Pennsylvania forges ahead with vicious attack on public university system as enrollment plummets

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As the spring semester is about to begin for Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) students, the system’s devastating administration restructuring plan, approved on July 14 last year, has begun. in strength. The plan involves cutting staff, faculty and educational programs.

Daniel Greenstein, Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education [Source: Wikimedia Commons]

The so-called “consolidation” plan merged six universities into two schools: California, Clarion and Edinboro, on the one hand, and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield, on the other.

In a study by the Center for Political Economy Research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, more than 1,500 jobs will be eliminated by the restructuring, including 809 faculty and more than 600 employees. The most recent job cuts have been at Lock Haven and Mansfield universities, where 26 faculty positions are at risk for the 2023-24 academic year.

The two big business parties, with the support of the unions, have been pushing for this destructive plan for years, salivating at the prospect of removing the public system from the state budget for good. As early as January 2019, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf noted during Dr. Daniel Greenstein’s swearing-in as chancellor of PASSHE that he was “talking about fundamental transformation and overhaul” of state systems, resulting in shutdowns and public partnerships. -private.

PASSHE officials and the state government cite the system’s financial condition as justification for the layoffs and mergers and say it will reduce costs for students. However, they conceal the fact that PASSHE and state policies have deliberately thrown the system into its financial mess and that the plan will do nothing to alleviate the skyrocketing tuition fees and debt that students will carry after graduation. graduation.

At the start of last year’s semester, Pennsylvania’s 14 public universities lost more than 5,000 students, an enrollment drop not seen in more than three decades. The largest drops ranged from 12.19% (4,465 to 3,922) in Clarion to less than 1% (17,719 to 17,640) in West Chester. The system, founded in 1983, saw its enrollment peak at around 119,500 students in 2010 and has since fallen to 88,651.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the criminal life-profit politics of the ruling class have caused a mass exodus of students refusing to attend coronavirus-infested universities, accelerating a process that has been going on for more than a decade. State officials are using the overall 5.4% decline and projected $36 million (4.5%) loss in tuition revenue to further bolster their proposed and Democratic-approved “consolidation” plan. named Greenstein.

With the rapid increase in the highly transmissible Omicron mutation, spring enrollment numbers will be down across the board for every PASSHE school. Despite the state system freezing tuition for three years to retain as many students as possible, the impact of the pandemic on family incomes has also forced young people to postpone college or seek forms of schooling. less expensive.

According to PASSHE spokesperson Cody Jones, “We suspect we are finally seeing the effect of COVID-19 on enrollments that some expected to see last fall.”

PASSHE’s financial situation is compounded by its poor financial support from the state legislature. Pennsylvania ranks 47th among the 50 states in per capita funding for state universities, including the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State.

Despite the rhetoric coming from Greenstein’s office, the school merger did not expand opportunities for students but significantly limited their educational choices and academic aspirations.

In October 2020, Greenstein told the state legislature that the mergers could mean Mechatronics Engineering Technology, an engineering degree program offered only at the University of California, Pennsylvania (Cal U), would become accessible to students from the three merged universities in the western part of the state.

But in December 2021, Christine Kindl, spokesperson for Cal U, said in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “the program will only be taught to those on the Cal U campus” – more than 100 miles from Clarion and Edinboro, and went on to list more academic programs that will be inaccessible to new students in the fall semester. 2022. Last month, PASSHE officials reduced majors such as physics, philosophy, and art history at some schools for the upcoming school year.

A Bloomsburg University faculty member, Ms. Lee, in a letter sent to the provost and quoted in the Post-Gazette, has attacked PASSHE officials for implementing this plan to reduce the quality of education. “What I’ve never seen – and never thought I’d see,” Lee said, “is an institution so bent on its own short-term survival that it resorts to mission destruction in as a university.” The teacher continued: “Yet in the course of many mercenary decisions carried out in a ruthless and dishonest manner, [Bloomsburg University] not only lost his way, but sold his proverbial soul.

“The dissolution of the philosophy major – with physics, anthropology and all programs selected for the next extinction – is not, I think, a cause of the death of Bloomsburg as a university, but rather the effect of the decision to value income generation rather than education,” she concluded.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), the organization representing 5,000 state university workers, has done nothing to stop the gutting of college programs or the elimination of faculty, which has led a brave fight in 2016 to defend the PASSHE system. and their jobs.

Jamie Martin, the president of APSCUF, issued a banal and unapologetic statement about the most recent layoffs at Mansfield and Lock Haven universities. She reiterated that the APSCUF would not lift a finger to stop the layoffs, then cheekily told the professors that the organization would work harder to push the consolidation process forward.

“I am heartbroken for my [terminated] colleagues… [but] our faculty members continue to perform the important and valuable tasks for which they were hired,” she said. “Consolidation…will not happen at the flick of a switch, and, as the Chancellor mentioned during the Senate hearing on Bill 50 this week, there is still a lot of work to be done – and our faculty will do much of the heavy lifting… the consolidation work cannot progress without the efforts and expertise of our faculty.

As APSCUF leaves faculty and students dry, allows educational programs to wind down, and COVID-19 plagues schools, new organizations, grassroots committees, are needed to champion education. The Pennsylvania Educators Rank-and-File Safety Committee (PERFSC), formed in 2020 by educators and independent from pro-corporate unions, fights to save education from destruction and stop the pandemic to save lives.

PASSHE faculty and students who want to fight back against attacks on public education, the ruling class’ herd immunity policy that has resulted in the deaths of more than 830,000 people in the United States and nearly 5.5 million worldwide, should contact us today. PERFSC and WSWS will do everything to help you in forming and developing a grassroots committee in your workplace.

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