.”

His responses were immediately followed by stark contention, with one student immediately asking aloud why Greenstein “[doesn’t] give a shit about [them],” and another telling the chancellor that “the funding is there” to save them, and that what they have to go through “breaks their hearts.” In the hours to come, the public stream of the event on YouTube would go from being privatized to being unlisted, with the fact that the forum had occurred at all receiving minimal social media attention.

These events came and went, resurfacing however, recently due to student action. PASSHE Defenders is a social media presence run by former West Chester students with the intention of “fighting for a fully funded state system… and against PASSHE consolidation.” After the forum was taken down, the Defenders were able to enact the Right-to-Know Policy, a Pennsylvania State Law which enables “requests for public records from the office of the chancellor” among many other government and education groups, meaning that any student, curious enough about the March third forum, could request that any information pertaining to it be released to the public. This turned out to be the goal of West Chester graduate Nicholas Marcil. Marcil would go on to create the PASSHE Defenders. He saw his Right-to-Know request granted just earlier this month, allowing him access to forum video links, emails pertaining to the forum and even text message conversations between WCU officials pertaining to the forum’s events.

Text messages from WCU administrators released to PASSHE Defenders through right-to-know act request.

These releases saw the PASSHE Defenders group immediately take to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, posting their found information, and using it as grounds for reformative action unto PASSHE, including board voting recommendations. We spoke to Marcil about the diminished volume that this forum saw publicly. “It got myself and so many others aggravated,” he told us “a lot of folks were in some ways probably not surprised, they don’t want to show these things and [the] chancellor is not caring to really talk to people.”

The aforementioned text messages between WCU communication officials showed that the forum’s diminishment was largely intentional. A conversation between Nancy Gainer, West Chester’s Senior Associate Vice President for University Communications and Marketing, and Melissa Rudolph, the Director of Digital and Social Media, saw Gainer telling Rudolph that the forum should not be pushed on social media and that “student displeasure with the chancellor will create a swell of engagement on [their] platforms.” Rudolph’s text responses acknowledged that the forum was “heated” and that its video is unlisted on YouTube, with the event not being promoted on social media.

When asked about these comments, Gainer told the Quad that her social media actions sought “civil and respectful engagement,” as it is the most “productive engagement on any platform”. Gainer also said in her texts that she votes for “no more open forums,” when asked about this she told the Quad that she is “in favor of open forums where ideas are exchanged in a civil and respectful manner.”

This forum showed, at the very least, that a disdain for current PASSHE financial strategies exists. Gainer reported that groups such as PASSHE Defenders “have not had an effect on [her] efforts.” However, sentiments like theirs continue daily, with the PASSHE Defenders Twitter consistently citing the forum video, asking if Dan Greenstein will “ever provide a real answer to the student debt crisis.” This forum conversation also seemed to follow Greenstein to Shippensburg University, where The Slate news reported in an April 5 article, that conversation in a similar open forum was “largely focused on the PASSHE budget.” Overall, there is much that remains to be seen when it comes to student financials, but conversation about them seem to be growing regardless.

M. Bordeaux is a fourth-year history major with a minor in journalism.

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