The Feb. 4 Board of Governors meeting took place via Zoom and streamed via YouTube. Below are APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin’s comments as prepared.
Chairwoman Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, governors, presidents and guests,
It goes without saying that there is a lot going on in our State System and at our universities. Our university presidents and administrators — and our faculty and coaches — are still navigating the COVID-19 pandemic as they try to safely bring our students back to our campuses. Today we will hear more about the consolidation planning process involving six of our universities and learn who will lead Lock Haven University. Also to be discussed and decided upon is another retirement-incentive option offered to our faculty and coaches. While my colleagues and I are interested in all that will be considered today, I want to focus on the retirement incentive program and COVID-19. But, like any effective teacher, I will first digress.
Fifteen days ago, on Jan. 20, a new president and vice president were inaugurated. I do not mention this for any political reason; I mention that particular date because it was the one-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 being identified in the United States. On Feb. 13, 2020, Chancellor Daniel Greenstein sent a memorandum to the university presidents laying out his expectations for our universities to reach financial sustainability within five years — by 2023–24. On that day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the 15th case of COVID-19 in the United States. At the April 2020 Board of Governors meeting, the chancellor accelerated the timeframe within which universities had to reach financial sustainability — from five years to three years. He also instructed universities to return the student/faculty ratios that existed in 2010–11 — but now by 2021–22. At this time, the number of COVID-19 cases was approaching half a million.
A number of consequences resulted from reducing the sustainability timeline, and one of those consequences occurred on Oct. 30, when more 100 retrenchment letters were issued to faculty members at five of our universities. These letters notified them that they would no longer have a job — and, by extension, would no longer have healthcare during a global pandemic — at the end of the spring 2021 term. On that date, the number of COVID-19 cases had risen to 8.9 million, and more than 200,000 U.S. citizens had died of the virus.
I now return to the two issues: COVID-19 and the retirement incentive. If this incentive program is approved by the board, faculty and coaches will have until March 15 to submit letters of their intent to retire by June 30, 2021, in order to receive the full incentive. This incentive program is extended into the next academic year, with coaches and faculty being eligible for a reduced incentive if they retire by June 30, 2022.
Our hope is that APSCUF will be able to work with the Office of the Chancellor to help individuals who are facing retrenchment to transfer into faculty positions that will result from retirements at other universities. We are anxious to work on this with the State System, but we fear that time is not on our side. Until March 15, we may not know who or how many faculty and coaches plan to retire by June 30. The date for retrenchment is June 4, 2021.
I don’t think that any of us could have predicted the breadth of this pandemic. Chancellor Greenstein did not have a crystal ball to look into when he made the decision to shorten the time frame for our universities to reach financial sustainability. But we have a clearer picture now. There have been more than 26.5 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and nearly 450,000 deaths. But, there is hope: Two different vaccines are now being administered, with a third on the way. There is a glimmer that our lives may return to some version of normal later this year. Still, nearly 100 faculty face losing their jobs and their healthcare in early June.
What I am asking all of you to consider is this: Give us more time. Give us additional time so that we can help our colleagues find opportunities to transfer to another university in our State System. Give those who will not be able to continue working for the State System the chance to seek a job elsewhere — and to be able to go on interviews, find a new home, and make a move when it is safe to do so later this year. Give all of them the safety net of having healthcare coverage until this pandemic is, at least, in the rear-view mirror. The retirement incentive program extends into the next academic year, and we can use that time to continue to work with the State System to meet the chancellor’s ratios. If our universities had one more year to reach financial sustainability, I am confident that we can align our workforce through retirements, transfers and attrition.
The chancellor and I do not agree on everything, but I know we agree that both of us are committed to Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, we both want to see it flourish, and we both care deeply about our students. All of this is true for all of you on the board, our university presidents and all of my colleagues. Our students have endured a lot in the last year and are again facing a challenging spring semester. I believe that, by working together, we can ensure that when our students return to campus in the fall, they will find the stability and tranquility that they need — and deserve.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I again wish all of you and your loved ones continued good health.