The July 14 Board of Governors meeting is took place via Zoom and streamed via YouTube. Below are APSCUF President Dr. Jamie Martin’s comments as prepared.
Chairwoman Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, governors and guests,
Today this board will consider a motion of monumental significance — one that would fundamentally alter the publicly funded university system, our 14 state-owned universities. I trust that the magnitude of today’s board action is one that none take lightly and is one that is made with careful consideration and with awareness of the role each will play in consolidating six of our universities into two.
I wish to speak today about the updated plans that this board will consider. We all heard and can read the public comments that were made about the initial consolidation plans. I need to point out that, despite some remarks to the contrary, the legitimate concerns raised by my colleagues were not raised because of self-interest. They were voiced because of the dedication that they have for our students, for our universities and for the State System — and their strong desire that all succeed. As APSCUF members, we shared our concerns for our students and the affordability of their higher-education opportunities and the importance of advocating for increased funding for the State System.
First, I need to give credit where credit is due. The updated consolidation plans include information that was missing in the April versions. This includes an economic-impact study. This study, along with the one completed in 2015 by the same consulting group, and the PERI report that was done by faculty at UMass-Amherst, draw the same conclusions: that our universities are the economic drivers in their home communities and, often, surrounding areas. The studies showed that the spending of faculty, staff and students, along with the tax revenue that they generate, are important sources of revenue for our university towns. For this and other reasons, we are happy that the updated plans specify that none of the six current universities can be closed — and we need to do all that we can to ensure that our students, staff and faculty remain at these universities.
We were pleased to learn of the three-year implementation of the curriculum array at the universities slated for consolidation, as this should permit time for more thoughtful development of graduate and undergraduate curriculum, including the general-education component and discipline-specific curricula — all of which will benefit our students.
There are still elements that are not included in the updated plans, and one is a detailed organizational chart, particularly for the academic-affairs division. I am sure some question why this is important and why I continue to point this out: It is important so that my colleagues can provide accurate information and advise current and future students about what departments and disciplines will exist and where they will be housed in the “New U’s.”
Over the past months, I have voiced my concerns — and those of my colleagues — for our students at the six consolidating universities. Questions and concerns still remain. For example, the guide to plan changes, a document that I believe will be presented today, states that there will be “relatively limited overall reliance on online modalities for residential students”; however, I cannot find this information detailed in the updated plans. Today I hope to hear more specific information about the extent to which our students will need to take online courses to complete their degrees. I have deep concerns about the student survey that is included in the updated plans. I will not address all of those concerns today. I will highlight, though, that the response rate is extremely low: For prospective students, it is 1%, and for current PASSHE students, it is 4%. You cannot draw any valid and meaningful conclusions from data that is based on a sample with such a meager response rate.
There are other important questions remaining. For example, what will happen to accredited programs on our campuses? Will an expensive and time-consuming reaccreditation be necessary for each of these? What will happen with Middle States accreditation? What about the decision of the NCAA permitting athletic teams to remain on all six campuses? These and other questions have not only been raised by my colleagues but many other stakeholders. We understand that these decisions are not required for the plans to move to a vote, but to dismiss their importance only exacerbates the fear and uncertainty of our faculty, students, staff and other stakeholder groups.
Our universities exist to provide access to an affordable, high-quality education for our students and to do all we can to help them succeed. As faculty and coaches, we see firsthand the importance of that affordability and access for our students and student-athletes, and in interactions with them we have learned that they lack important information about the consolidation. In my experience, too often decisions are made as if “we KNOW what is best for our students.” I have learned that they are quite capable of fully articulating what they believe is best for them. Their questions and concerns should be heard, and their input should be valued on a change this monumental, and the pandemic made hearing from them nearly impossible. Student feedback should still be sought when they return to our campuses — in person — in the fall.
Again, we recognize that some of these questions and concerns can’t be answered or addressed today. We trust that when the answers come, and as additional feedback and suggestions are given, they will guide the plan moving forward, will allow for course correction when new information or issues suggest it, and will allow for substantive changes, if warranted. This is important because many of my colleagues feel as if today’s action is “the end of the road” — the final step in consolidating six of our universities. I am encouraged to see in the guide to plan changes that, rather than the final step, this will be an iterative process and that what will be considered today is a planning document. There is too much at stake to consider it otherwise.
At an earlier BOG meeting, I used a quote by Winston Churchill, but it seems appropriate again. I hope that the plan considered today is “not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Thank you for your time, and I wish all of you and your families continued good health.