It is no secret that the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is financially struggling.
When I was a senior in high school, I did not pay attention to the state system and did not understand the complexities of the governing body of my chosen university. I knew that the SU communication/journalism faculty and Slate staff members at the open house events made me feel welcomed and that I was going to gain a lot of valuable experience.
During a Pennsylvania Senate budget-appropriations hearing on March 18, Daniel “Chancellor Dan” Greenstein answered questions and gave an update of the state system. While most students are not interested in these types of hearings, it is important that all PASSHE students hear what our chancellor said.
“Unless we figure this out, I will be recommending to the board that we come back to the Senate next year with a legislative package to dissolve the System,” Greenstein said.
This is one of a few recent reasons why I am becoming increasingly fed up with the chancellor’s actions.
When Greenstein began his tenure on Sept. 4, 2018, PASSHE officials sold him as “a game changer” for the state system. PASSHE Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira said Greenstein would move the system to the “forefront of public university systems in the United States.”
“Dan comes to us with an incredible level of knowledge and experience and the demonstrated temperament necessary to achieve great things. He will use all of that to help achieve excellence for our students and stakeholders, and — indeed — to write the template for 21st century public higher education in the nation,” Shapira said in a 2018 press release.
Greenstein was an oasis for the wearied traveler that was the state system. Unfortunately for us, he was nothing more than a mirage.
I visited the Capitol in Harrisburg for the first time during the spring of my freshman year before Chancellor Dan entered our lives. I rode on a bus full of SU students who were meeting representatives from our 13 other sister schools to attend an annual advocacy rally at the Capitol. I attended the event as a student-journalist, observing the groups of students visiting the offices of state officials detailing how the funding of the state’s higher education changed their lives.
We attended a Senate appropriations committee meeting where senators probed then interim PASSHE Chancellor Karen Whitney, SU President Laurie Carter and IUP Student Government Association (SGA) President Brian Swatt about the state system.
I remember a series of statements made by Sen. Scott Wagner (R).
A York Daily Record reporter also attended the hearing and recorded these quotes:
“So, for those of you who think your school’s going to be around four years from now, it isn’t going to be around,” Wagner said. “And I can tell you something, that we are going to stop pumping money into this system and it’s ridiculous.”
Later in the hearing, Wagner continued: “This is a system that was set up years ago. It is doomed for failure. Financially, there’s just no path out of this unless you just keep throwing more money in.”
“Your school will close, and you do not matter,” is essentially what I and every student heard in that room. As a freshman, I was very concerned. Although I was fairly confident that the closure process would take longer than my degree timeline, it is completely worrying for a 19-year-old student to hear her school will shutter “around four years from now.”
But when Greenstein arrived, we were cautiously optimistic. We thought he could lead us to fix our problems. And while PASSHE’s problems could not be solved in a couple of years, we just needed to see progress. We needed to see that there was hope on the horizon for Pennsylvania higher education.
Whether the chancellor’s words were a figure of speech, threat, rhetoric or hyperbole, the words came out of his mouth.
How can we increase enrollment by convincing students that “Ship is it” if our leader makes these types of careless statements? I am a senior and will not be majorly impacted by the coming repercussions of the integrations and redesign.
But the chancellor’s words sent me straight back to how freshman year Hannah felt hearing that her university would cease to exist in “about four years.”
We have put in too much work fighting for our schools to let our leader throw it away.
PASSHE needs a “game changer,” not someone who threatens to end the game when it gets difficult.