Before President Behre’s first State of the University address, Dr. Ben Shaevitz was granted an opportunity to speak on behalf of the faculty and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF). In his speech, Dr. Shaevitz spoke cautiously of “rightsizing,” linking the term to the retrenchment process and layoffs of faculty at other schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Later after the address, Behre said in an interview that it would be essential to “rightsize” Slippery Rock University to maintain the university’s identity in the years to come.
“I think it’s a mistake to look for growth every year because if you grow and you continue to grow…you stop being who you are,” Behre said, “and what I’d rather do is figure out how do we keep the students we have and how do we rightsize Slippery Rock.”
Two different members of the university community mentioned the jargon term of rightsizing in the same room with two very different connotations. While Behre did go on to advocate continued strategic growth in the immediate years to come, the discussion of what the right size for Slippery Rock is will undoubtedly be a discussion in the future.
With a current enrollment of 8,824 students, SRU is seeing the effects of a large student body. The most common complaint students lodge on social media and around campus is the lack of parking for students. This is the most obvious and visible result of our increased student population, but the effects are felt in other, less obvious ways as well. For example, Slippery Rock University has the highest student to faculty ratio of all PASSHE schools that reported to U.S. News and World Reports for this past academic year. While our student to faculty ratio (as of fall of 2017) of 21-1 is not far off from other PASSHE schools, such as West Chester University (19-1) or Clarion University (18-1), it is a notably high statistic for students looking for a university with a small school feel. Relying on continued growth into the future will require a deep look into who we are as a university and if we are willing to allow our small school reputation to change. At the same time, however, our growing numbers are a big part of our university culture.
With growth comes new programs, the ability to hire new faculty and more student activity fees to support clubs and organizations. Our overall campus enrollment has increased by nearly 500 students since 2013 and that growth is something the university has always been proud of. In times where other universities struggled to hold on, students were attracted to our university at higher levels than ever before. Adding new students and faculty to our SRU family has always been positive and any attempt to stagnate growth would lead to fewer students being granted access to the experiences we all hold so highly.
As the university community moves forward, a decision will have to be made about what the “right size” for Slippery Rock is, and such a large decision about the fate of the university requires significant reflection. The stakeholders of Slippery Rock University should begin to think about what their time here means to them, and how they want the university to look for future classes.