Chancellor Greenstein holds Edinboro open forum to talk integration and more

Category:  News
Friday, October 9th, 2020 at 10:35 AM

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Dr. Daniel Greenstein hosted a virtual open forum via Zoom with members of the Edinboro University community. While the main topic was the ongoing PASSHE redesign, audience questions pushed the discussion in multiple directions.  

One question, submitted in advance, asked how integrating three universities experiencing financial hardship – Edinboro, California and Clarion —  will then lead to financial stability.   

 “One of the ways is it gets Edinboro and the other universities out of this vicious cycle: they compress academic programs and student supports because they’re losing enrollments and as a result losing revenues; and they can’t afford, on the basis of their revenues, to sort of mount the programs on the surfaces their students need and want,” said Greenstein. “Number two, I know that Cal, Clarion and Edinboro are looking at combining their significant strength across the three in online education. Not to supplant traditional residential base, but to grow into an area which is growing at about 10% a year and we’re just not active in it: online undergraduate degree and completion ... 50,000 students every year leave this state, Pennsylvania students go out of state and take an online program. There’s an opportunity to combine forces, to go after them.”   

The Spectator moved the conversation to Act 50 and its relationship to the new integration announcement. Act 50, signed into law in July 2020 by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, provides the process by which PASSHE would integrate, merge or otherwise alter any of their institutions. Also included in the bill: the “proposed implementation plan” should be made available for review and public comment “for a period of not less than sixty (60) days”; the board will “hold at least two public hearings as part of the public comment period”; this ability to change institutions does not apply if the fall 2019 enrollment was over 10,000 students (removing West Chester and Indiana from consideration); and the Act does not provide power to “close an institution.” 

Greenstein said the announcement, “was entirely in keeping with the transparency of the process. We rolled out the results, so it was very transparent.” He continued: “The model is available for those who want to dig into it. I think if anything, they were very much in line with and keeping with the process and will continue to be so into the next phase of the work, which gets even harder.”   

Later that afternoon, during the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) student town hall that focused on retrenchment, The Spectator asked APSCUF Director of Government Relations Sean Crampsie his thoughts on the integration announcement and Act 50 compliance. Crampsie, who worked on the legislation, said the announcement was premature and reckless. “If you read the language and the bill that we worked on, we worked to put in safeguards, and processes, and checks and balances to ensure nothing would happen based on one chancellor … All those press releases were, were a piece of paper and that did not change what was in the bill,” he said.  

Next, The Spectator asked Greenstein about a potential for money being saved or reallocated by way of PASSHE presidential salary caps or cuts. According to PENNWATCH, 10 of 14 PASSHE presidents bring in over $250,000 annually. Greenstein, who brings in $380,000 annually, said, “Adjusting a president’s salary — maybe that’s an option, but we’re looking at some pretty big (deficit) numbers.” During the APSCUF student town hall, The Spectator asked union president Dr. Jamie Martin her thoughts on this idea and Greenstein’s comments. Martin said while she doesn’t “begrudge” others for the money they make, she finds it frustrating that faculty is considered the problem and cited decisions of past PASSHE administration that have left universities with lasting debt, such as Edinboro building their eight Highlands residence halls. “It’s easy to say the faculty is the cause of the debt,” said Martin. “They don’t mention the debts still being paid. It’s just easy to say faculty is the problem.” 

Bringing up another EU partnership, Fighting Scots Head Women’s Soccer Coach Gary Kagiavas mentioned Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM). Kagiavas asked Greenstein why Edinboro and PASSHE haven’t considered expanding their academic partnership beyond the already established Early Acceptance Program (EAP). The EAP “grants qualified students a provisional early acceptance to LECOM’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, School of Pharmacy or School of Dental Medicine,” said LECOM’s Marketing and Communications Specialist Sheena Baker when The Spectator reached out for comment. 

According to Baker, this collaboration is expanding in scope, but in a different manner. LECOM will be taking over as Edinboro’s new athletic team physicians. The new contract between Edinboro and LECOM will not impact the jobs of any current staff at the university, according to Edinboro’s Deputy Communications Officer Chris LaFuria. 

Next, Dr. Stephanie Diez-Morel, assistant professor of social work at ‘Boro, asked Greenstein if there was any chance that through integration the need for faculty retrenchment would be reduced. Greenstein’s response circled back to topics he’d touch on often: growth and student-faculty ratios. “In the long run, Stephanie, I think our headcount is basically going to be based on our ability to grow. So yes, but we’ve got to grow.”  

Following the topic of retrenchment, Dr. Julaine Field, assistant professor in the department of counseling, school psychology and special education, asked: “With the level of cuts that are being proposed, or that are being enacted right now at Edinboro, how are we going to have the talent and capacity left to build something creative and visionary with Clarion and Cal U?”   

First, Greenstein said: “What we’re doing is we’re basically moving money between universities, and those that are operating less efficiently are being subsidized by those that are operating more efficiently. Those that are operating more efficiently are [then] operating under pressure, so that willingness to continue in that vein is harder now to do.” Greenstein then once again noted Edinboro’s low student-faculty ratios and the need to return to the 2010 numbers. “Play chancellor for a day and help me find a solution — I don’t know what it is,” he responded. Greenstein said he’s asking universities to “sustain themselves with adjusting their faculty and student staff ratios,” but that, “we’re asking them to really go back to what was the prevailing normal.” 

 Moving on to state funding provided to PASSHE, Dr. Elisabeth Joyce, out of the English department, asked: “What are you doing to get greater funding for the state system to fund us adequately, because that is clearly part of our problem?”  

Greenstein mentioned that part of the funding issue is the sense of distrust between PASSHE and legislators he encountered when he started in the system in 2018. “There was a sense in which we were just talking past elected representatives. We spent an awful lot of time building relationships and building trust, making the case, demonstrating — really just pounding in the value of public higher education,” he said.   

Greenstein also noted that it’s easier to get more funding when asking as a partnership, versus individual entities. Relating to Joyce’s department, he noted the growth opportunity between the three schools is more about the students and their accessibility “to the breadth of English, English literature, English language — it should be available to them.” At Edinboro, Joyce pointed out, English literature is one program under threat of being cut at the end of the academic year. She said, “what you just showed us was why we shouldn’t be cutting before we do the merger, that we should do the merger and then think about what staffing we need for it and what programs.”  

Greenstein responded: “So, generate a coalition that finds $150 million and we can pause. $150 million. You can’t make this stuff up.” He continued: “In our projections over the next few years — they’re not 100% accurate but they’re probably pretty good — we’re going to reduce our salary and benefits, costs to retirement, other actions by $115 million and we’re still going to be $30 million in the hole, $38 million in the hole.”  

Joining Joyce and pushing back against the “slash and burn” of programs before the integration of the three schools was Dr. Victoria Hedderick, chairperson and professor in the nursing department. She voiced concerns about the short integration timeline, for students completing general education requirements, and how teach-outs will be done. With teach-outs, after a program gets cut, the program requirements must be taught until there are no longer any students in it. 

“That’s incredibly concerning to me for my colleagues, but also for the students. I’m not really sure how that’s going to happen,” she said. As for the timeline decrease, Greenstein said, “As we go through this process, it is unlikely to be a kind of ‘bang, it’s all done’ kind of thing. In August 2022, everything’s done — that’s not likely.” He also noted: “Part of the planning process that you’ll see unfold in that October to April time period is to work out not just what needs to be done, but in what sequence, according to what timeline. I think we just need to expect that things will move at slightly different paces.”   

The Spectator then asked Greenstein how increasing class sizes would impact the quality of education. He responded, “The literature in higher education on student-faculty ratio and the relation to student outcomes is actually pretty weak.”  

He continued: “It’s stronger in K-12. But you’re looking at average class sizes, you’re looking at a difference between 20 and 25, 22 and 25.” In the same-day APSCUF town hall, Martin disagreed with Greenstein’s sentiments, saying she felt that smaller classes are necessary for many disciplines and makes teaching much more enjoyable.  “When you have class sizes that are what they could be (with retrenchment), you don’t get to know the students, so it’s hard to make a personal letter of recommendation,” she listed as one example. 

Next, Adam Sidun asked the chancellor about graduate programs and what those offerings will look like as the plans for integration move forward. Greenstein noted graduate programs have been an integral part of Edinboro’s offerings. “These are decisions that the groups are going to have to make or pull together. I think the balance of graduate and undergraduate programming is going to come out of the work in that academic program array. What does it look like to combine the academic program array,” he said.  

With retrenchment comes less faculty on campus and thus quieter facilities, as pointed out by Dr. David Fulford, professor in the biology department. “If we’ve got the place to do the job, but we take away the people who are doing the job, how are we supposed to ever get out of this hole?” 

Circling, once again, back to growth, Greenstein said in order to meet the state needs, the universities need to increase their numbers. “But again, find the $22 million for Edinboro or the $150 million for the system. I’m open to alternatives, we just need them now,” he said. “(The solutions are) not alternatives like fire all the managers, or 10% across the board of president or chancellor’s salaries. That doesn’t get to $150 million or roughly in that ballpark. That is the extent of our problem.”  

The next discussion prompt came from Dr. Qun Gu from the chemistry department. First, Gu asked why the financial turnaround timeline was decreased from five years to three years and not increased because of the added financial strain from the ongoing pandemic. Gu stated the university should be looking to grow out of the financial instability, rather than cut out of it. “Even if you would like to cut faculty members, why not try your best to retain the program? ... If you cut the program, you’re cutting the students who are interested in the program; they’re not coming. So you’re cutting the program [and] you’re cutting our revenue.”  

Gu also suggested an overall branding effort of PASSHE — much like what you see with Penn State and SUNY campuses — stating: “If we have a collective effort of using PASSHE as a brand name, we may do better. You said very correctly why a lot of students do not go to PASSHE schools for online courses, because there’s not a brand name. It’s not because we didn’t offer it, it’s because we don’t have ranking. That’s a brand name thing.”  

Greenstein said he wasn’t sure of the exact financial impact on the state system from the pandemic, but he knows it got worse. He stated that this would be a terrible time to raise tuition on students and that the pandemic limited the ability to borrow from other PASSHE schools. “What’s more important: preserving the full range of physical science at every single institution in western Pennsylvania, or ensuring that students in western Pennsylvania have access to the best, most kick-ass physical science post-secondary experience they can possibly get?” responded Greenstein.  “I mean … it’s a choice and they have very different implications and costs.”  

Finally, Ross Brumagin, an electrician at Edinboro, asked about what integration planning teams will look like and who will be part of the decision-making process. While Greenstein said he did not yet have a complete answer, he mentioned it’s being looked at as more of a single integration process rather than multiple, and that anywhere from two to a dozen different teams could be involved.   

“It’s important that we do our very best to tap into the great thinking that’s representative in the room and beyond that room. That’s going to be critical.” he said. Greenstein mentioned the usual structure of the chancellor’s office when it comes to decision making, stating, “I know we think we’re very hierarchical, but we’re going to work against that and empower folks closer to the ground."

Kimberly Firestine is the Executive Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

View Our YouTube Channel
Edinboro TV
 
Find Us on Instagram