By Dr. Rob Clark, Mansfield University professor and MU-APSCUF vice president
On Friday, November 8, Mansfield University faculty and students rallied for quality higher education. Dr. Clark gave the following speech at the rally.
Mansfield University is a jewel of the Endless Mountains. It is a lifeblood to Tioga County and neighboring communities. And we are a diverse lot, we Mounties. We hail from around the state, country, and world. Yet here we gather in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania to foster or pursue the common vision of a well-rounded education rooted in the liberal arts. I’ve taught at a range of institutions, ranging from an Ivy-League university to a maximum security prison. Yet never before have I seen such a close and often trusting relationship between students and faculty—relationships that often seem to defy the superficiality so prevalent in the current era. Out of these initially formal student-professor relationships develop long term friendships and reciprocal gratitude. As faculty, there is no greater reward than seeing our students succeed.
Mansfield is a diverse place, yet it also serves local communities. It is one of the sole opportunities for affordable higher education in the northern tier. Much of our student body is made up of first generation college students. Perhaps they have had a dream or vision of what they would like to become and this is their main opportunity to pursue that dream. Most likely, their family is quite proud that this generation is the one that gets to go to college. Yet that dream is being threatened. The professionals who help them achieve it, and the staff who support our efforts, are in danger of being cut. If plans do not change, next fall, this university will not be what it is. The changes will not be for the better.
The current defunding of PASSHE is threatening the well-being not just of those affected by retrenchment—a fancy French word for cutting—though the effects will be devastating for them. There are professors here who have spent the better part of their long careers serving Mansfield University who are now being asked to leave. There are professors who were hired just this past year who are being asked to leave. And there are professors who just received tenure, who are being asked to leave. They must uproot themselves, moving family and leaving friends to face an uncertain future. The university and the system in which they placed their time, trust and livelihoods must be appearing to turn its back on them. We are encouraged, and I’m sure would like to, “keep a positive attitude.” Yet the cuts and the resulting layoffs are affecting the identity of the university itself.
Larger class sizes and more online courses are not what our students need, deserve, or desire. What they want and need is one one-on-one mentorship. Face to face time—that precious commodity in today’s impersonal electronic culture. What we do here must operate within fiscal concerns and the realities of our finances, but we must get our priorities straight. We must not be defined by our budget; nor must we use these concerns as rationale to shape the university into a lesser form. Doing so sacrifices the future to current pedagogical fads and political whims.
No, the artificial deflation of PASSHE’s budget, and the consequent decline of Mansfield University does not serve the best interest of our state, our communities, or most importantly, our students. Extractive industry—gas drilling—may be the hot business of the moment but it is not the most desirable future or the greatest resource for our state. These students that you see here—they are!
But don’t take my word for it. Here are some words from our students, Mr. Chancellor
“I’m a third generation Mansfield student. My mother and grandmother both graduated from Mansfield University. The issues of retrenchment and budget cutting threaten my ability to become a third generation MU graduate. We brought staff here to help the students. It is time to return the favor.”
“Each teacher sparks something different in each student and they are vital for us to thrive in our education. Good teachers are costly, but bad teachers cost more.”
“Since I arrived at MU I knew the major that I wanted to be part of. The threat of losing the ability to obtain my education in what I love breaks my heart. I have finally found my place and now know what I want to do in the future… my plans are now being pushed to the side because of decisions that we had no say in.”
I am sure we could hear many dozens of similar sentiments were we to ask. So please, ask them, don’t tell them, Mr. Chancellor. Ask what our students want and what they need. It is the mission of PASSHE to provide the highest possible quality education at an affordable price to citizens of the Commonwealth. College is not simply about training someone for a job, to mechanistically fabricate the product of worker drones. Jobs change during our lives, sometimes many times. We move about, some restlessly, during the seasons of our lives. The purpose of education is to foster a well-rounded, educated citizenry with whom we may entrust the mantle of leadership of our state for decades to come. Our challenge to you is: will you help us fulfill this lofty mission?