The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) hosted a town hall Wednesday evening to discuss the retrenchment happening at seven of the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools.
Retrenchment can be defined as a person being dismissed from their job position due to no fault of their own, according to APSCUF President Jamie Martin. This happens when a university decides they need to reduce their workforce.
California, Cheyney, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities are the PASSHE schools with possibilities of retrenchment, or faculty layoffs.
Just some of the numbers for faculty that could potentially be retrenched are:
- California – 85;
- Clarion – 68;
- Edinboro – 80;
- Indiana – 120.
Martin said there were also letters of retrenchment from Bloomsburg, Kutztown and Millersville, but they have removed those letters.
Reasons for retrenchment
In December 2019, Daniel Greenstein, the chancellor of PASSHE, told the PASSHE schools that they needed to come up with financial sustainability plans within the following five years. Following this, in April 2020, Greenstein accelerated this process by telling the schools they had about two years to become financially sustainable.
Greenstein indicated that PASSHE universities had to return to the student-faculty ratio of the 2010-2011 academic year. This ratio is the main reason for retrenchment at PASSHE schools. The ratio that existed in 2010-2011 was around 21:1.
Greenstein recommended returning to this ratio because it was their highest peak in the most recent academic years. As of 2018, the student-faculty ratio has decreased to 17:1 for PASSHE universities.
Martin added that this process may not sound too difficult, but it is especially difficult to do in a two year time period.
There were about 120,000 students in the state system during the 2010-2011 academic year. Since then, there has been a steady decline in enrollment in PASSHE.
“[The decline] was not unexpected because we knew there weren’t nearly as many students in our elementary schools and high schools that would actually come and enter our universities,” Martin said.
When enrollment began to increase slightly in 2009, the faculty numbers increased with it, according to Martin. However, since that year, enrollment has steadily decreased which caused faculty numbers to decrease as well. Martin added that these numbers will continue to decrease with the 2020-2021 academic year.
How retrenchment affects students
According to Martin, it is hard to predict where retrenchment would happen.
If a faculty member from a small department is retrenched, this could result in a department or an entire major to be eliminated.
Class sizes often increase where retrenchment happens to accommodate the decrease in professors.
“I don’t understand why [PASSHE students] are less deserving of having smaller classes, like students at Penn State, and students at Pitt, and students at Temple,” Martin said. “I don’t know why any of you are less deserving of that kind of an educational experience.”
Martin said when she was teaching around 2010, her class sizes had greatly increased. She taught a class of 125 students that would typically have about 45 students. She added that sometimes her classrooms would not have enough desks for students.
Classes with a larger number of students also make it harder for the professor to know the students, Martin said.
“I’ve had students that would go off into careers where they required background checks,” Martin said. “I’ve received calls from agencies wanting me to provide information about a student for a background check, and I would be thinking, ‘I remember I had Angy in class. I don’t remember Angy ever being a problem in class, but I don’t remember much more about Angy because there were just too many students in that class.'”
Some classes should only have a select number of students in one class. For example, clinical rotations for nursing students can only have about eight students, according to Martin. She said this ratio would have to be accommodated for in different classes.
Retrenchment can also affect the availability of classes, especially as students move further toward graduation, said Martin.
The process of retrenchment
To start the retrenchment process, a university’s administration will send a letter to the chapter president to let them know that they may need to retrench faculty.
Individual faculty at the university’s campus would be notified by a retrenchment letter. This letter indicates that the faculty member would be retrenched at the end of the academic year.
Tenured faculty members, or individuals who have worked at the university for at least five years, must be notified of their retrenchment by Oct. 30.
Martin said younger and newer members of faculty are typically retrenched first, as long as all of the courses can still be taught in a given department.
How PASSHE is attempting to counteract retrenchment
Martin said the point of retrenchment is to work together with the administration to find alternatives.
If a faculty member was getting retrenched, Martin said they would see if there were other classes that that professor could teach, or if there were ways to save money to prevent that retrenchment and reach financial sustainability.
Martin reiterated that the struggle is finding alternatives, but also reaching the 2010-2011 student-faculty ratio in two years. The only way to do that is to increase students or decrease faculty.