Shippensburg University faculty, staff and administration members packed the Old Main Chapel for a town hall meeting on Feb. 18 to voice their opinions about “directives” sent by Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Daniel Greenstein.
SU administrators called the meeting in response to “directives” sent via email to faculty and staff by Greenstein on Feb. 14.
The directives included curtailing the use of temporary faculty, eliminating low-enrolled programs and not filling vacant staff and faculty positions. The full list is available on passhe.edu.
SU President Laurie Carter opened the discussion, “The system and individual universities like Ship face serious financial challenges that were left unattended for years and must now be comprehensively addressed,” she said.
The announcement of the directives comes after universities submitted preliminary financial sustainability plans, which the chancellor deemed “inadequate,” according to Carter.
Scott Barton, senior vice president of administration and finance, and Tom Ormond, provost and vice president for academic affairs, gave a brief presentation of the preliminary financial sustainability plan, which is available on the S/Drive in the “PASSHE Redesign” folder. The next draft of the plan is due May 22.
“We must do this together,” she said. “We shouldn’t expect our students to pay for it.”
“I am more committed than ever to make a life changing difference for Ship students,” Carter said. “I didn’t come to Ship to build my resume. I came to Ship to build futures.”
Carter reiterated that her No. 1 priority is student success.
After brief remarks, Carter opened up the floor for questions and discussion for attendees.
Kara Laskowski, president of the SU Chapter Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges University Faculties (APSCUF), spoke about the confusion surrounding the directives and whether they were requirements or suggestions.
“The directives that were pushed out through academic affairs from Friday afternoon forward will only hurt and undermine our best efforts,” Laskowski said. “We know this, we’ve done it before, we’ve seen it before. And we’re here for our students and will fight for our students. And we’d like to do that with you.”
“As the work goes on, if we get to the point where we feel that we cannot meet one of his directives because it will compromise the work that we have to provide to our students for them to succeed, I can assure you that I will speak up on our behalf and I will do that aggressively,” Carter said, which was met with applause from the audience.
Laskowski described the struggle department chairs face as they now have to revise fall 2020 schedules and do not have the capacity to remove adjuncts while still providing a quality education for students. She said if adjuncts are completely eliminated, students will not have access to the classes they need.
“Part of what has always made Shippensburg, is the sense of our own identity and purpose. We may have taken our eyes off of that. We need to make sure we protect our identity that made students choose Ship,” Laskowski said.
Greenstein will host an open forum during his visit Thursday, at which Laskowski encourages all campus community members to insist he clarifies what he means with the directives.
APSCUF President Ken Mash said the organization is always a bit concerned when officials discuss reducing faculty.
Mash said the system needs to address practical concerns regarding if faculty will teach at more than one institution. This should include a system-wide student information system and a way for faculty to be evaluated if they work at more than one university.
Mash said there will be savings from the chancellor’s directives, but they will not make up for the lack of funding from the state.
“The Commonwealth is severely underfunding,” Mash said. “The money must be made up in other places.”
Mash explained tuition increases are elastic to declining enrollment. When there are fewer students to divide the fixed operating costs of a university among, tuition and fees must go up, according to Mash.
Karl Lorenz is the only remaining full-time anthropology faculty member in the sociology and anthropology department.
When he first came to SU there were three full-time faculty members, but due to retirements and lack of hiring he is the only remaining. The other two positions have been replaced by adjunct professors.
“It’s not fair to the students that we have adjuncts teaching instead of professors in a tenure-track position, and it certainly isn’t fair to students if those adjuncts are eliminated because those are courses that students won’t be able to take,” he said.
He attended one of the listening sessions held by the provost and Carter and said it was helpful and provided clarity. The provost and President Carter held one and have scheduled another listening session to have constructive conversations about the process. They invited faculty to attend.
Lorenz said the administration is strapped. While it is not fair to the adjuncts or students, it is the situation higher education finds itself in.
Lorenz emphasized that some of the responsibility of the problems PASSHE faces lies within the state legislature.
“You have to do more with less,” Lorenz said.
Department chairs are also facing the pressures from PASSHE and the administration, as well as the need to fulfill their department’s duties to its students.
José Ricardo-Osorio is the chair of the Global Languages and Cultures department. He also serves as the interim associate dean in the college of education and human services.
“There is not enough clarity as to what exactly we are supposed to do,” Ricardo-Osorio said. “We know that we have to minimize, we have to curtail, that we have to eliminate things, but the how we should do it is not clearly expressed. It leaves a lot up to us.”
He said this creates a fear if he does less or more than what he should do.
With class schedules for the future semester due at the end of February, Ricardo-Osorio said these types of decisions go beyond the usual duties of a department chair. He added that the provost’s office is working with chairs to create a more “granular plan of action” for implementation.
Currently, the Global Languages and Cultures department has four permanent faculty members, including one on sabbatical, and five adjuncts.
Ricardo-Osorio said the department cannot operate all classes without adjuncts. He used the new American Sign Language (ASL) class as an example. The class is taught by an adjunct professor and despite its healthy enrollment, he would have to remove the class from the current offerings or place it into a rotation.
“It will call for being creative,” he said.
When class sizes are larger, Ricardo-Osorio said the one-on-one interaction will be lost, and students will most likely have to do more outside the classroom. Therefore, he encouraged students to attend Greenstein’s open forum to express their concerns.
“This is something that is going to happen,” he said. “But if we all pull together, we will pull through. That’s what makes Shippensburg Shippensburg.”