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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.

 

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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.

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In case you missed it over on Raging Chicken Press,  I was talking about my recent article, “Wall Street on the Susquehanna: PASSHE Bond Scheme Bleeds Education Budget for Beautiful Buildings,” on the Rick Smith Show this past Tuesday night.

Click on the image below or CLICK HERE to listen to the interview:

Mahoney on Rick Smith PASSHE Bond Schemes 10-22-13

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This originally appeared in Raging Chicken Press on October 21, 2013. It is a fairly long article detailing changes in PASSHE policies regarding new buildings and capital projects. I am including Part 1 of the article here with brief excerpts from other parts. To read the complete article, click “READ THE FULL ARTICLE” at the bottom of the post or go to the original right now by CLICKING HERE

This past July, eight of the fourteen PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities sent letters to their faculty and staff warning of the possibility of deep cuts, layoffs, and program elimination (what they like to call “retrenchment”). University presidents at California, Cheney, Clarion, Edinboro, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, Mansfield, and Slippery Rock all shouted “crisis” and warned that unless they resorted to strict austerity measures, the end, would indeed, be near.

Clarion University led the PASSHE austerity train, announcing on August 15th that it would slash over 40 jobs – including 22 faculty jobs – and eliminate a number of academic programs. On September 10th, Edinboro University joined the party announcing it would cut 40 faculty, 9 staff members, six managers and a host of academic programs. Two weeks later, on September 25th, Mansfield University announced it intended to eliminate nearly 20% of their 170 faculty members. That same day, East Stroudburg University indicated that it was slowly marching toward retrenchment. Two PASSHE universities, California and Kutztown, were spared a similar fate this academic year. California University miraculously found that it did not, after all, have an $11.8 million dollar budget deficit as it had reported in the spring. Instead, Cal U is looking at a $5.8 million surplus. Ooops! Kutztown University’s president, Javier Cevallos, announced that Kutztown would be putting off the most painful cuts until next year: “Current estimates project a $10.3 million deficit for 2014-15, which will be addressed through a combination of base budget cuts and one-time funds,” he wrote in an October 2nd “Presidential Update.” And, as I reported last week, Slippery Rock’s provost is seeking a “third way” austerity plan – and if faculty do not agree to departmental transfers by Thursday, October 24, the ax may fall there too. The fate of the remaining PASSHE universities is still unclear. However, university presidents are rapidly approaching an October 30 deadline for reporting their intentions to eliminate any tenured faculty members.

To say it’s been an “interesting” start of the academic year for the 100,000+ students and 6,000+ faculty and coaches at PASSHE universities is an understatement. Left hanging in the balance are people’s current and future livelihoods. As I recently wrote on Raging Chicken, PASSHE’s mantra is that faculty and staff salaries and, more recently, a decline in enrollment are the reasons for the deep budget shortfalls. However, despite their continued proclamations, the numbers have never added up. My most recent post on PASSHE’s budget deceptions, “PASSHE’s Austerity Magic: Save Your Despair for Better Days,” highlighted the significant increases in spending on capital projects – buildings – at Kutztown University. As I suggested in that article, the pattern at Kutztown is not limited to that PASSHE university. In fact, it points to a much more widespread practice that has gone virtually unnoticed until the recent ouster of California University of Pennsylvania president, Angelo Armenti, Jr. (more on that in a little bit).

The budget “crisis” at PASSHE universities has its roots in a long-term defunding of public higher education in PA, Wall-Street-esque risky investment schemes, and a virtual lack of oversight.

Part I: How (Not) to Fund the College Experience

PASSHE Appropriations v ENGPennsylvania vies for the top spot when it comes to the size and cost of its state legislature. PA also has the lowest percentage of public workers in the United States. In the best of times, that scenario might lead to excellent representation and efficient government. More recently, however, it has meant a right-wing Republican Party intent on destroying the public sector and a shrinking number of public employees to handle the work of cleaning up their messes. Anyone paying attention to what’s happened in PA since the 2010 mid-term elections, knows the story all too well. Newly elected governor, Tom Corbett, put public education – K-12 and higher ed – on the chopping block from day one. In his first year as Governor, K-12 schools were cut by $1 billion; PASSHE universities were cut by 20%. The trend has continued. There is no doubt that Corbett’s shock doctrine policies for public education have hit PASSHE universities hard. However, Corbett’s cuts were really a more extreme version of what had been happening for decades. In 1983-84 State appropriations accounted for almost 65% of PASSHE’s budget, while tuition and fees amounted to just over 35%. In 2011-12, State appropriations amounted to just over 25% of PASSHE’s budget, with tuition and fees reaching nearly 75%.

For more than three decades, the “free market” mantra of right-wing think tanks and policy makers, have eroded investment in all things public. However, as Dina Ransor made clear in a 2011 article for Truthout, their claims don’t match their outcomes:

This belief that the “free market” will always do better than the government at any task has increased over the years until each president since Reagan has taken it as a given.

Even Bill Clinton pushed to shrink the federal employee workforce by “outsourcing” the work to supposedly cheaper contract workers to save money during his “reinventing government” effort. This craze to outsource as much of the federal government as possible hit its height during the second Bush administration. Saving money was always the reason given, but there was very little actual proof that this was true.

The situation in Pennsylvania was no different. Over the past three decades, Pennsylvania state legislators of both political parties slowly abandoned investments in public higher education as a public good. Instead, higher education became a “service” or a “commodity” that students – now “customers” – bought. Politicians and policy makers from both political parties gradually, but decidedly, drank the free market Kool-Aid instead of reenergizing efforts to invest in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.

While the steady decline in State appropriations significantly contributed to the current “budget crises” at several PASSHE universities, several under-the-radar policy changes at the top-levels of PASSHE’s administration during the last decade have continued to drain the universities’ already diminished “Education and General Fund,” or “E&G” budgets. One of the most devastating came during the tenure of former PA Governor, Ed Rendell. Yes, the Democrat.

Part II: Of Bonds and Balance Sheets (Down the Rabbit Hole)

Until 2000, PASSHE had a fairly centralized process for initiating new building projects on any of its 14 universities and the official guidelines were pretty murky. The one Board of Governor’s policy that addresses planning for new buildings (Policy 1995-01-A), “Facilities Projects Contract Compliance Program” had more to do with ensuring compliance with Act 188’s Nondiscrimination Policy (Section 20-2014-A) with respect to the awarding of state contracts, than it did with laying out a process for making decisions about where to build and why. Under Section E, “Program Administration Responsibilities,” Policy 1995-01-A stated:

The Chancellor of his/her designee shall serve at the program authority to administer a System-wide uniform Contract Compliance Program. Each university president shall be responsible to the Chancellor for implementation of the Nondiscrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity Program at his/her institution. The president may designate and delegate responsibility to a qualified contract compliance officer and other staff as necessary to implement the program.

There is not a single mention of how the Chancellor, Board of Governors, or anyone else for that matter, decides when new buildings need to be built. The one thing this old policy does establish is a centralized process of communication and compliance. That is, it is clear that the Chancellor’s office is where the authority initiates. Administrators at each PASSHE university comply with “orders” issued by the Chancellor’s office.

Policy 1995-01-A was “repealed by the action of Board of Governors on July 13, 2000 and replaced with Board Policy 2000-02, “Capital Facilities, Planning, Programming, and Funding,” on that same date. Board Policy 2000-02 is much more extensive; it lays out the process for making decisions about new buildings. Three parts of the new policy are significant for my purposes here.

1. Decentralize New Building Planning …

2. Privatize Funding for New Buildings and Capital Projects Incrementally …

3. Finance New Building from University Education and General Funds …

***

Part III: Talking to the Taxman about Poetry above the Sounds of Ideologies Clashing so We Can Help Save the Youth of America

Keep in mind that under the current PASSHE Board of Governor’s policy 50% of the funds for new building projects have to come from “alternative funds,” primarily funds raised from external sources. In the post-collapse environment, those “alternative funds” were hard to come by, but the bills were still coming in and universities had to find ways to pay “bond expenses including fees, debt service, and principal” that they had agreed to pay at the beginning of the process. So, universities are forced to dip into their financial reserves and E&G funds to make their bond payments – funds that should have been used for educational purposes.

So, naturally, PASSHE’s Board of Governors stopped approving new building projects in the post-collapse environment, right? I mean it would be irresponsible to issue additional debt for universities who were now struggling to make their existing bond payments, right? Wrong.

Check out this table compiled by the faculty union, APSCUF, based on PASSHE’s 2008-2012 audited financial statements. The top part of the table shows new capital purchases – that is, new buildings and the like – for each of the 14 PASSHE universities over those years. The bottom part of the table shows the interest and/or principle payments toward each of the universities’ debt for those same years.

Capital Debt and Payment

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Part IV: Smoke and Mirrors Budgeting: There’s More than One Way to Sink a Ship

Do you remember Enron? Here’s a little refresher from Wikipedia:

Enron Corporation was an American energy, commodities, and services company based in Houston, Texas. Before its bankruptcy on December 2, 2001, Enron employed approximately 20,000 staff and was one of the world’s major electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies, with claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion during 2000.[1]Fortune named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years.

At the end of 2001, it was revealed that its reported financial condition was sustained substantially by an institutionalized, systematic, and creatively planned accounting fraud, known since as the Enron scandal. Enron has since become a well-known example of willful corporate fraud and corruption. The scandal also brought into question the accounting practices and activities of many corporations in the United States and was a factor in the creation of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002. The scandal also affected the greater business world by causing the dissolution of the Arthur Andersen accounting company.[2]

Enron Stock TankEnron’s finance people used a whole slew of “off-balance sheet” accounting practices that allowed the corporation to omit significant liabilities – debts – from their official books and filings. Enron, for sure, went far beyond these legal, if not quite ethical, accounting practices and committed numerous acts of fraud. And, the fact is that “off-balance sheet” financing schemes were all the rage when Enron went down in flames.

“Off-balance sheet” financing schemes were especially popular U.S. colleges and universities as a way to finance new building projects in the absence of significant endowments. It was part of the “public-private partnership” (PPPs) craze of the early 2000s that I discussed above. In a 2010 National Association of College and University Business Officers article assessing the impact of the financial crisis on “off-balance sheet” building projects at colleges and universities, Roger Bruszewski, Sam Jung and Jeffrey Turner note that many colleges and universities entered into PPPs “through the university’s existing foundation, a newly developed university-affiliated foundation, or a collaboration with an unaffiliated national foundation that partners with institutions.”  One of “benefits” of this model was that these projects were treated as “off-credit, off-balance sheet transaction[s] that preserved institutional borrowing capacity and balance sheet integrity.” That is, bond rating companies did not consider debt from “off-balance sheet” projects as part of a school’s liabilities. As the authors note, “many of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools have continued to utilize this approach.” However good these schemes looked initially, the authors warn:

Over the past several years, however, the off-credit, off-balance sheet transactions have come under considerable scrutiny from lenders, rating agencies, and accounting standards boards because of the direct or indirect ties between the project and institution. Over time developers and universities learned that a project can meet the qualifications to be off-balance sheet and still be included in an institution’s debt profile. These initial on-campus project financings were completed without any developer equity and as 100 percent “project-based” debt. Typically, a not-for-profit entity owned the improvements (subject to a ground lease) and the developer was paid a fee to complete the project. The capital markets determined that because of the absence of equity, the high loan-to-value ratio, the project-based nature of the debt, and the lack of any meaningful developer commitment to the project, an institution was the only logical backstop in the event of trouble. “This ‘moral obligation’ resulted in potentially negative implications for an institution’s debt capacity,” states Bill Bayless, president and chief executive officer at American Campus Communities.

And, it turned out, these warnings bore fruit. In 2012, the bond rating agency Moody’s downgraded PASSHE’s credit rating from Aa2 to Aa3 (click here for explanation of Moody’s ratings) in part because of increasing debt and off-balance sheet projects. Under “Challenges” for PASSHE, Moody’s listed:

  • High balance sheet leverage from substantial increase in debt since FY 2004, with total pro-forma debt rising to nearly $2.36 billion, driven largely by privatized student housing debt issued for replacement student residences on State System’s university campuses.
  • Debt structure of member university foundations to fund replacement student housing includes variable rate debt requiring bank support or direct bank placement adding risk of liquidity demands of the foundations’ own modest resources and expectations of PASSHE to step in to fund or assume management or ownership of the housing facility

***

Remember the backdrop we’re all working with here. PASSHE university presidents across the state are screaming about budget shortfalls and the need to make deep cuts to faculty, staff and academic programs – and not just at the universities that are most immediately under the budget ax. The new PASSHE Chancellor, Frank Brogan, had made it clear that the cuts will continue, remarking In October 10 during a media briefing, “Make no doubt about it, retrenchment is here.” And the story from PASSHE’s administration continues to be that the “problem” comes from “rising costs” from faculty and staff salaries – no matter how clear the data is disproving that claim.

In reality, the costs of more than a decade of irresponsible building projects and sketchy oversight will be borne by faculty, staff and students. And, like the Wall Street fraud that led to the Great Recession of 2009, the people who gambled with our money – with the money that we expected to be responsibly invested in our future and the future of our children – will walk away, pointing their fingers at all of us.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE on Raging Chicken Press

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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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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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