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Archive for August, 2013

Note: On Monday of this week I posted an article about plans to cut 40 jobs, including 22 faculty members at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Earlier today, I posted another article on the situation at Clarion on Raging Chicken Press. This article features an interview with the President of the Clarion chapter of the faculty union, APSCUF. An excerpt is posted here. You can continue reading the entire article by clicking the link at the bottom or go there now

In the wake of the devastating cuts proposed by the Clarion University administration and President Karen Whitney, it took a few days for faculty, staff, and students to shake off the initial shock and disbelief. Shock and disbelief has given way to a mobilization effort to save the three programs slated for immediate cuts and to prevent the firing of 22 faculty and 20 staff members. On August 15th, shortly after students learned of the cuts, a “Save the Clarion Department of Music” facebook page was created by students to “join music education and music business students past and present, and all who participated in performing organizations at Clarion University, so together, we can unite to Save the Department of Music.” Shortly afterwards, Clarion University alum, Jed Millard, started an on-line petition to urge Whitney to put a halt to the cuts. As of this posting, the petition already has 2,021 signatures.

Faces of Retrenchment Day 1 - Leah ChambersYesterday, faculty launched a “Faces of Retrenchment” campaign, as a way to highlight the fact that President Whitney’s “bold, ambitious workforce plan” has direct, material consequences for real people with real families. Many of the 22 faculty slated to lose their jobs have been at Clarion for years – some for decades. In the next several days and weeks, Clarion University’s campus will be bustling with activity and not just from the annual arrival of thousands of students on “Move-In Day.” Clarion University will be bustling with the sounds of organizing.

What the Hell?

If Clarion President Whitney’s slash-and-burn workforce plan shows a disdain for the academic mission of the university, the process by which this plan became known to the university community is down-right sickening. I wanted to know more about how people first learned about Clarion’s new workforce plan, so I called Beth MacDaniel, Chair of the English Department and President of Clarion’s chapter of the faculty union, APSCUF. What MacDaniel told me should set off alarm bells for anyone who gives half a damn about shared governance and democratic process.

When I asked MacDaniel if Clarion’s administration had given any indication that such drastic cuts were on their way, MacDaniel said:

Absolutely none. In fact, a couple of weeks ago we were at State APSCUF for a State meet and discuss [regular meetings between leaders of APSCUF and PASSHE administration in Harrisburg]. They didn’t give us a single clue that it was going to be anything like this. It was…it was…it blew my mind.

MacDaniel did not learn of the university’s “bold, ambitions workforce plan,” until the morning of August 15th when she and leaders from all the other unions on campus were called to special meetings with the university President and Provost ahead of a previously scheduled meeting.

The president has what she calls “university governance meetings,” where she meets with the leaders of different unions on campus. That was set for 1 o’clock this past Thursday. She was told that contractually she ought to meet with the leaders of each of the unions prior to that so they could see specifically what was happening with their bargaining unit members. And so, at 9 o’clock in the morning I met with the President, the Provost, the HR guy, and the financial guy. I had asked two other APSCUF leaders to go with me…I figured it wasn’t good for me to go by myself.

We were given copies of the workforce plan – that’s the first we saw of it. And then we were asked if we had questions.

We [APSCUF] went at 9, AFSCME went at 10, and SCUPA went at 11. At 1 o’clock in the afternoon, all of us met together with the President and Provost at the meeting that had already been set up. People who hadn’t received the workforce plan were given copies of it and then they asked for questions. People were pretty much still in a state of shock.

If you have not checked out the actual workforce plan yet, you should. It’s a 32-page document filled with charts and graphs and a fair share of inconsistencies. And, there is some rather oddly placed happy talk. For example, on page 5  just before the plan calls for the elimination of Academic Enrichment – the department that runs academic support for students who may need tutoring or mentoring – it says, “the plan is intentionally broad and shapes the workforce across all areas of the university in order to ensure the unique culture of learning at Clarion where we believe in the potential of every student, and strive to help our students achieve their academic and career goals.” Really? Really!?!?!?!?

Or, how about this gem on page 12. The administration identifies the BS in Music Entrepreneurship as a potential growth area. Clarion does not have a BS degree in Music Entrepreneurship and the “proposed program” has not made its way through the university’s curriculum bodies. That’s a BS degree for sure, just not one you can get a job with – especially given that the plan calls for cutting actually existing music classes.

“They couldn’t have come up with this overnight,” says MacDaniel. That’s not to say that the administration had not expressed concerns about “budget shortfalls.”  It was no mystery that Clarion, like most of the other 14 universities in the PA State System of Higher Education, was hit hard by deep cuts in State funding thanks to a Governor and right-wing Republican dominated state legislature seemingly hell-bent on destroying public education from kindergarten through higher ed. In an upcoming article on Raging Chicken Press, I will report on some of the root causes of PASSHE’s “budget crisis” that raise troubling questions about how seriously the Board of Governors, University Trustees, and university presidents are taking their fiduciary responsibilities. MacDaniel and other members of the union’s local meet and discuss team had been trying to have frank conversations about the President’s plans for dealing with a projected $8 million budget deficit.

Well, I think that this President and Provost have a particular idea, a vision of what they think the university should be. We kept asking at local meet and discuss, “what’s your vision. What’s your vision.” And all they did was parrot back the vision and mission statements of the university posted on the web page. They had to have had an idea all along…for several months at least…about how extensive they wanted this to be. And they didn’t give us a clue. They kept on saying, “we don’t know the numbers, we don’t know, we don’t know, we don’t know. Clearly they knew.

And it seems President Whitney was committed to keeping anyone outside of her inner circle in the dark. In an August 8 prepared statement, Clarion Provost Ronald Nowaczyk delivered the smoke-and-mirrors:

The university is still reviewing any cuts in personnel or related actions, and no decisions have been made.  President Karen Whitney confirmed the changes that will be made will not impact students who attend Clarion this fall.

While the university’s prepared statement indicated that the Provost had “met with state APSCUF leadership, along with the associate vice president for finance and administration and members of the chancellor’s Office of Labor Relations, to discuss the status of the university’s workforce plans, as required by the collective bargaining unit,” no one in that room on the faculty side left that meeting with any indication that Clarion was about to drop a bomb.

When asked whether he had any indication that Clarion was about to see a 10% cut in its faculty and over 40 jobs lost, APSCUF Vice President, Ken Mash said no way. “We were really blindsided,” he said. “We were not sure that they were going to have to retrench at all. Nobody saw 22 coming. It’s not like we’re stupid. They were at meet and discuss and they did not give any indication that they were looking at anything quite like this.”

Give credit where credit is due, however. Clarion’s president was not hiding the fact that she had no interest in hearing from faculty, staff, or students as she was preparing her “bold, ambitious workforce plan.” The administration was pretty clear in that August 8 prepared statement that it was going to issue changes by decree:

Leaders of the various employee bargaining units have not been involved in the process, but Nowaczyk said they are being advised on the status of the process via regular meetings with the president.

Presumably, “advising” means parroting back the vision and mission statements from the university’s web page.

Read the entire story on Raging Chicken Press

Hear Beth MacDaniel, Clarion-APSCUF President on the Rick Smith Show

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Flood Metaphor

 

 

As the news of deeps cuts at Clarion University spreads across the Commonwealth, for many faculty and staff across PASSHE, “back to school” now comes with an asterisk. As the Patriot-News reported last week, several PASSHE universities received letters about the possibility of retrenchment: California University, Cheney University, Clarion University,  East Stroudsburg University, Edinboro University, Kutztown University, and Slippery Rock University. State APSCUF has also confirmed that Mansfield University also received a letter.

I’ve received a number of inquiries concerning letter that was sent to Kutztown. The meat of the letter reads:

As a result of budgetary shortfalls, consideration is being given to the elimination of programs and courses, as well as the elimination of duties or services performed by faculty outside of the classroom. As the impact of such actions may lead to the retrenchment of faculty, this letter serves as notice to APSCUF of the possibility for faculty retrenchments to be effective at the end of the 2013-2014 year.

According to APSCUF, the letter is virtually the same letter that was sent to all 8 PASSHE universities facing retrenchment.

You can read the entire letter here: Kutztown Retrenchment Letter

I am writing a series of articles on PASSHE retrenchment over on Raging Chicken Press using the tag #slasshe (thanks to Rick Smith and Brett Banditelli for that one). You can also follow that same hashtag on Twitter for updates.  I will post excerpts and links to the full articles here.

 

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Note: This article was published earlier today on Raging Chicken Press. An excerpt appears below. You can read the full article by clicking the link at the end, or you can go to the original article now by clicking here

Last week, Clarion University announced what it called a “bold, ambitious workforce plan” that will result in the elimination of over 40 jobs, including 22 faculty. This is only the latest blow to a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) university in a state that seems hell bent on gutting public higher education. This past May, Raging Chicken Press reported on plans to retrench – that is, fire – faculty members at East Stroudsburg University and the long battles with austerity-minded administrators at Kutztown University is a familiar story to our readers.

What sets the move at Clarion apart from previous PASSHE cuts is that it may be the lead example of “transformation” at state universities championed by the system’s Board of Governors. PASSHE’s last Chancellor, John Cavanaugh, released a new vision for PASSHE in November 2010 called simply enough, “PASSHE Transformation.” That document laid out in general terms PASSHE’s intention to take the 14 university system in a different direction:

The vision includes four major components, all grounded in the need for transformation: (a) how, when, and where learning occurs; (b) how the resources necessary to ensure learning are pursued, retained, and sustained; (c) how our universities relate to their various communities; and (d) how we partner with the Commonwealth to create and deliver a shared vision for the future. Only through transformation, grounded in a thoughtful reexamination of our historic emphasis on high quality student learning opportunities, will our success be assured during these very difficult economic times [bold in original].

In my review of Cavanaugh’s tenure as PASSHE Chancellor after he announced he was headed out the door for greener pastures in Washington, DC, I note that Cavanaugh’s vision of “transformation” was lock-in-step with what’s happening to public education at all levels across the nation:

Anyone paying attention to what was and is going on in higher education policy, especially in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, saw the coded language consistent with those seeking to privatize and profitize education at all levels. Take, for example, language from the Broad Foundation, founded by Eli Broad – #157 on the Forbes Billionaire list with a personal net worth of $6.3 billion. Broad is a major contributor to Democratic Party candidates with close associations with Democrats favoring anti-labor, Michelle Rhee-type “reforms” to public education. At the center of the Broad Foundation agenda is, you guessed it, “transformation” of public education. Cavanaugh’s “PASSHE Transformation” memo seemed to signal the austerity to come, squeezing PAASHE’s limited resources and striking a blow to our 6,000+ member union.

While Cavanaugh’s memo was short on specifics, what it meant was not lost on the faculty union. In a scathing piece of satire, “The Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of PASSHE,” president Steve Hicks and vice president Ken Mash of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) wrote:

Perhaps you’ve seen the Chancellor’s latest on “PASSHE Transformation?”  It’s amazing how a document so short on details can still manage to rankle.  The very notion that students and faculty will be transformed is enough to disturb, but its implicit anti-intellectual message really vexes.  It’s hard to ignore the presumptuousness that could lead some to conclude that “transformation” is necessary or, even worse, that they somehow single-handedly possess the knowledge of what that transformation ought to be and that it should be imposed from above.

Clarion University’s new “workforce plan” reads more like an accounting ledger than it does a document that helps guide the university to best serve students of the Commonwealth. Clarion’s plan is clearly situated within the growing right-wing, “market-based” proposals to “reform” everything public. Rather than putting forth a strategic plan based on an academically sound rationale, we are treated to a consumer vision of higher education: “eliminating academic programs which no longer hold the interest, based on enrollment trends, of our students.”

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This article was originally posted on Raging Chicken Press. I will be posting a series of articles about the incoming chancellor, Frank Brogan, in the upcoming weeks. 

Brogan Florida squareLast week the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board of Governors chose Frank Brogan to become the next Chancellor of the 14 public university system. Brogan is currently the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida. Brogan becomes the third consecutive PASSHE Chancellor to make the 14 plus hour drive from Florida to Pennsylvania. Judy Hample, the former Chancellor of the Florida’s State University System, served as PASSHE Chancellor from 2001 to 2008. From 2008 until this past February, former President of West Florida University, John C. Cavanaugh, became the Chancellor that would preside over the longest faculty contract fight in PASSHE history. This “Florida Connection” has helped usher in an approach to public higher education that favors austerity, privatization, and anti-unionism.

Unlike every previous Chancellor search, this time around the Board of Governors decided to pass a new policy that required members of the chancellor search committee to sign confidentiality agreements. According to the new policy, passed unanimously on January 11, 2013,

Preserving confidentiality in the search for a Chancellor is essential to recruiting and retaining the most qualified candidates. All applications and deliberations about individual applications shall remain wholly confidential until the appointment of a new Chancellor is publicly announced. Each member of the search committee must agree to maintain this confidentiality. The Chancellor Search Committee Chair may at his or her sole discretion remove from the committee who violates confidentiality.

PASSHE’s new policy, ensured that the public, faculty, students, parents, and citizens of the Commonwealth would be denied access to deliberations and a thorough vetting of prospective candidates. After the white smoke rose from the Dixon Center on Wednesday, August 7, PASSHE issued a statement on its webpage introducing Frank Brogan as the next chancellor and explaining the Board’s decision.

“The chancellor search focused on recruiting an “experienced leader who, from day one, can guide the System through the rapidly changing higher education landscape,” Mr. Pichini said. “We were looking for a strong administrator and a transformational leader who will collaborate with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders representing divergent views on what is best for our students and their families.
“Frank Brogan will be that leader.” Mr. Pichini continued. “He has had an impressive record of success throughout his career. He understands the many complexities and challenges facing public higher education and the vital role public universities play both in preparing students for a lifetime of their own success and in ensuring the economic vitality of the state. We are excited about him becoming our next chancellor.”

PASSHE’s official statement, however, serves more as a public relations press release than an in-depth look at who Frank Brogan is and what kind of policy approaches he will bring to Pennsylvania. The more you reread Pichini’s words, the more hollow they ring. How did the Board understand what this “rapidly changing higher education landscape,” is? What exactly constitutes a “strong administrator” and a “transformational leader?” Who are these “traditonal” and “non-traditional” stakeholders? And when Pichini says Brogan has “an impressive record of success throughout his career,” we should pause and ask “success at what?” One can “succeed” in ensuring all students have access to affordable, public education; but, one can also “succeed” in wresting control of education away from educators and handing it over to corporate profiteers, right?

The fact is that students, faculty, staff, parents, and Pennsylvanians deserve better than a closed door, Papal conclave-esque process of decision-making. And yet, here we are. Given that all the “traditional and non-traditional stakeholders” have been prevented from vetting any of the Board’s hand-selected candidates, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

If you read any of the media coverage last week, you probably know these basics:

  • Frank Brogan is currently the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida
  • Before that he was the President of Florida Atlantic University
  • Before that he was Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Lieutenant Governor
  • Before that he was Florida’s Commissioner of Education
  • Before that he was a school teacher, principal, and administrator

You might have also enjoyed the “Brogan Love” making it into the reporting: “Frank T. Brogan was the first member of his family to go to college. He didn’t blow the opportunity,” reported the Morning Call. “Brogan was a consensus builder who rallied support for the universities and persuaded lawmakers to restore $300 million in reserve funds and increase state support by 6 percent for 2013-14 after years of cuts,” Tom Auxter, President of the United Faculty of Florida, told Pittsburgh’s TribLive. ” “Experienced leader. Visionary. Knowledgeable in dealing with government types. A passion for education. Financially creative. Unquestionable integrity…The board decided … that Frank Brogan … filled that bill,” led the Patriot-News. Most of the reporting, however, fairly accurately reflected PASSHE’s press release. The fact remains that Frank Brogan is a relative unknown for Pennsylvanians. And that should be at the very least concerning given the  assault on public, higher education carried out by Gov. Tom Corbett since 2011.

So, who is this guy? And, more importantly, what do we know about the kind of “transformation” he’s got packed in those bags of his?

Key Player in Bringing Vouchers and Charters to Public Education

Long before Brogan became involved with higher education administration, he was one of the strongest proponents of vouchers and privatizing public education – a fact, we should note, that does not appear on his Wikipedia page. In 1995, Brogan was one of the 12 founding members of the Education Leaders Council (ELC). The conservative leaning Washington Times reported at the time that the ELC had an explicit conservative, pro-privatization agenda:

A dozen top state education officials today will announce the formation of an organization oriented toward local control of schools, rigorous academic standards, and parents’ right to choose the schools their children attend.

Six state school chiefs and six state school board members form the nucleus of the Education Leaders Council, a network of largely conservative school leaders who promise to abandon “the status quo and the Washington-always-knows-what’s-best philosophy of education reform.”

Formation of the council, which will be based in Washington and at least temporarily affiliated with the Center for Education Reform, signals a crack in the liberal education lobby that education analysts say is “a delayed reaction” to the 1994 elections that gave Republicans control of Congress.

Two of the state school chiefs spinning off into a new organization have withdrawn from the 87-year-old Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) because it spends their money to lobby against programs they favor. Others may follow suit.

The ELC’s roots as an outgrowth of the pro-privatization, anti-union Center for Education Reform marked a calculated strategy by pro-corporate conservatives to launch an offensive against the American system of public schools with elected officials in the spotlight of a new organization. The ELC seems to have been spawned at a July 29-30 meeting of conservative education administrators at the 1995 National Governors Conference (now the National Governors Association, who were responsible for authoring the “Common Core” for the nation’s public schools). A Center for Education Reform press release dated July 29, 1995, describes the meeting as follows:

Education officials from at least five states will hold a private meeting at this weekend’s National Governors’ Conference to discuss what options are available to them in achieving such education reform measures as standards and assessments, school finance, charter schools and to increase local control.

In that same press release, founder and president of the Center for Education Reform, Jeanne Allen, described the reason for the meeting as follows:

Some of the issues that are most important to these officials – and to parents in their states – are taboo among education special-interest lobbies…You can’t discuss choice, or charter schools, or even standards, without setting off alarms and inviting heavily funded, and, frankly, some heavy-handed attacks from education unions, lobbies, associations.

Allen contemptuously calls the collection of education unions, lobbies, and associations “the blob.”

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