Clarion University plans to cut over 20 faculty members
Patrick Burkhart president of the SRU Chapter President of the Association of Pa. State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) spoke to students on Aug. 26 during a SGA about the possibility retrenchment (the elimination of programs or faculty members).
“There is a part of the collective bargaining agreement that says that if you’re considering any kind of reduction in the workforce, you need to notify the union members within a certain time period,” the Executive Director for SRU Public Relations Rita Abent said. “It doesn’t mean that anything’s going to happen. It could, or it could not. You need to give notice, and that letter has gone out.”
In late July, Burkhart received a letter from the SRU administration that explained that the university is considering the use of retrenchment and reserves the right to use it.
“We’re facing a budget challenges, and we’re going to need to consider all possibilities,” Abent explained.
According to Burkhart, eight of the universities in the PASSHE system also received similar letters from each of their respective administrations.
This year, members of the faculty may receive letters that would state that this would be the last year of their employment, and that they would not be on payroll when school began again next fall.
“I hope that faculty should not be worried about losing their jobs, but I’m confident that some of them probably are,” Burkhart said. “At Clarion they were going to terminate more than 20 faculty members. We haven’t heard numbers from other universities in PASSHE. I think that amongst the tools that the administration can choose to balance its budget, cutting payroll of faculty is on the table and at SRU the administration has told us that it might be utilized. I’m sure that creates anxiety in the minds of some faculty.”
New and older professors decide to move on from their jobs at SRU every year, Burkhart said. If the university is patient enough, the amount of professors that leave naturally could be outnumber the amount of professors that are hired, creating a less stressful way to reduce payroll. Burkhart stated the question becomes whether or not the university has enough financial patience to allow that to happen.
Clarion University recently announced that over 20 faculty members would be terminated net fall.
“To the best of my understanding, the way things unfolded at Clarion was that the administration put together a plan for reconstructing academic programs and then disseminated that plan publicly to the possible end that some facility read newspaper accounts about the termination their discipline. That is an awfully harsh way to find out that you’re about to be fired.”
According to Burkhart the administration of university contractually has to tell the university president of APSCUF that retrenchment is a possibility.
Clarion decided to make the plan, tell the media, and then meet with APSCUF to discuss it, Burkhart explained.
“It was an approach that I find to be reprehensible,” Burkhart said. “Slippery Rock, in contrast, is using a much more civil approach in my opinion. They have opened up discussions with APSCUF, and we are reviewing data about current and projected finances. They have invited us to contribute ideas to increase revenue and to reduce costs to face the grime financial circumstances.”
“We want to seek out everyone’s input because everybody is part of the university,” Abent said. “The collective wisdom of the people who work at the university, no matter what role they have, can help us solve problems. The president’s approach has been very inclusive and to seek out the best thinking of everyone.”
Burkhart said that by doing this, a plan will most likely be produced to alter some academic programs. There are a few strategies that could be used in order to alter programs, such as closing or consolidating degree programs, degrees, departments or colleges. Burkhart stated that Clarion is planning on closing an entire college.
“I think that [SRU] is probably examining those options,” explained Burkhart. “APSCUF’s position is that the cornucopia of different disciplines and degrees allows us to remain a vibrant liberal arts institution. The university has remained profitable and has substantial financial reserves. Closure of programs is something that we hope we can avoid. If we can’t avoid it, we certainly want to minimize it. We’re proud of the academic diversity in the liberal arts model that is offered to our students.”
According to Burkhart, there were students protesting the closing of their academic programs. For example Music Education was one of the majors that will be eliminated at Clarion University.
“In all likelihood all [juniors and seniors] will get to finish their academic program,” Burkhart stated. “But what if you were a first year freshman showing up after being recruited to the music department?”
Burkhart explained that not only did would students be affected by retrenchment, but professors would too.
“Having a faculty member lose their job affects lives,” Burkhart said. “Faculty members often study for a decade to get their PhD and aspire for a long time to get to that tenure track slot. By the time they’ve delayed starting a family, as many of them do, they now are delighted that they have this career path. To have it shut down in front of them would be very traumatic.”
Whether or not retrenchment actually occurs, Burkhart stated that budget cuts are happening in SRU along with the rest of the universities in the Pennsylvania State System.
“Sooner or later you have to diminish some of the finer aspects of the PASSHE education,” Burkhart said. “You can’t just keep cutting without it eventually translating into less opportunities, traveling, and programs for students.”
Abent stated that the faculty members wouldn’t be the only people who will receive the letter about the possibility of retrenchment
“Each of the other collective barging units each has different time periods in which you have to give them notification as well,” Abent said. “The university will follow to the letter any requirement it has under the collective bargaining union.”
Burkhart hopes that students, parents and community members understand how important it is for them to support public education.
“I consider an affordable public education to be a basic human right and a backbone to democracy,” Burkhart explained. “A government of people, by the people, and for the people. That model holds implicit that the citizens are informed and thinking people. Public education is what provides the full spectrum of society the opportunity to lift themselves up higher.”
The ongoing budget cuts to Education in Pa. have led us to the point that we are at now where the quality of the educational experience will visibly start to diminish, explained Burkhart. Because of this, Burkhart believes that people should consider lobbing Harrisburg in order to show support for public education.