APSCUF talks possible retrenchment with student journalists

Category:  News
Monday, October 19th, 2020 at 5:53 PM

On Sept. 30,  the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) held a Zoom meeting with student journalists from PASSHE universities to discuss looming faculty retrenchment at the state schools. 

Dr. Jamie Martin, professor in Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s criminology and criminal justice department and president of APSCUF, started the meeting by explaining the concept of retrenchment. 

“It’s a person being dismissed, due to no fault of their own,” she said. Retrenchment is a letter a professor or employee at a university receives stating they will no longer be employed at the institution at the end of the academic year. Martin again emphasized retrenchment is not based on behavior or misconducts; it’s about reducing the number of employees. Typically, the younger and newer hired faculty are retrenched first, while a general notice is sent to faculty beforehand notifying all that a retrenchment may be coming. 

Currently, seven out of 14 PASSHE schools face the possibility of retrenchment: California, Clarion, Cheyney, Edinboro, Indiana, Lock Haven and Mansfield. At the time of the Zoom meeting, no individual letters of retrenchment had been sent and these letters will be received by Oct. 30, per the current PASSHE integration review timeline. At Edinboro, it is unknown what departments will be most affected.   

Martin believes the main goal of this retrenchment is to have the student-faculty ratio return to 2010 levels. When asked by a student journalist why 2010 was the goal, Martin explained how it was an apex for PASSHE. For Edinboro, that meant 8,642 enrolled students, which translated to a 18:1 student-faculty ratio (see page 9, section titled “Edinboro At A Glance”). Over the years, Edinboro has seen a 46% drop (2010-19), and other PASSHE schools have seen enrollment drops of varying amounts, which Martin says brings the challenge of trying to match former ratios.

Meanwhile, APSCUF’s goal is to work with the university’s administrations to find alternatives to retrenchment, explained Martin. “We need the administrations to help with other ideas." 

Martin attempted to convey the importance of retrenchment, believing the move can drastically change and impact a student’s major. “You could lose your major,” she said. “Consider your freshmen classmates and what would happen to them if they declare a major and the major is gone.” 

A Cheyney University student in the meeting brought up that their major, political science, was gone, and asked, “Could retrenchment cause more harm to Cheyney?” Martin believes that Cheyney is vulnerable and that retrenchment could have a great impact.

Later, Martin also mentioned the chance that students would have to take larger-sized classes, noting it also may be more difficult to find and get into specific classes. Earlier that morning, PASSHE Chancellor Dr. Daniel Greenstein, in an open forum with Edinboro students, faculty and staff, spoke on that same topic. “The literature in higher education on student-faculty ratio and the relation to student outcomes is actually pretty weak,” he said, when The Spectator asked about bigger class sizes and how that may affect student performance. Greenstein continued: “It’s stronger in K-12. But [when] you’re looking at average class sizes, you’re looking at a difference between 20 and 25, 22 and 25.”

Martin felt the chancellor’s response to The Spectator’s question was incorrect and that some disciplines need smaller classes, including nursing, music and ceramics. She said smaller class sizes help build relationships with your professors and makes the work and class much more enjoyable.  

“I would often have students come to me and ask, ‘could you write me a letter of recommendation?’” she said as one example. “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.” 

The Spectator also asked Martin about the announcement of the partnership between Edinboro, Clarion and California and whether it was keeping with Act 50, a piece of legislation signed into law in July by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. The Act 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.” 

APSCUF Director of Government Relations Sean Crampsie talked about the announcement. “[It was] definitely 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.” He continued: “I feel confident in those checks and balances. All those press releases were, were a piece of paper and did not change what was in the bill.”

Greenstein, who received a similar question, said: “It was entirely in keeping with the transparency of the process. We rolled out the results, so it was very transparent. 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.” 

Regarding reallocation of funds and looking for ways to save the universities money, The Spectator asked both Martin and Greenstein about the plausibility of salary caps or cuts for the 14 PASSHE Presidents, 10 of which make over $250,000 a year. 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 numbers,” referring to the deficits. During the APSCUF meeting, Martin commented, “I don’t begrudge people earning what they do, but it gets frustrating when the faculty is seen as the problem.” She noted past decisions of PASSHE administration that have had lasting debt issues, like the building of the Edinboro Highlands residence halls.   

“It’s easy to say the faculty is the cause of the debt. They don’t mention the debts still being paid. It’s just easy to say faculty is the problem,” she explained.

Emma McNeeley is the News Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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