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Late yesterday afternoon, APSCUF’s state president, Ken Mash, sent a letter to PASSHE Chancellor, Frank Brogan, and PASSHE Board of Governors Chair, Guido Pichini, regarding on-going problems with KU’s Presidential Search process.

Mash’s letter began:

I am very disappointed in the System’s handling of Dr. Paul Quinn’s serious complaint to the State System about the presidential search process at Kutztown University, and the subsequent correspondence related to his complaints about the process directed to the campus community by Mr. John Wabby, the search committee chair.

Mash insisted that “a presidential search process is so very important that is must be beyond reproach” and that a “flawed process can only result in tainting — from the very start — someone’s tenure as president.”

The responsibility of members of the presidential search committee is equally important. If a committee member believes that the search process is flawed or potentially unethical, then a committee member has a difficult decision to make:

Should any members of a search committee believe that the process is fundamentally flawed, if not discriminatory, what are their options? Infused as the process is with high-level administrators and trustees, the act of filing a complaint is surely intimidating. Yet, Dr. Quinn had the fortitude to raise his concerns with the System. Despite his stated desire to bring union representation with him to file his complaint, he was denied the opportunity. He was told there would be an investigation, but we now know that at least one key witness was not interviewed, and others were not even informed of the nature of the complaint.

Mash then addressed the decision by John Wabby, the Chair of the Presidential Search Committee AND the Chair of the Council of Trustees, to kick Quinn of the search committee.

In Wabby’s letter to faculty, he stated that Quinn had violated a Board of Governors policy regarding confidentiality in the presidential search  process. However, Mash was at the APSCUF-KU Representative Council meeting at which Quinn discussed his concerns with the presidential search with elected faculty union representatives. Mash responded as follows:

Having been left with no recourse, Dr. Quinn related his concerns in the most general way to the faculty on the KU APSCUF Representative Council. That body chose to vote no confidence in the process. What else was he or they do do? Forever hold their peace? That is not way to ensure the integrity of the process. He was not informed of any route for an appeal, he was not assured that his serious concerns would be addressed, and he was [not] told how, specifically, his concerns might be wrong.

Contrary to Mr. Wabby’s communication to the university community [including students], Dr. Quinn did not relate specific information about the search to anyone. He merely related his concerns about process and diversity to his colleagues, and he related the reasons for the faculty’s lack of confidence in the process to the public. Our universities are, after all, public institutions.

You can read the full text of Ken Mash’s letter RIGHT HERE.

In an email addressed to the “University Community” yesterday morning, John Wabby, Chair of the KU Presidential Search Committee and KU Council of Trustees, announced that he was removing APSCUF-KU President Paul Quinn from the Presidential Search Committee. The move comes two days after Quinn called an emergency meeting of the union’s Representative Council to bring forward what he called “serious problems” with the presidential search process. At that meeting, union representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution of no confidence in the search process (see more here).

In the email, Wabby stated:

I was disappointed when Dr. Paul Quinn, a member of the search committee, chose to breach the confidentiality of the search process on Tuesday by publicly disclosing information about the committee’s deliberations and about potential candidates. While I know he is deeply committed to the university, his action was a clear violation of the confidentiality section of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education policy 1983-13-A—provisions that all participants in our search process have been well aware of from the beginning of our effort. Accordingly, I have removed Dr. Quinn from the search committee, and an APSCUF alternate will take his place on the committee so that we can ensure forward progress.

Wabby makes a case for “respecting the committee’s choices”:

Not everyone will agree with every decision made by the search committee, but it is important to respect the committee’s decisions rather than work outside the process. No single member should have the ability to cast aside the hard work of a duly appointed and fully representative committee.

On the surface, there is nothing surprising about what Wabby says. That is, generally, most people would agree with Wabby’s take here when it comes to basic procedures of a search committee. However, Quinn did not simply decide willy-nilly to start broadcasting his personal thoughts about the Presidential Search. Quinn went public because there were “some serious problems with how the Presidential Search Process is being conducted” and that he believes that “the process has become deeply flawed.”

The question at stake here is this: if a member of this committee (or any such search committee) is alarmed about a process that has grown unethical, flawed, or biased, should that member of the committee “respect the committee’s decisions;” or, should that member of the committee blow the whistle? Let me take that one step further. Let’s now say, that a committee member who is alarmed about the process, follows the official procedure for filing a complaint. But, instead of the complaint being treated objectively and professionally, the committee member is subjected to intimidation and denied the right to union representation. Then what? What if, despite the fact that a serious complaint has been filed, the search is allowed to proceed before a determination is made about the substance of the complaint? Does that committee member simply “respect the committee’s decisions?” If that committee member becomes increasingly concerned that somehow their complaint is being dismissed due to personal or political motives, should she or he just kick the dust, say “ah shucks, guess there is nothing I can do,” and walk away?

Yes, I just proposed a hypothetical situation. But that very “hypothetical” situation is the ACTUAL situation in which APSCUF-KU President, Paul Quinn, finds himself in at this very moment. Since John Wabby kicked Quinn off the committee, the faculty union has been scrambling to find an APSCUF member to replace him on short notice – interviews begin today at Philadelphia Airport Marriott.

While the concerns Quinn discussed with faculty union representatives on Tuesday about problems with the Presidential Search are deeply problematic, the fact that PASSHE investigators and lawyers denied him union representation at an intake meeting is alarming, especially when you consider Quinn’s description of that intake meeting. After Quinn received a three sentence response from PASSHE lawyers about his complaint and his discomfort with the intake process, Quinn decided to write an email to PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan, PASSHE Board of Governors Chair, Guido Pichini, and PASSHE Chief Counsel, Andrew Lehman. In that email, Quinn detailed his treatment by PASSHE lawyers and being denied union representation:

Standard practice at Kutztown University is that when a complaint is filed from a faculty union member about an individual in a position of authority, a union representative is permitted to accompany the “complainant” to the meeting. The role of the union representative is to serve as a witness, a note taker, and to be an advocate for the faculty member filing the complaint.  The primary purpose of these functions is to provide protection for the “complainant” who is reporting potentially inappropriate behavior from his/her supervisor, and to ensure the protection of faculty member’s rights and interests.  The union representative is bound by confidentiality and cannot share the results of the meeting.

As a matter of fact, when I first filed my complaint with Jesus Pena, I brought the local APSCUF-KU Vice-President Helen Bieber, and she served as my union representative.  It is my belief that  union representation was necessary due to the sensitive nature of the complaint and because quite frankly, it was very intimidating to file a complaint regarding the presidential search process which involves the Council of Trustees, and a PASSHE member, Peter Garland.  Though I have a good working relationship with all of them, they clearly have authority over me, and I feared the potential of retaliatory actions against me.

After filing my complaint, I must stress that I found the actual investigation procedures to be problematic and very contrary to the above detailed practices. My experience began with a process in which I was seemingly treated as a hostile witness.  An example of this is when I was scheduled for the intake with the private investigator Chris Jones, and attorney Suzanne Williamson, I was denied the right to have a witness present.  In particular, Ms. Williamson, was adamant about how this was not necessary because I was the “complainant.”  Her refusal to allow me union representation demonstrated an unwillingness to consider that the very nature of my claim could have ramifications on my professional career.  It was further aggravated by the fact that she personalized my request for a representative as evidenced by her comment:” I feel personally insulted that you do not trust me”.  Despite my requests and explanations for needing union representation, I was told that the proceedings would not take place unless I met with both of these PASSHE investigators –alone. Although uncomfortable with this decision, I requested that this denial be officially noted on the record.   Following the interview, I was allowed to read her notes, but was informed I would not be provided copies or photocopies of the intake transaction for my own records.

Another concern with this investigation was the fact that the presidential search process continued, despite the serious allegations brought forth.   The search firm, acting in an egregious manner, scheduled interviews and continued the search before I received any information discussing the status or outcome of the investigation.  To my knowledge, it is not standard procedure to notify candidates of search results while an investigation as to the fairness of the very process that has been used to select candidates  is pending.  To underscore my point as to the manner in which equity investigations are conducted, it is my experience as union president that our own social equity officer, Mr. Pena, would not conduct an investigation in this manner.  Subsequently, I inferred by the continued forward progress of the search firm, condoned by PASSHE, that my complaint was irrelevant and the process would continue no matter the serious nature of my complaint.

Pennsylvania law ensures a union employee the right to union representation if the employee reasonably believes she or he might face disciplinary action as a result of their participation in a meeting with superiors. The law gives gives the employee the right to determine whether she or he believes disciplinary action might result. However, Quinn received an email response from PASSHE’s Chief Counsel, Andrew Lehman, in which he seems to believe that he and PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan get to decide whether or not Quinn is “reasonable.” Lehman wrote,

The Chancellor received your email and asked me to provide a response. Even though your complaint was filed locally with Kutztown University’s Office of Social Equity, the matter was appropriately referred to my office for guidance and, ultimately, investigation.  We reviewed the matter in a timely manner, gathering documents and interviewing several members of the search committee, including you. This complaint did not involve any potential action against you, but rather you raised issues related to conduct of other members of the search committee and of the search consultant. Board of Governors’ Policy requires members of the search committee maintain confidentiality.  Expanding the universe of individuals involved to include a union representative would not have been appropriate during your interview as part of the investigation related to the search.

Really? My boss gets to decide whether or not I have a reasonable concern about retaliation? That’s not a world in which this union member or ANY WORKER, in my mind, should live. Unless, of course, you long for the days of the Company Town.

As it turns out, Quinn seems to have been right to be worried, especially once he made his concerns plain to faculty union representatives. Not only was Quinn kicked off the committee, yesterday he received a veiled threat of managerial retaliation from the Acting Provost, James Mackin, if he continues to raise concerns about the Presidential Search process:

 

Mackin Email to Quinn

Yes, “so long as no information is shared that would violate the referenced Board of Governor’s Policy.” Since the Chancellor and his legal team are already working from an interpretation of that policy that led to Quinn being kicked off the Presidential Search Committee – despite going to pains NOT to disclose any specific information about the search – it’s pretty clear what this says: say another word about the search and I will begin “infringing upon your rights to communicate with faculty,” or some other form of sanction.

What started as an attempt to ensure an ethical and sound search for the next president of Kutztown University is quickly turning into something else entirely. More to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

Originally posted on The Omelet Report:

Kutztown University’s Black Student Union will hold a “Die-In” at 11am today at the top of Main Street near Uncle Joe’s Pizza. Be there at 11 am to participate or show your support. Wear black if possible. #BSUDieIn #BlackLivesMatter

BSU DieIn

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At a special “Emergency Meeting” of APSCUF-KU’s representative council meeting late Tuesday afternoon, the union’s governing body passed a Resolution of No Confidence in the current process for choosing KU’s next president.  APSCUF-KU President, Paul Quinn, made the unusual move to call for an emergency meeting in a November 25th, email, emphasizing that is it was of “the utmost importance” that elected union representatives from every department be present at the meeting. APSCUF State President, Ken Mash, also drove to Kutztown from Harrisburg for the meeting.

Quinn began the meeting by reading from a prepared statement explaining why he called the meeting on such short notice:

I have called this representative council meeting today to discuss problems that have occurred with the Presidential Search Process. I apologize for not discussing this with you sooner, but the Presidential Search Process is one that is supposed to be bound by confidentiality, and I did not want to violate or even appear to violate that agreement in any fashion. It is only out of a need for action that I am discussing this with you today.

I believe that there are some serious problems with how the Presidential Search Process is being conducted and I believe that the process has become deeply flawed. As your union president and the union representative on the Presidential Search Committee, I can no longer stay silent in good conscious. I believe if this were a faculty search, the university’s Social Equity Office would have throw it out. And, at the end of this meeting I will be asking you for a vote of no confidence in the Presidential Search Process.

The urgency of the meeting also came from the fact that the first round of “airport interviews” (interviews conducted at a hotel near the Philadelphia airport) begin later today, Thursday, December 4th.

The resolution before faculty union representatives stated the five most significant reasons supporting a vote of no confidence in the search process:

  • the Presidential Search Firm contracted to run KU’s Presidential Search failed to abide by the committee’s stated Code of Ethics, encouraging improper and anecdotal discussion of candidates well in excess of candidates’ application materials
  • the voting procedures established by the Presidential Search Firm were flawed and applied inconsistently
  • the process promoted by the Presidential Search Firm yielded a candidate pool that was not ethnically diverse, despite the fact that the Firm raised KU’s failure to meet national standards for recruiting women and minorities
  • the Presidential Search continued unabated, despite the fact that Paul Quinn, APSCUF-KU’s president and representative on the committee, filed a formal complaint with KU’s Office of Social Equity
  • PASSHE lawyers denied APSCUF-KU’s President, Paul Quinn, his right to union representation when required to meet with them and formally file his complaint

Faculty representatives discussed both Quinn’s prepared remarks and the resolution before voting overwhelmingly in support of the resolution.

Diversity Concerns

According to Quinn, the search firm contracted to run KU’s Presidential Search, Greenwood/Asher and Associates, emphasized the fact that Kutztown University has failed to meet national standards when it comes to recruiting women and minorities. Despite the emphasis the search firm placed on including women and minorities in the initial pool of candidates, the final pool of twelve candidates did not include a single minority candidate, according to Quinn. The pool did include women candidates, but the overwhelming majority of candidates were white men. Quinn explained that this pool of candidates is particularly problematic given Kutztown’s location between Allentown and Reading, two urban centers with large populations of African Americans and Latinos.

Like many colleges and universities across the country, Kutztown University has experienced a drop off in enrollment over the past couple of years and has placed a university-wide emphasis upon recruitment and retention. After decades of being one the least diverse student bodies in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), KU made significant gains recruiting students from underrepresented minority groups. The same has been true, although to a much lesser extent, when it comes to faculty and staff diversity. Those gains are important for the university insofar as the State System is supposed to provide access to all Pennsylvanians and each university is expected to reflect, at least to a degree, the demographics of its surrounding community. And, further, several of the key indicators that determine the level of funding each university receives (see an article by former Chancellor John  Cavanaugh and Executive Vice Chancellor Peter Garland for a discussion of PASSHE’s new performance funding model. Interestingly, Garland is also serving as the PASSHE representative on KU’s presidential search).

Inappropriate Criteria: Hearsay and Unsubstantiated Opinion

What was most troubling, according to Quinn, was that the search firm both allowed and encouraged members of the committee to include personal anecdotes about a candidate if they knew them in some capacity. The search firm did not require members of the committee to substantiate any claims they made. Quinn described this aspect of the search in his prepared remarks as follows:

A few of the candidates that applied were familiar to me due to my relationship with colleagues at other universities. When it came time to discuss one such candidate, I asked the firm once again if it was permitted to share what I knew. They reiterated that it was fine, so I shared my interactions with this particular individual. The candidate stated in their resume that they had resigned from one of their previous positions. Another member of the search committee then disclosed confidential personnel information about this candidate that contradicted what was in the resume. There was no evidence of these claims in any of the materials that the candidate submitted, making the comments completely unsubstantiated. In my opinion, the information that was shared was inappropriate, and a breach of a confidentiality if it was indeed true. That discussion should NEVER have been allowed to occur. It was a violation of the rights of that candidate who was not even present to defend themselves.

This situation was allowed to occur for other candidates in the pool as well. People used hearsay, information with no factual basis, and personal opinions to judge who was worthy of an “airport interview.” In fact, certain members of the committee made it clear they were instructed by their representative constituency how to vote, and that was their intention. Their decision had nothing to do with the information provided to us by the applicants. Material that had nothing to do with the resumes, was shared and discussed openly by the committee. The firm even shared undocumented information about certain candidates’ previous employment that was not appropriate without the candidate being present or references being contacted.

Quinn reiterated that if these kind of discussions and blatant statements of personal agendas took place during a search for a faculty member, Kutztown University’s Social Equity Office would have cancelled the search and restarted the entire process to ensure that proper procedures were followed.

PASSHE Lawyers Deny APSCUF-KU President Right of Union Representation

The proper step to take if a member of a search committee is concerned about ethical violations within the process is to formally report the matter to the University’s Social Equity Office. Quinn did just that after growing increasingly concerned about potential negative impacts of a flawed search on the future of the university. He described his decision to final a formal complaint with the Social Equity Office in his prepared remarks:

It was my opinion that after having been through tough times with the previous administration, it would be horrible for this university to start a new era that was determined by such a biased and unfair process. Thus, I decided to file a complaint with the Social Equity Office. I took [APSCUF-KU] Vice-President Helen Bieber as my union representative, and went on record with what occurred. I met with Mr. Peña [Associate Vice President Equity and Compliance & Title IX Coordinator], and gave an intake about the flawed process. He informed me that he would most likely not be allowed to conduct the investigation, and therefore would be contacting PASSHE legal for guidance. It was his belief that, since he had not certified any of the candidates for the “airport interviews”, that the process would be put on hold until my complaint was dealt with.

Quinn told faculty representatives that only later did he find out that the process was never put on hold. “Wouldn’t investigators want the process to temporarily pause, so that if something was found to be wrong, candidates scheduled for interviews wouldn’t have to be canceled?,” Quinn asked. “This leaves me with serious doubt as to whether my complaint was ever taken seriously” by PASSHE officials in Harrisburg.

Shortly after Quinn spoke to Mr. Peña, he was contacted by PASSHE’s Office of Legal Counsel to schedule another intake meeting with PASSHE special investigator, Christopher Jones, and University Legal Counsel, Suzanne Williamson. The meeting did not get off to a good start. Quinn explained:

When I showed with my union representative [APSCUF-KU Vice President Helen Bieber] for the meeting, I was told that I could not have a union representative as a witness. I tried to explain to the investigators that I was reporting a potential problem with a process run by the Council of Trustees and PASSHE. These were all individuals that had power over me, and I was feeling nervous. In particular, it felt like the PASSHE attorney was trying to bully and to intimidate me with her tone and stance. PASSHE would not budge, so I was forced to sit alone with the investigators for over two hours. I did have them document in their notes that I was denied a union representative, but I was not allowed to keep or receive copies of their notes or the report that they created about my incident. They made me feel as if I was the problem, and not the flawed process about which I was complaining.

According to a  ruling in the 1975 Supreme Court case, NRLB v. J. Weingarten, Inc., employees have a right to union representation at investigatory interviews. These rights have become known as Weingarten Rights. Weingarten applies only to private sector employees, but the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board adopted the Weingarten Rights in 1981 for public employees. The “Policy and Law” page on the PA State Human Resources site, describes an employee’s rights as follows:

“[The Pennsylvania State Labor Relations Board] will find a violation of Section 1201 (a)(1) of the Act if an employer conducts an investigatory interview of an employee without a union representative being present provided the employee has a reasonable belief that discipline may result from the interview.”

In effect, Quinn was presented with a choice: file a complaint without a union representative present or drop the complaint entirely. It is entirely unclear what would motivate PASSHE lawyers to deny Quinn union representation, especially given that he was coming forward with a complaint in order to ensure that the search for Kutztown’s next president would be ethical and fair.

What Is Going On?!?

Following a lengthy discussion and deliberation, an overwhelming majority of union representatives voted in favor of the resolution calling for no confidence in the current presidential search. There is no doubt that this was a difficult decision for many representatives, especially given the fact that Quinn and the other faculty member on the Search Committee, Dr. Jennifer Schlegel  (who is not a member of APSCUF-KU’s Representative Council, but who was invited to attend the discussion), did not disclose the names or specific details about any of the candidates and went through pains to respect the confidentiality of the search process. I think it would be fair to say, however, that most representatives left the meeting trying to understand what exactly is going on with the search, whose interests are driving the process, and why PASSHE seems hell-bent on pushing ahead on this search in a rather heavy-handed manner.

A number of troubling possibilities are plausible — some dealing with more local, institutional politics; others having do with with PASSHE’s persistent attempts to “transform” the state system through slashing faculty and programs. It is difficult to tell. In the next day or so, I will be posting a follow up article exploring some of these possibilities.

 

Author’s Note: A version of this post was publish on Raging Chicken Press under the title, “Slow Train to Destruction of Public Higher Ed in PA?: Defund then Divide-and-Conquer,” on Saturday, Feb. 22. 

PASSHE Freedom to Secede SQUAREIf the fall 2013 semester saw the term “retrenchment” – the elimination of faculty, programs, and jobs – become part of daily conversations on campuses of Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities (PASSHE), during the next several months we may witness the birth of the next phase in the slow destruction of public higher education in the Commonwealth. This past fall, PA Senator Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson (R – 6th District) and Senator Andy Dinniman (D – 19th District) began working in earnest on legislation that would allow individual PASSHE universities to secede from the state system and become a state-related university – or even completely privatize. On Thursday, PASSHE’s new Chancellor, Frank Brogan, seemed to be laying similar groundwork during his testimony before the PA House Appropriations Committee. And, after three years of austerity policies stemming from Gov. Corbett’s slashing PASSHE’s funding and the System’s “shock doctrine” accounting schemes, there just might be the appetite in the legislature to begin the process of dismantling the 14 university PA State System of Higher Education.

The Tomlinson/Dinniman Alliance: 

Senator Tomlinson is by all accounts taking the initiative in drafting this legislation, but according to sources at WCU, Tomlinson said publicly that Senator Dinniman is so interested in the legislation that he will introduce it if Tomlinson does not. To understand why Senator Tomlinson, a Republican, and Senator Dinniman, a Democrat, would join forces in supporting legislation that would allow individual PASSHE universities to secede, you need only understand that both Senators have strong ties with West Chester University and that West Chester University is growing and thriving. Tomlinson serves on West Chester University’s Council of Trustees and is a WCU alumnus. Dinniman spent well over three decades as a professor at West Chester. Both Senators represent districts in which the university has a strong presence. West Chester University is the second largest PASSHE university, right behind Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is on pace to become the largest in the system in the near future.

In the late fall, West Chester University’s president, Greg Weisenstein, began holding meetings with small groups of “campus leaders” to make his case for why he thinks secession legislation is a good idea. The meetings continued at the beginning of the spring 2014 semester and the same pitch is expected to take place at WCU’s next faculty senate meeting on March 7th. According to  sources at West Chester University, the university’s Council of Trustees has asked President Weisenstein to put together proposals concerning the viability of the university breaking ties with PASSHE.  The rationale for breaking ties with PASSHE echoes attempts by Governor Corbett and the PA Republican leadership to privatize the Wine and Spirits stores, sell off the lottery, and take the first step to break public unions through Paycheck Deception legislation: it’s an argument about “burdensome regulations” and the “lack of flexibility,” especially in terms of the faculty union’s contract.

Senator Tomlinson Response

At this point, Tomlinson and Dinniman are keeping details of their draft legislation close to their chests. Over the past week and a half, I have made repeated attempts to reach Senator Tomlinson and Senator Dinniman, but they have not replied to my inquiries – unless you count the automated response from Senator Tomlinson’s office. Repeated emails to West Chester’s public relations department asking for comment on the draft legislation has been met with similar silence. Despite their refusals to respond to my inquiries, sources at West Chester and in Harrisburg have helped piece together an outline of Tomlinson’s draft legislation.

Outline of PASSHE Secession Legislation

According to sources at West Chester and in Harrisburg, the version of PASSHE secession legislation that is being shopped around includes the following:

  • Applies to PASSHE universities with 7,000 or more students
  • A university that chooses to secede would become a state-related university (presumably a part of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education – the system that includes Penn State, Temple, Pitt, and Lincoln)
  • A PASSHE university that desires to secede would have to present a business plan showing that the university would be viable as a state-related university
  • A PASSHE university that secedes would have to pay the state back for real estate and buildings; they would have 30 years to do so.
  • There are no provisions for faculty continuing their current relationship with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) or any other union. Faculty would have to conduct a new union drive IF they decided that was a direction they wanted to go.

And while Tomlinson and Dinniman have refused to respond to inquiries about their legislation, cracks in their silence are beginning to emerge.

On Friday evening, Senator Dinniman issued a press release, “Dinniman Wants to Give WCU, Other State Schools, Freedom to Succeed,” making public his alliance with Tomlinson on PASSHE secession legislation (and you’ve got to love his use of “succeed” instead of “secede” to frame the message):

Dinniman, a former West Chester University professor, also raised concerns about universities being bogged down by the system’s “centralized bureaucracy.”

Senator Robert Tomlinson, Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said universities need the freedom to work independently to meet their financial needs and those of potential students in their regions. He pointed out that some PASSHE universities have been forced to wait two to three years to update curriculum or institute popular new programs.

“What can we do to help schools meet these challenges, either by right-sizing or by giving schools, such as West Chester University, that are in demand the freedom to pursue these changes?,” asked Tomlinson, a West Chester University alumnus and current member of the West Chester University Council of Trustees.

“It is no secret that I have been working on some legislation to free up some of these things,” he added.

Dinniman has been working hand-in-hand with Tomlinson on such legislation, which would greatly benefit West Chester University.

That closing sentence points to the motivation for this legislation and the beginning of an open divide-and-conquer strategy for dismantling public higher education in Pennsylvania.

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half”

That statement, attributed to Jay Gould, the American financier and robber baron, has long stood as one of the most brazen statement of “divide-and-conquer” in American history. It was not long ago that Gould’s statement was a reminder of what things used to be like. You know, way back in the 1880s. But the days of the robber barons are back – and they are pursuing the same divide-and-conquer strategy with much more sophisticated tools.

The overt violence of the 1880s has been replaced by billionaire funded organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, Crossroads GPS, Students First, and FreedomWorks just to name a few. These organizations are united in their relatively innocuous names, their desire to privatize everything, their hatred of unions, and their seemingly endless supply of money. And if Jay Gould has become history’s symbol of the robber baron, today’s icons are the Koch Brothers. The Koch Brothers helped bankroll the assaults on working people and public sector unions in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida, but they have been relatively quiet in Pennsylvania. Until now, that is.

During the December/January legislative recess the Koch brothers brought their road show to Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvania Republicans are not seeking out the spotlight to discuss what the Kochs had to say, privately they are saying that the Kochs are promising boat loads of cash for the 2014 elections if they get behind several pieces of anti-union legislation. And if state Republicans want to say “no thanks” to the Kochs…well, the Kochs are threatening to fund primary challenges to those who won’t play ball.

So, is the point that Tomlinson and Dinniman’s legislation is a Koch funded “model bill?” No. I have no evidence that would suggest that. But to separate their proposal from our current context in which we are seeing the systematic dismantling and defunding of all things public, will ensure the slow death of affordable, high-quality higher education in Pennsylvania.

I’ve Got Mine, Screw the Rest of You

The success of Tomlinson and Dinniman’s proposal to allow individual PASSHE universities to secede hinges on getting faculty, staff, and administrators at a select number of state-owned universities to focus on their perceived immediate self-interest and disavow their commitment to the broader mission of PASSHE. The mission of PASSHE is spelled out in ACT 188, which established the State System of Higher Education:

The State System of Higher Education shall be part of the Commonwealth’s system of higher education. Its purpose shall be to provide high quality education at the lowest possible cost to students.

The importance of Act 188 for Pennsylvania citizens is that by law PASSHE is charged to make high quality education accessible for most if not all Pennsylvanians. That is not the case when it comes to “state-related” universities of Lincoln, Penn State, Pitt, and Temple. These universities are “state-related” only insofar as they receive financial appropriations from the State in exchange for providing tuition discounts for students from Pennsylvania – essentially a tax-payer funded coupon. Each of the state-related universities is, however, a separate and private entity.  So, for example, tuition at Penn State (not including housing, fees, or other costs) is just over $16,000/per year  for PA residents (for the first two years, then it goes up to $18,000+).  Out-of-state residents pay $28,000+/year.

Tuition at PASSHE universities is $6,622/academic year for Pennsylvania residents. While state-dollars go to Penn State to discount tuition for PA residents by $12,000, whether or not a student and their family find $16,000 to be “affordable” is a different kind of question. The fact is, accessibility is not the mission of the state-related universities. Their mission does not ensure working class and poor students access to higher education. By contrast, PASSHE’s mission echoes Article III, Section 14 of Pennsylvania’s constitution:

The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.

PASSHE Funding 30 YearsThere is no question that Pennsylvania legislators have been abdicating their responsibilities to adequately fund PASSHE universities for year. Both Republicans and Democrats have slowly bled PASSHE dry since the 198os and shifted more and more of the burden onto the back of students and their families. That is not, for sure, a trend confined to Pennsylvania. It’s been a slow walk-away from a commitment to public higher education.

The defunding of public higher education has corresponded to a growing disdain for the work of educating the next generation. Over roughly the same period of time, we have seen a flip-flop in the percentage of higher education faculty who have tenure/tenure-track jobs versus those who work on a part-time and/or contingent basis.   According to the American Association of University Professionals (AAUP),

 In 1975, only 30.2 percent of faculty were employed part-time; by 2005, according to data compiled by the AAUP from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), part-time faculty represented approximately 48 percent of all faculty members in the United States.

When you include the shift away from tenure-track appointment to contingent or short-term appointments, nearly 75% of today’s faculty are working in part-time or contingent positions. Such a shift would not have been possible, were it not for the increasing tendency to portray professors as lazy, greedy, unethical, radicals…you know the drill. And that development has its own sordid history that Glenn Richardson wrote about a year ago in Raging Chicken Press. If you can get the public to demand education but hate the educator, then you’ve got yourself a recipe for turning education into an assembly line.

One response to all these developments is to organize, ban together, and demand full funding of public higher education and to hold our elected official accountable for trying to sell out our future for their short-term gain.

Another response is for faculty and university officials to look for a way to make sure they get theirs and be damned with the whole commitment to public higher education. There is a long history of more privileged faculty members willing sell out the next generation of academics as long as they get to keep their privileged positions. Just recall, for a moment, that during a graduate student union drive at Yale University in the 1990s, many faculty members – even “progressive” or “radical” faculty members – often worked to suppress the organizing efforts. In a 1996 interview, Cynthia Young, one of the graduate student organizers, recalled the response from many faculty this way:

There’s this paternal talk about how we’re going to be the best and the brightest. But the graduate student strike and everything leading up to it showed that we are thought of as an expendable labor force, convenient to have but not worth compensating adequately.

And when push came to shove, Yale faculty and administration were quite prepared to trash people’s careers over this. Graduate students’ faculty advisors warned them they wouldn’t get letters of recommendation, meaning they’d never get jobs.

One of the big arguments was: You’re not workers, you’re going to be “professionals.” Yet when we went on strike they were very willing to collapse those categories — not just take away your wages but threaten to refuse recommendations, even to expel you. That’s the biggest lesson for me from the strike.

The fact is, the cushy life of many of the “best and the brightest” faculty at Yale – just like every college and university in the U.S. – is built on the back of temporary, contingent faculty – that is,  low-wage academic workers.

If Tomlinson and Dinniman are successful, the stage will be set for an “I’ve got mine” free-for-all, in which those PASSHE universities that have so far avoided the budget-crises seen at so many of their sister institutions seek to get out while the gettin’s good.

West Chester University’s President already seems to be thinking along these lines. According to sources at the university, part of President Weisenstein’s argument for supporting secession legislation is that if the current trend of “flat-funding” of PASSHE continues – which seems likely – West Chester will deplete its reserves in about 3 years. Add that to the perception that there is too much “red tape” being part of PASSHE and that full professors at West Chester are barely making what public school teachers in the district are making, secession can seem like a way out. And it’s a convenient way out of a union contract too.

And the Adjuncts Come Marching In

If PASSHE secession legislation passes and West Chester or any other PASSHE university is successful in seceding, be prepared for the flood of ads for minimum-wage style teaching jobs to flood local newspapers. During the last contract negotiations between the faculty union, APSCUF, and the PASSHE administration, management showed their cards early on - they wanted to turn a large percentage of the faculty into part-time, low-paid workers. APSCUF’s contract sets a 25% cap on the number of “temporary” faculty – in other words, the faculty union’s contract is the only thing that ensured that the overwhelming majority of faculty are tenure-track or tenured. If you can find a way to get rid of that provision in the contract – or the contract altogether – then you can send the tenured and tenure-track faculty out to the football stadium and have them compete in Hunger Games’ style for a handful of full-time, permanent positions.

But, even more importantly for those who would like to dismantle PASSHE altogether, as the number of “financially sound” universities leave PASSHE, the remaining universities will be weakened by retrenchment, declining enrollment, and bad publicity. That will increase the power of management to impose whatever draconian measures they wish in future contract negotiatons and will provide state legislators with powerful ammunition to dismantle the state-system altogether.

So, while Tomlinson and Dinniman (and their allies in Harrisburg and PASSHE) may not be intending to destroy PASSHE and they may have little love for their Koch Brothers’ funded colleagues, they are playing their part in the slow train of destruction of public higher education in the state.

And don’t think the Koch Brothers and their allies aren’t watching with anticipation.

The Chancellor’s Hand

During the PASSHE House Appropriations Committee hearings on Thursday, the state system’s new chancellor, Frank Brogan, got his first crack at making a case for adequate funding. And while few would contest that he was smooth as silk and that he’s a good politician, his testimony should concern supporters of vibrant and accessible public higher education. It may be too soon to tell if Brogan would support the kind of legislation Tomlinson and Dinniman are drafting, but his testimony sounds like he’s had his share of lunches with the two Senators. Here’s how his testimony was reported in Capitolwire:

He [Brogan] said from an outsider, and now an insider, perspective, “although I don’t pride myself as a grenade launcher, this probably would be a good time for Pennsylvania to begin a broader look at how we are organized as a state as far as how all things higher education are concerned.

“We’re competing with ourselves, in the PASSHE system, in many ways; we are competing with the state-relateds, who not only have their obvious main campuses, but a large number of branch campuses around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which are clearly competing with PASSHE schools and serving students that many times – and allow me that generalization, you shouldn’t say ‘always’ and ‘never’ – are going to, say, the Penn State campus instead of the PASSHE school which is right down the road and acquiring a high-quality education there. Throw in the private institutions and the for-profit institutions and it gets very, very difficult to figure out, as they used to say in the movies, ‘who’s on first.’”

Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny, whose questions prompted Brogan’s comments, himself expressed similar concerns about the current system.

“We have this hodgepodge, in my estimation, system of educating, or providing education: we have state-related [universities], and we have the state system, and then we have these independent colleges and community colleges.”

And it’s that system, said Brogan during PASSHE’s afternoon budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, that’s contributing to the demographics problems experienced by PASSHE’s schools, 12 of which saw their enrollments decline last year.

“Trying to treat all of those [schools] with a one-size-fits-all approach is impossible and unsustainable, that is both from a system side and state side,” said Brogan, to which he got an “amen,” from Senate Education Committee Minority Chairman Andy Dinniman, D-Chester, who asked about the growing demographic concerns, as well as the state funding situation.

The State Senate will return to session on March 10th. It is unclear whether Tomlinson and/or Dinniman will have legislation ready to introduce. We will be watching this story closely and we hope to have more details in the coming weeks.

For the second time in less than a week, Kutztown University President Javier Cevallos chose to send faculty, staff, and students out into hazardous weather conditions and then decided a short time later to reverse course and close the university. On Monday, Kutztown University the announcement went out at 5:29 am that classes before noon were cancelled, but the university was open. The upshot of that meant that non-teaching employees at the university – secretaries, custodians, electrician, etc. –  still had to show up for work at their scheduled times. For most of those university employees, that meant getting to KU at 8 am or before. At 8:43 am, Cevallos reversed course and closed the university, sending all those workers back onto the roads in the middle of the worst winter storm of the season thus far. Many faculty had already begun their commutes to KU, leaving extra early due to the treacherous conditions. Many of them did not find out the university was closed until they pulled into the parking lot and check their phones. After all, if you’re trying to drive safely in the middle of a snow storm, chances are you’re not checking your email.

Shortly after his second decision, Cevallos sent this apology to the university community:

Dear Campus Community:

We are closing today, Monday 2/3.  I apologize for making some of you drive in such difficult conditions.  At 5:00 a.m. when I made the decision to cancel morning classes the forecast was for snow to end in the morning.  It is always a difficult decision, we do the best we can with the information we have.  Please drive safely.

OK. An apology. That’s better than what happened several times before – like during the February 1, 2011 storm. Lesson  learned, right?

Not so much.

Despite warnings from the National Weather Service and virtually every regional media outlet, it was deja vu all over again.

Here’s KU’s web page at 5:25 am:

KU weather 1

OK. At least the whole university was closed until noon. That must be what everyone else was doing then, right? Again, no so much.

West Chester University:

West Chester Closed

Cheney University:

Cheney Closed

East Stroudsburg University:

ESU Closed

Even the Dixon University Center – PASSHE’s corporate headquarters was closed:

Dixon Closed

The Borough of Kutztown also listened to the National Weather Service and issued a snow emergency. Kutztown University even posted it on their web page:

Borough Emergency

But maybe PASSHE universities were being extra cautious. Or maybe, conditions in the immediate area of Kutztown University were significantly different than everywhere else. Let’s see:

Alvernia University in Reading:

Alvernia Closed

Albright University in Reading:

Albright Closed

Reading Area Community College:

RACC Closaed

Lehigh Carbon Community College in Allentown:

LCCC Closed

So, it seems that there was at least a consensus that conditions were hazardous and that it was better to make sure people were not out on the roads, weathering sleet and freezing rain (not to mention power outages across the region).

Well, it seems Cevallos was a little late to the party, but by 9:50 am he had reversed course.

KU Weather 2

As much as Kutztown’s administration would like to continuously state that they make mistakes due to situations out of control, it should be painfully clear to anyone with have a memory that this is a failure of leadership. Flip-flopping on weather decisions is only a symptom.

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