Retrenchment and Higher Education: A Followup

Retrenchment and Higher Education

As a result of continued annual budget cuts under Governor Tom Corbett (18% for 2013 alone) to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), all universities in the system have had to reconcile the difference by making difficult financial decisions.  However, one state college, East Stroudsburg University (full disclosure: my Alma-mater) has gone even further by eliminating different language and fine arts programs.  One student at East Stroudsburg University, Grace Kavanah, has had enough of the cheapening of the academic curriculum.  Here is her second open letter that explains the process of retrenchment and what it means for higher education, not only in Pennsylvania, but other states with a public university system.

An open letter to all students as well as faculty of East Stroudsburg University concerned with how state budget cuts will impact their future.

What is retrenchment? Students should understand the use of word retrenchment by university faculty and administrators.  Present-day use of the word is employed in the fields of political science, international relations, and public policy.  The root of the word is from the Latin and is defined as a method of reduction or cutting away.  Typically, it is a tool used by corporations to achieve the goal of financial stability within business.  Although retrenchment is not an entirely ineffective policy tool in corporate business, it has been found to be largely ineffectual when used by university administrations and is not the answer to budgetary problems, particularly at East Stroudsburg University.  Dr. Allan N. Benn, an ESU professor, explains why it is not a useful policy tool for ESU and outlines an alternative budgetary plan here.

Why is retrenchment being implemented at ESU?  In the case of ESU, retrenchment is a political process; it is not a budgetary process.  ESU administrators are attempting to implement retrenchment within the context of a budgetary plan.  Faculty and students are asking, why retrenchment and not some other less drastic measure?  A pressing question for President Welsh: what is the root cause of such a dramatic political statement?  If the role of university administration by definition were one of maintenance and supervision, why then would a public employee whose job it is to serve the community deliberately attempt to subvert the goals of students, faculty, and the common good?  According to Chris Parr writing for Times Higher Education said, one answer might lie in institutional corruption.  The article notes, “Unfortunately, university leadership does not always demonstrate a high commitment to addressing fraud.”  These are just some of the questions and concerns that have arisen from ESU students, faculty, and the community. We deserve answers, President Welsh.

Retrenchment is a threat to the community of which the university administration serves.  Students themselves have maintained that if the process of retrenchment continues, they will leave ESU.  In addition, the fact that austerity is a discredited idea is becoming more commonly known throughout higher education nationally as well as internationally.  The process of retrenchment is an expression of an austerity regime, which will continue to discredit and diminish the state of higher education in Pennsylvania if people do not begin to stand up against austerity measures and against retrenchment.

How is the process of retrenchment carried out?  Retrenchment is carried out through administration.  The role of the chancellor is to serve and direct the interests of the 14 universities within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, also known as the PASSHE system.  The PASSHE chancellor is Frank Brogan.  Brogan is the executive lead that authors the role of the carryout, the process of retrenchment.  Brogan was hired on to the PASSHE system as an outsider in order to facilitate this austerity regime, along with President Welsh.  President Welsh knew precisely what she was getting into when she was hired on at East Stroudsburg University.  In a 2005 article published in Newsday, Welsh has claimed what is necessary to expand a university but what she is doing at ESU is the exact opposite.

Why are our PASSHE administrators invested in the retrenchment process?  When Chancellor Brogan visited Mansfield University and Kutztown University campuses this month Brogan is quoted as stating, “Retrenchment is by definition made necessary by budgets.”  It is worth noting, and important, to revisit a quote by Vice President Joe Biden which states, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”  According to that measure the Scranton native reveals the values of Governor Corbett and members of statewide administrations abating his position, including Brogan and Welsh, who show a fundamental antipathy to higher education.  In Debra Erdley’s article from July 2013 she quotes, Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who writes about staffing at colleges, said “administrative bloat” is widespread.  “Nationally, administrative growth accounts for about 40 percent of the cost increases at American colleges.  At most schools, administrative growth is mainly internally generated, not a response to federal mandates or other external factors” Ginsberg said.  Research shows what is valued within current administrations within the PASSHE system, as administrative bloat continues to consume what is left of higher education in Pennsylvania.  Our PASSHE administrators are invested in retrenchment because it serves their economic greed.

In conclusion, here is a thoughtful essay written on the subject of University Administration: Nurturing vs. Managing, Harvard Emeritus Professor Henry Rosovsky wrote of university administrators: “They are facilitators – servants of the faculty and students.  Their task is to implement educational policy set by the faculty … and to make student learning more efficient.”  The essay is an excellent critique of the changes that have taken place within the university system.  Rosovsky concluded, “All these changes together are monumental and threaten to undermine the traditional and appropriate role of universities as seats of education, social and political criticism and innovations, and moral leadership. “  This current trend towards the privatization of education continues to be a disastrous movement by Republicans, a movement dedicated to failure due to its adherence to outdated economic polity.  At this point, any state that has withdrawn support for higher education has fundamentally abandoned a traditional principal that is obligatory as a public institution.

Grace Kavanah
Temporary Employee of APSCUF

#Believe in ESU

The views of Ms. Kavanah stated here are her own and are not the views of any organization in which Ms. Kavanah is a member.

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Author: The Blue Route

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