Five universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education submitted letters of intent for retrenchment last week.
Those affected are California, Cheyney, Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield universities, according to an April 3 news release from the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.
A retrenchment would involve possible layoffs for staff members, elimination of classes and the reduction of duties for other faculty.
Kenn Marshall, the State System’s media relations manager, stressed that the letters do not indicate definitive plans for these universities.
These letters are required, as per the contract between the State System and APSCUF, to serve as an advanced notice that possible changes to universities may be discussed in the future.
“As of now, however, there is no guarantee any staffing changes will be necessary,” Marshall said in an email Monday.
Marshall described the retrenchment process as a way to ensure that new programs in growing and emerging fields can be provided while programs that are no longer in demand are cut.
This process means that faculty changes must be considered in respect to students’ demands and the fiscal resources of the university.
“Retrenchment is a lengthy, but necessary, process,” Marshall said.
Marshall also assured students that a majority of retrenchment notices across the State System in the past six years have not resulted in any position or faculty cuts.
“Systemwide, between 2010 and 2016, a total of 76 retrenchment notices were issued by seven universities,” Marshall said. “Of those, only nine faculty members who received individual letters of possible retrenchment are no longer employed in the State System, and two of those volunteered for retrenchment and accepted positions at universities outside of the System.”
The retrenchment letters that are sent out to individual faculty members whose positions could be eliminated will not be issued until “much later” in this process, according to Marshall.
In APSCUF’s news release, President Ken Mash called retrenchment “pennywise and pound foolish.”
“We understand finances are tight,” he said. “Limiting opportunities will not help universities heal or grow. It certainly does nothing to encourage potential students to enroll.”
Mash also noted that the cost to attend these universities has continued to increase, and now universities are threatening their quality by reducing the number of programs they offer.
“Instead of trying to bleed stones, our policymakers must focus on how we are turning our backs on a generation of students,” he said.
Kathryn Morton, APSCUF’s communications director, agreed, in an email Friday, that cuts would only hurt state schools, as they did earlier in the decade.
“It would undermine our mission of providing affordable, quality education to working-class Pennsylvanians,” Morton said.
Both APSCUF and the State System are concerned with students’ and faculties’ futures.
“We take this process very seriously,” Marshall said. “Our students’ needs must always come first, but we also are concerned about the impact these actions could have on our outstanding faculty.”
Nadene Lamoreaux, IUP’s APSCUF chapter president, agreed in an email Thursday that “in the past, when universities have received notifications, we [APSCUF] have been successful in significantly addressing concerns and reducing the number of programs and faculty affected.”
Morton said IUP has not been considered for layoffs or course or duty elimination, but that the universities are “always examining their program offerings.”
Although IUP is not one of the five universities considering retrenchments, it does not mean that the school will not be affected.
“We are a system, so what happens on other campuses impacts all of the campuses,” Lamoreaux said. “For example, if faculty are retrenched anywhere within the State System, it makes it more challenging for all campuses to recruit and retain talented faculty who may fear that there is instability within the system.”
Marshall said that students from schools without retrenchment letters will not be affected; however, the current limited education budget is already affecting state schools.
Lamoreaux said budget contentions have caused a hiring freeze on IUP’s campus since mid-October. The freeze was imposed due to budget concerns.
To help improve the situation at IUP and other state universities, Lamoreaux suggested that students stay informed about the issue and be politically active by calling or visiting state legislators to share their thoughts on the importance of the quality education.
“We hope students at schools without letters will not feel any negative effects,” Morton said. “However, all of our universities are looking at cost-cutting measures. Further, if faculty are retrenched, they have certain rights with regard to positions at other universities.”
Additionally, students can contact the Chancellor’s office or the Board of Governors (BOG) to express their concerns.
“One of your peers, Brian Swatt (sophomore, political science), has just been appointed to the BOG as a student representative,” Lamoreaux said. “Let him know of your concerns so that he can best represent student issues.”
Marshall encouraged students to help the State System advocate the requested additional $61 million for education. Gov. Tom Wolf’s current proposal is for an increase of $8.9 million.
“The governor asked for a 2 percent increase in his budget proposal,” Morton said.
An increased budget is necessary to avoid retrenchment.
“Right now, it looks like we will receive that amount, but we must wait on the final budget.”
The State System will also hold its annual Advocacy Days April 18 and 19 at the capitol.
“We will be meeting at the state and campus levels to try to find alternatives to program cuts and layoffs,” Morton said. “We will also participate in the System’s study, and we encourage everyone to participate.”
Morton said that the universities could also look at construction projects and administration to cut costs.
APSCUF is advocating for more funding via social media using the hashtag #fundPAfuture. Students can use this hashtag when discussing funding needs online.