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Remarks of Dr. Kenneth M. Mash
Before the Board of Governors
October 8, 2015

Mr. Chairman, Governors, and Chancellor Brogan,

These are certainly interesting times. As you meet today to consider new programs, an allocation request, and “pilot” programs at our universities, we know you do so amid the uncertainty that is permeating the Commonwealth’s capital.

One can only empathize with our university presidents and their administrations as they face this uncertain future. We were more than pleased yesterday to hear the Finance Committee discuss increasing its allocation request to the level of or even beyond the cuts of 2011. It would seem to make little sense to in anyway undercut the Governor, who has repeatedly stated his hope to restore the massive cuts of 2011.

Our universities have made sacrifices, and it has been our students who have suffered the most.

This Board is well aware of the cuts in programs and in staff. However, it does not get discussed enough how drastic the cuts have been in terms of increased class sizes, cuts in student support services, and in delayed plant maintenance. Monies for faculty research have dissipated or run dry, our ability to fund student research or external educational enterprises have shrunk, supplies are scarce, and too often our students struggle to get the courses they need to graduate.

Further, academic enterprises must be on the cutting edge, and it is very difficult to explore new opportunities, invest in modern equipment, or offer the highest quality education when the mindset is always one that calls for our universities to scramble to save every penny in order to survive. That our universities continue to innovate, educate, improve our communities, and shape future generations is a tribute to our administrators, our staff, our faculty, and most of all to the ambition, intelligence, and drive of our students.

But living with uncertainty and the pressures of penny pinching does not create an atmosphere for academic success. And so an allocation should indeed cover expenses and probable expenses, but the question ought to be raised to our universities, what are you not doing, and what more can you responsibly do with an increased allocation to benefit our students and move our Commonwealth forward.

Our faculty do, sincerely, empathize with our university presidents and their administrations as they attempt to come to grips with the uncertainty. We understand why they are looking at additional ways to raise revenue. But there is no escaping the fact there was a scholarship winner here yesterday who related to you how she must travel to work her job to cover her college expenses at Shippensburg University. There is no escaping the fact that Mansfield students, many of whom are from impoverished communities, are already shouldering the highest student debt of any university in the System. There is no escaping the fact that when a university says that its “pilot” is bringing in expected “revenue,” in the real world that means that our students, so many of whom hail from proud working-class families, will be piling up additional debt and their families will be forced to make additional sacrifices.

It is, indeed, a quandary for our university presidents. It is a product of our interesting times. As you put it eloquently yesterday, Mr. Chairman, our universities, unlike some others, are almost entirely dependent on tuition, fees, and a dwindling state allocation. Clearly the numbers do not add up. And it is clearly the job of our university administrations to make sure that they do.

But before our universities go about instituting their “pilots” – and avoiding the euphemisms – increases in fees and tuition – doesn’t this Board have an obligation to our students to continue to do everything possible to make the case to the Governor and the General Assembly that we need more by way of allocation? Doesn’t this Board have an obligation to see actual data about the results of the existing “pilots” before implementing new ones? And perhaps most importantly doesn’t this Board have an obligation to hear directly from its students? There may not be three empty chairs, but their absence is palpable. Let’s all encourage some movement on filling the seats on the Board that the law requires be filled by our students.

I say all of this fully understanding that the politics and finances of the Commonwealth may yet continue to deprive its only 14 truly public universities, our students, and their families. And if the question is do or die, there may be no other option but to proceed, to continue to privatize our universities, and to acknowledge that truly public higher education in Pennsylvania is nearing its death.

But please, before you act, let’s all try to make the case louder and more forcefully. Let’s see the actual data. And most of all let’s hear from our students.