EU faculty receive notice of possible 2017-18 retrenchment

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 5th, 2017 at 8:10 PM

Faculty members as part of Edinboro University’s chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) were informed last Thursday that "faculty positions could be affected at the conclusion of the 2017-18 academic year."

According to Article 29 in the collective bargaining agreement forged between APSCUF and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), notice of retrenchment is required.

“The contract with APSCUF has always required significant advance notice whenever there is the possibility of faculty positions being retrenched, for either financial or programmatic reasons. The current contract added language specific to when retrenchment is being considered because of programmatic changes,” said PASSHE’s spokesperson Kenn Marshall.

Marshall also explained that the new deadline for a university to inform its faculty of any possible retrenchment within the next academic year is April 1.

“Any changes wouldn’t take effect essentially until almost a year and a half from now. The previous language required notification by Aug. 1 whenever retrenchment was being considered because of financial reasons, still, a year in advance,” said Marshall.

He continued: “In either case, there is significant lead time before retrenchment actually would occur. Giving notice of possible retrenchment doesn’t mean any positions actually will be eliminated. 

The universities are obligated by the contract to give notice if the possibility exists and to engage the faculty union in exploring alternatives to retrenchment.”

In the retrenchment statement sent out to Edinboro faculty members by Edinboro University President Dr. H. Fred Walker, it is stressed that “The letter was issued with one purpose: to meet the formal requirements of the collective bargaining agreement.”

Walker continued in his written statement, saying: “It is important to note the word: possibility. There are no determinations regarding faculty positions or programs at this time. All interventions across the university are under consideration, as are numerous enhancements to address the key areas of student success, bringing expenses and revenue into alignment, and refreshing our program array.”

Since the Fall 2016 academic semester, Walker has implemented a “working groups” process; which analyzes enrollment rates, university programs and various university strengths and challenges.

In a previous interview, Walker stated that, “We (Edinboro University administration) know we are going to make some changes,” mentioning that academic program cuts and modifications are included in those changes.

“Our opportunity is to wake up, adjust our academic program inventory to the things students are actually demanding, [things that] are relevant in today’s economy, and bring those programs online; and take off the programs students are not attending,” said Walker in a past interview.

These program changes potentially affecting faculty members led to the required notice of retrenchment.

“Retrenchment is essentially layoffs, and the contract wants to address the situation where layoffs come up,” said Edinboro University’s APSCUF chapter President Dr. Michael Bucell.

In his written statement, Walker pledged to work with Bucell to “explore all alternatives” to retrenchment.

“It’s (retrenchment) an option. Having exercised that option, Article 29 requires us (Edinboro University APSCUF members and university administrators) to start meeting, sharing data and seeing how we can deal with the problems that have led the university to consider retrenchment as a solution,” said Bucell.

He continued: “Alternatives could possibly be retraining, a faculty member (could be) teaching something they didn’t previously teach, (or) teaching in another department. Looking at other factors that might impact the need for retrenchment (would be) retirements or taking jobs at other universities.”

Bucell also shared that, to his knowledge, no specific programs or departments have been cut, or considered for discontinuance, yet.

“We haven’t sat down to talk about what programs they (Edinboro administration) believe need to be curtailed. We the faculty haven’t been provided with any list (of programs being cut) or anything of that sort,” said Bucell.

He continued: “At this point it (retrenchment) may not even happen. The contract is there to protect the faculty if this process of retrenchment needs to occur (and) the university has indicated that the students’ progress towards degree completion will not be affected by this process.”

Additionally, Marshall explained that “the vast majority of notices issued across the state system in recent years have not resulted in positions being eliminated, nor in individual faculty members having their employment terminated.”

He continued: “System wide, between 2010 and 2016, a total of 76 retrenchment notices were issued by seven universities. 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.”

Along with retrenchment being a possibility at Edinboro University, APSCUF faculty members at California, Clarion, Cheyney and Mansfield University have also received an “intent for retrenchment,” as announced by the APSCUF website; with Mansfield being the first state system university to receive a notice of retrenchment on March 21.

In response to the retrenchment notices at these univeristies, APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash said: “Students, potential students, and faculty members deserve to know their universities’ intentions as soon as possible. We understand finances are tight, but cutting programs and faculty members is penny wise and pound foolish. Limiting opportunities will not help universities heal or grow. It certainly does nothing to encourage potential students to enroll.”

In response to the retrenchment notice at Edinboro University, APSCUF spokesperson Kathryn Morton stated: “Eliminating academic offerings and faculty members is not a strategy that benefits students. Cutting only limits opportunities, (and) we hope the university will not come to such decisions.”

Recently, PASSHE requested an increase of $61 million from the state for the 2017-18 academic year, an appropriation of $505.2 million. However, Governor Tom Wolf granted the state system with an increase of $8.9 million; cutting the system’s request by more than 50 percent.

“Our universities have struggled mightily since the Commonwealth cut the appropriation to the State System in 2011,” Mash said in a recent APSCUF press release.

He continued: “While some of that funding has been restored, last year per-student funding was down by more than 30 percent since the start of the Great Recession. While a decline in graduating high school seniors partially explains enrollment declines, very little attention has been paid to whether the total cost of college remains affordable for Pennsylvania’s working-class families.”

In 2010, Edinboro University hit a recent peak in enrollment with 8,642 students, which had dropped by more than 2,000 students by the fall of 2016, when enrollment was at 6,181 students.

“There’s fewer high school graduates, less demand (and) fewer students, but that’s not the big problem. The big problem is disinvestment in higher education,” said Bucell.

Macala Leigey can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com. 

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