What does university plan mean?

While the “integration” of Clarion, California and Edinboro universities hasn’t been made entirely clear yet, at least one deadline is approaching.

Notification of any cuts involving the positions of tenured union faculty at any of the universities must be made by Oct. 30.

According to Kathryn Morton, communications director for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF), which represents faculty at state-owned universities, the union was surprised by the integration announcements.

“When the integrations were announced at the July Board of Governors meeting, the (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) said the (board) was ‘authorizing the chancellor to review the financial impacts,'” Morton said in an email exchange with the Clarion News. “We have not yet seen a financial analysis.”

Joyce Overly, Clarion APSCUF’s chapter president, said Act 50, which granted PASSHE the ability to do the integrations, requires periods of public comment before the integrations can happen.

“It’s not at all clear to me how the integration is going to work or what the new, integrated entity is going to look like,” Overly said in an email exchange with the Clarion News. “I think the idea is to use the combined resources of Clarion, Cal U, and Edinboro to expand the online programs and courses available to students across the state, while maintaining on-campus programs for students in the region who want the traditional college experience.”

In announcing the integrations – the announcement of the Clarion and California partnership came a few weeks ago; the addition of Edinboro came more recently – PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein indicated there will be one faculty, one program array and one administration.

“The only thing I can say for sure is that creating the new structure and curriculum will take a lot of careful thought and extensive discussions between faculty members and administrators at the three universities,” Overly said.

Job losses at Clarion?

The elimination of teaching positions at Clarion has not been confirmed or formally proposed at this time.

“Regarding possible retrenchment, Clarion APSCUF received a letter from (Clarion University President Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson) on May 28, 2020, notifying the faculty that retrenchments may happen at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year,” Overly said. “The next step in the retrenchment process is the issuing of individual letters to faculty members subject to retrenchment.

“This has not happened at Clarion. There are a series of deadlines for such letters, according to the tenure status of faculty members.”

Overly said that first deadline is Oct. 30 for tenured faculty.

“There are later deadlines for probationary (tenure-track) faculty members,” Overly said. “If a faculty member receives an individual letter, management must make a reasonable effort to find another suitable position at the university for that person.”

Overly said retrenchment is a disruptive and difficult process that negatively affects opportunities for students, employee morale and the public image of a university.

“I hope that management and APSCUF can work together to find ways to balance our budget and avoid retrenchment,” Overly said. “I certainly believe that it’s possible.”

Integration and the future

Morton holds out hope that integration of the three universities will result in a positive.

“We hope integration would result in more opportunities for students – and Pennsylvanians – without costing jobs,” Morton wrote in her email exchange with the Clarion News. “We cannot know the full effect of integration at this time, but we know how important faculty members are to their communities.”

But Morton also acknowledged if job cuts occur, faculty members might leave Clarion County.

“The state system touts the economic impact of students and employees,” Morton said. “Faculty cuts not only hinder access to higher education, but reverberate in local economies as well.”

PASSHE response

PASSHE spokesperson David Pidgeon acknowledged Act 50 lays out the steps ahead, and step one is a financial review, which is underway.

“A second step would be the development of an implementation plan, and if the board of governors approves that, then an official public comment period begins, which lasts 60 days and includes two public hearings,” Pidgeon said in an email exchange with the Clarion News.

“Our outreach, however, began when the board discussed and approved this direction during its public meeting in July.”

Pidgeon said PASSHE answers all media calls, and Greenstein is currently engaging in virtual public forums in which this topic is discussed.

“The questions people asking are the same ones we’re trying to answer,” Pidgeon said. “The process is a long one, it’s designed to be consultative and comprehensive, and we’re at the beginning.”

‘The urgency is now’

Pidgeon said the goal is to ensure public higher education opportunities remain open in Clarion and beyond.

“To do that, we have to be creative, we have to challenge the status quo, we have to do the work because students are counting on us to keep high quality public higher education in Pennsylvania affordable,” Pidgeon said.

“The urgency is now; not next year, but now. The data we’ve looked at – from our affordability and financial sustainability to our place in a hyper-competitive market – tells us that integrations gives us as good a chance as any to set Clarion, California, and Edinboro on a sustainable path and increase student success opportunities.”

Jim Geiger, Clarion’s vice president of advancement, in a statement said an integration among the three schools will provide “great opportunities” for current and future students.

“In addition to supporting our traditional and legacy face-to-face residential programs, we’ll work collaboratively to create an online program that is truly unique,” Geiger said. “The three universities already share successful academic programs and, collectively, serve more than 15,000 students.”