Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Daniel Greenstein virtually visited Shippensburg University in a Zoom session Monday afternoon.
Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus, Greenstein is holding virtual question-and-answer events for all 14 schools in the State System instead of making his semesterly visits.
More than 220 SU community members logged into the session where Greenstein, SU President Laurie Carter and other officials discussed the statuses of the university and the State System.
Greenstein last physically and publicly visited SU in February when officials held a town hall meeting that allowed SU community members to voice their opinions and concerns of the “directives” sent by the chancellor. The directives, which aimed to assist in reaching financial sustainability, 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.
PASSHE is still in the midst of its system redesign eight months later, now with added economic woes from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Greenstein said the State System is in the process of selling its headquarters at the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg. Officials will eventually relocate to a smaller, more cost-effective facility.
In efforts to balance budgets and decrease and prevent reserve spending, some officials are turning to potential faculty retrenchment at PASSHE schools.
Retrenchment is a person being dismissed from the position due to no fault of their own, Association of Pennsylvania State College and Faculties (APSCUF) officials explained in a recent town hall meeting.
Officials sent out retrenchment letters at seven PASSHE universities including Mansfield, Lock Haven, Indiana, Clarion, Cheyney, Edinboro and California universities. SU is not included in the list, but is still making changes for financial sustainability.
During Monday’s Zoom event, Greenstein shared data and information about changes officials must make for the sustainability of the system. He said changes are necessary for student success.“These are really, really hard issues,” Greenstein said.
Carter explained the importance of making changes at SU.
“We’re not looking to return to the way things were,” Carter said after referring to a “Our Next Normal” PowerPoint shared with faculty members.
“We are looking toward the future with an institution that is going to serve the students well. But also serve the university well. We’re balancing the needs of today’s students, looking toward the needs of tomorrow’s students, but also caring for the community in a way that will allow it to properly support those students,” Carter said. “And it’s not an easy task.”
The questions from community members were similar to the town hall in February. Faculty members spoke of concerns of reducing or eliminating adjuncts in departments, fears of program relocations or elimination and how exactly the “shared system” model will work.
“Why should a student who comes to Ship only have access to the things that ship can afford on its own to deliver?” the chancellor asked.
Greenstein said students will have more access to programs across the s
Student Government Association (SGA) Student Groups Vice President and SU sophomore Riley Brown asked the chancellor to clarify the two different morales and views of PASSHE’s situation. Brown said after watching hearings at the Capitol in the spring, it sounded like Pennsylvania senators saw a very different, more “gloom and doom” situation, whereas Greenstein painted a more “optimistic and futuristic” landscape during Monday’s Zoom.
“Our financial circumstances are really challenging, and we’re going to fix them,” Greenstein responded.
Greenstein said PASSHE needed to ensure it is operating sustainably, as well as practicing accountability and transparency.
Brown also told Greenstein a story of his sister, who is a high school senior, contemplating a state-school education. High school seniors are questioning the reality of what is and will be available at PASSHE schools.
“This is the best time to come to a Pennsylvania State System school,” Greenstein said. “Because we are beginning to think again about student success and we are beginning to show progress and ensuring that students succeed. This is probably a better time than ever.”