The Feb. 3 Board of Governors meeting took place in person and via Zoom and streamed via YouTube. Below are APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin’s comments as prepared.
Chairwoman Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, governors, university presidents and guests,
As always, I appreciate being able to give remarks on behalf of the nearly 5,000 faculty and coaches that APSCUF represents at our 14 state-owned and state-supported universities. Over the past many months, I have highlighted the concerns that faculty have about dealing with COVID-19 on our campuses, concerns about the consolidation of six of our campuses into two new universities, and the impacts of retrenchment and retirements on our campuses. All of these issues and concerns remain, and thus are things that we will continue to highlight and work to address. Today, however, I want to focus on the individuals our System was created to serve, the individuals the board supports, the individuals to whom our faculty and coaches devote their time, energy, and expertise: our students. I had the opportunity to speak with the 14 chapter presidents earlier this week, and this is what I heard: They expressed how impressed they are at the resilience of their students. Despite the pandemic, they have continued to work hard in the classrooms, continued to experience both team and individual success on athletic teams, and have continued to be recognized with scholarships and awards in their respective disciplines.
Our students do amazing things while they are enrolled in our universities and after they leave them. They are first responders, nurses, police officers and physicians; they work with our children as teachers and counselors; they find success in business, science and art; they work for nonprofit organizations and in government. They take the lessons they have learned as student-athletes and apply them to sports careers or to other professional endeavors. We are the beneficiaries of their successes, and they deserve our applause and appreciation.
I also heard, however, about the challenges that our students face as they progress through their academic careers. The chapter presidents expressed concerns that the effects of the pandemic, including feelings of isolation, have impacted the physical and mental health of some of our students. They identified problems with technology on a number of our campuses, and the digital divide between students who can and cannot afford to purchase computers and to have access to reliable internet connectivity. They talked about the fact that students are now in classes that do not permit social distancing, are in classes that are overenrolled, and are facing difficulty scheduling upper-division required courses. I heard about the concerns that our students have about being able to pay for tuition, fees and books. And we have food pantries on all 14 of our campuses, and these are needed because of unprecedented food insecurity and hunger among our students.
The mission of the State System of Higher Education is to provide a high-quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students. College is supposed to be affordable for them. Not fulfilling this mission can have many and varied impacts.
Let’s consider food insecurity on our campuses and consider what more we could do for our students than provide food pantries. There is a nationwide program called “Swipe out Hunger.” This program was founded by a group of college students at UCLA in 2010. This nonprofit organization partners with college campuses nationwide to end student hunger. The premise is a fairly simple one: Students donate unused meals from their meal plans (or swipes) to other students who cannot afford a meal plan. There are, however, other options available. There are nearly 400 universities that participate in this program, including Clarion University. I encourage the Office of the Chancellor and our university presidents to consider making this a systemwide effort and involve all 14 universities in this endeavor to end student hunger.
The lack of affordability affects our students’ ability to have what they need to be successful in the classroom, such as books and reliable technology. Some of our students do not have access to safe and affordable housing. It may prevent students who need to work from taking an unpaid internship that could greatly benefit their career trajectory. It affects their ability to get enough sleep or to be enrolled full time. The costs of college affect students’ peace of mind and their ability to be fully focused on their academic and athletic pursuits. Affordability can mean many different things to many students — but all of them present barriers to student success.
We need to acknowledge and address these challenges that our students face. We need to fulfill the promise of a high-quality and affordable college education. Our students deserve no less. APSCUF was heartened by the appropriations request that this board approved in October. The significant increase in funding for our universities that you supported can be a first step toward college affordability and a step toward fulfilling the mission of our System as laid out in Act 188. As you know, APSCUF has always been a strong advocate for appropriate funding for our State System and for our students, and we will continue that work. We will work with the State System to make the case for the need for increased funding and we look forward to the governor’s budget address next week.
Thank you, and I wish you all continued good health.