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Archive for March, 2010

Yup, I’ve been checking in with folks who were at the meeting today (in between dealing with a sick kid).  The new General Education Model passed APSCUF-KU Representative Council by a wide margin.  The official count was:

YES: 58
NO: 4
ABSENT: 3 (which shamefully includes yours truly.  I would have been a yes)

Nice work everybody.

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Of all days to be home with my sick kid.  I wouldn’t have it any other way, but still today is a pretty big day for APSCUF-KU.  Here’s a little run-down of what will happen in just a few hours:

  1. at 3:15 there will be a special meeting of the APSCUF-KU Representative Council to vote on the new Gen Ed model.  In order to be approved, the new model has to be passed by APSCUF-KU Rep Council, the University Senate, and the University Curriculum Committee.  All bodies have to vote this week.  APSCUF-KU was able to secure a written agreement that the new Gen Ed model will not cost any faculty jobs, will not result in the elimination of any programs, and will not force faculty to teach outside of their areas of expertise.  In the world of Kutztown University, approving a new Gen Ed model will be nothing short of historic.
  2. At 4pm, candidates for State APSCUF President Rob Mutchnick and Vice President Debra Cornelius will talk to and discuss issues going on at the State level as well as try and convince us why they would be desirable as State President/Vice President.  The talk will be held in Room 250 of the Student Union Building.
  3. Also at 4pm, there will be a faculty-student discussion in Room 102 of the Academic Forum.  The forum will address the critical need of education in a recession, the impact of budget cuts on students and programs, and what we can do about it.
  4. As a kind of crescendo, people attending the talk by Mutchnick and Cornelius will be encouraged to walk together over the the Academic Forum and join the discussion on retrenchment.

This really promises to be quite a day!  I hope everyone who can come out will!

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At APSCUF-KU Meet and Discuss last week, Ken Ehrnesal made a really important argument that I want to share.  I’ll apologize in advance to Ken for my incomplete representation of his case (I am working from my own scrawled notes).  Ken’s argument is critical because it calls into question some of the basic presumptions of the Kutztown administration’s case for a “crisis.”

Ken said that following the Harrisburg budget meeting last week with our State Meet and Discuss team and representatives from PASSHE, he got to really listen to some of the arguments being made about the budget projections.  Here is my admittedly poor reconstruction of Ken’s argument:

First, Ken began by asking whose initiative it was to do a 5 year projection of the budget.  The reason this was an important question is that most institutions–especially in uncertain economic times–only do a 1-2 year projection.  What our team learned in Harrisburg was that most if not all of the other PASSHE universities are only doing a 1-2 year projection.  The further you project out, the more uncertain and unreliable your numbers become.

Second, Ehrensal argued that the budget presentations given by Ken Long, Assistant VP of Administration and Finance, assume every catastrophic scenario.  For example, KU’s budget projections assume a 2.5% annual increase in tuition.  However, the Chancellor has been talking about a 4% increase.  If the Chancellor’s numbers hold, our “budget crisis” will be cut in half.  Long also built in a 3.5% increase in salary for all union employees (including faculty).  However, all contracts are up for negotiation this year.  New contracts for all university unions will be in place starting July 2011.  If the salary increases are lower than 3.5%, the “budget crisis” could be cut in half (I didn’t write down the percentage that Ehrensal was working with).  Further, Long built in to his analysis that the PA Legislature will not fix the problem with PSERS (PA State Employee Retirement System).  Failure to fix the problem, while possible, is not likely.  In short, the budget presentations represent a catastrophic scenario…not a likely scenario.

Third, Ehrensal argued that the catastrophic scenario is what has been presented to the President’s cabinet and to the university as a whole.  And now, the President, the cabinet, and the Trustees are moving forward as if these catastrophic scenarios are facts.  Ehrensal argued that the significant structural problem in the budget and the claims of a significant budget crisis only happens if all of the disaster scenarios come to pass.

Forth, Ehrensal (someone who studies organizational behavior) argued that what appears to taken hold is a form of GROUP THINK.  That is, the administration is making decisions based upon disaster scenarios, not rational decision making.  It’s a Chicken Little scenario–“the sky is falling, the sky is falling!” (Ehrensal did not use this reference, it just seemed fitting).  Ehrensal urged the administration to “take a step back and reconsider.”   That is, Ehrensal urged the administration not to resort to irrational decision-making based upon disaster scenarios.

I offer this up for your thoughts.  And, Ken, if I misrepresented your argument or you have anything else to add, please do!

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I’ve got this one coming in the mail this week. It’s my latest addition to the deepdemocracy store on Zazzle. Just a reminder, any and all proceeds earned from items on this site will go to APSCUF-KU’s student scholarship fund.

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The letter below is from the Chair of APSCUF-SR (Slippery Rock) Negotiations Committee their student newspaper, The Rocket.  Given the significant impacts of the current “budget crisis” on the future of PASSHE universities like Kutztown, I think it’s important to recognize APSCUF is going into a negotiations year.  This may well be the negotiations that fundamentally alters the shape and mission of the State System of Higher Ed.  Here’s the letter:

APSCUF dedicated to students

Spring Break was a time of travel for many students and faculty alike.

One benefit to the trip delays that were encountered was the opportunity to read more newspapers than usual during a semester. The headlines included aftershocks in Chile, discord in the Middle East, storms and flooding, and a host of student protests over funding for higher education in the United States.

This last headline really hit home. In Pennsylvania, we currently face the concerns that students aired on many campuses across the nation.

At SRU, we stand in this challenging position. State appropriations for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) have been falling, as a percentage of overall costs, for years. Tuition hikes are not relished by anyone. Class sizes continue to grow, while some programs and courses face elimination. Budget deficits must be met by cost reductions somewhere.

Meanwhile, the contract between PASSHE and APSCUF will end June 30, 2011. During the coming year, you’ll hear a lot about these challenges-and how they will be balanced.

APSCUF is the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty, which represents both faculty and coaches. The “Union” seeks to protect the interests of these professionals, who intend to uphold essential elements of your academic experience in order to ensure your continued high-quality education.

At the bargaining table, APSCUF will work to maintain a competitive compensation package that is essential for attracting excellent teachers. We seek to increase the presence of full-time, tenure tracked professors who are better able to enrich your academic career than temporary personnel. We intend to uphold academic freedom and guard against censorship.

We want to work with management to design courses and programs that best meet the needs of students.

Since Act 188 of 1982 established PASSHE, APSCUF has continually sought to enhance the value of your education.

As the student protests during Spring Break demonstrated, the immediate future holds many challenges for higher education, particularly within state systems that face funding reductions. APSCUF intends to continue letting students know that we seek instructional excellence, as well as exciting research and service opportunities for you. We remain at the forefront of encouraging administrations to involve their faculty in the governance of your universities-and your educational experience.

Dr. Patrick A. Burkhart Chair, SRU APSCUF Negotiations Committee


© Copyright 2010 The Rocket

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The past couple of days I’ve been at the Institute on Global Service-Learning up at Cornell.  That hasn’t kept the news of the recent drama about Cevallos’s recent statements regarding Gen Ed from my attention, though.  I got a call and several emails on Thursday after faculty read the story in The Keystone, titled simply enough, “Gen. Ed. Changes.”  This coming week is the week that all the three governance bodies–APSCUF, Senate, and the University Curriculum Committee–will vote to approve the new Gen. Ed. model.  If the Gen. Ed. model passes, it will the first model to pass in three attempts over the past 20 years.

Unlike the most recent attempt at passing Gen. Ed., this time around APSCUF-KU gained a signed agreement that no jobs would be lost or programs cut as the result of Gen. Ed. reform.  We were also able to ensure that no faculty would be forced to teach outside of their area of expertise.  The Gen. Ed. Task Force also worked with the three governance bodies to ensure that the process for approval was transparent and that all the bodies were on board.

Now, just a few days before the bodies begin voting, President Cevallos stated to the student newspaper, The Keystone, that “he will be signing the proposal, regardless of what the bodies decide – overriding their decision if it’s against the reform.”  Excuse me???  So, apparently, shared governance is irrelevant to Cevallos.  His statements over the past several months indicating a commitment to shared governance, apparently offered just to appease people.  Yet, this resent statement seems to point to his actual feelings on the matter.

Yesterday, apparently recognizing the potentially negative impact of his words, issued a “clarification” to faculty via email.  The question remains, which version it accurate?  Clearly, his email offers a rational reason for why he would be “left with no other option” other than approving the new Gen Ed model.  And this statement would be consistent with Cevallos’s past claims that all of his decisions are the result of external factors beyond his control–that he is a victim of circumstances.  But it does leave questions in the air about what kind of commitment he has to shared governance and where decisions are actually coming from.

We should recall, after all, that Cevallos’s recent moves to retrench faculty, programs, and departments turned out to be his decision.  He was not “forced” to take this action.  He was the decider on eliminating faculty jobs.  In any case, it would be nice to not have go through this dance of misstatements, retractions, restatements, and distrust for once.  I guess we’ll be waiting a while for that.

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APSCUF president Steve Hicks sent an email to faculty yesterday that contained a copy of his letter to Chancellor Cavanaugh regarding a report by Robert Zemsky and Jodi Finney titled, “Changing the Subject: Costs, Graduation Rates, and the Importance of Reengineering the Undergraduate Curriculum.”  The report was sent to APSCUF to “review and approve or not.”  Hicks did not attach a copy of the report, because (as you’ll see below) he said he feels that the report was PASSHE’s “intellectual property” and he did not have their permission to share.  I very much want a copy of this report to post.  So, all you info-hunters out there, get to work.  The first person to send me the report will get a free t-shirt (I’m not kidding).

I did a quick search and came across a panel discussion from a year ago tomorrow held at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.  The panel, “Higher Education and the Economic Downturn:  Crisis or Opportunity?,” sought to look for opportunities in the current economic downturn to reform higher education.  In the summary of the panel (follow the link above), the main discussion is to “reform” higher education.  If you have the time, check out the video of the entire discussion HERE.  In listening to this panel discussion, I cannot underscore enough how important it is for all of us in higher education–especially faculty, staff, and students–to read Naomi Klein’s, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.  Robert Zemsky is the moderator for this panel and he opens the discussion by telling a story about printing t-shirts that read “Never Waste a Good Crisis” as part of a response to the economic downturn.  That could have been said by any number of the “disaster capitalists” that Klein discusses.

In any case, Hicks did include a copy of his email response to the Chancellor, which you can access below.  In that email, you will see some important similarities between Hicks’s email and the panel discussion.  Here is the general email that President Hicks sent to faculty:

Subject: To All Faculty and Coaches from President Hicks
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All Faculty & Coaches,
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Attached is a memo I sent Chancellor Cavanaugh yesterday afternoon; the second attachment is his response.
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You may wonder why I am not attaching the “concept paper” from Robert Zemsky and Joni Finney; I do not have their permission to share what I see as their intellectual property.   So, I will summarize, as briefly as I can, what they put on paper & the Chancellor asked us to review and approve or not. Executive Council reviewed last week and I used some of their comments in crafting yesterday’s memo. Zemsky & Finney’s premise is that the way to cut costs in higher education is to change the curriculum. What they have in mind in their proposal is the reduction of choices available (they don’t really distinguish between general education and majors).  They want to do this so that they can group students in cohorts.
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Their reason for proposing cohorts is that they believe (as you can see from the memo, based on their experience with the graduate programs at U Penn) this grouping will allow for faster mastery of concepts (in part through peer learning) and cause higher retention and graduation rates.
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As you will surmise from reading, Zemsky & Finney propose three public university systems piloting this curriculum project; each of the systems would have five universities involved in the process.  Phase I would be the conceptualizing year; although the plan includes opt-outs at Phase I & Phase II, the assumption is that after Phase I the systems have “bought in.”
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You can only imagine the implications to our universities, both individually and as a system.
You can read my response, and then the Chancellor’s.
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In solidarity,
Steve Hicks
Hick’s email is useful background for the more detailed discussion he lays out in his response to the Chancellor.  I strongly recommend that you read Hicks’s response carefully.  Clearly, PASSHE is thinking about “reengineering” the State System.  For the record, “reengineering” was a popular term in management theory throughout the 1980s and 90s.    Check out a brief critique of “reengineering” for a little background.  In short, it’s meant massive and systematic layoffs.
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In any case, here is Hicks’s response to the Chancellor:

Hicks Responds to Reengineering Higher Ed

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