October 17, 2013
Budget cuts are becoming a familiar topic amongst the state’s higher education system. As retrenchment and program losses become more common, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties is working to lobby against these cuts.
Their most recent endeavor started with legislators, APSCUF members, educators and students alike getting together for a reception dinner Tuesday evening. Attendees discussed strategies of lobbying in an informal setting where they were able to get to know one another, as most had not met before.
The next day included brief meetings with multiple legislators in the capitol building, a press conference and a performance from Mansfield University’s choir. Representatives from all 14 PASSHE schools were in attendance.
In the past three years, Governor Tom Corbett (R – Pa.) has cut over $90 million from state-funded higher ed. This past August and September Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield announced their plans to lay off more than 90 tenured and tenure-track faculty members combined.
In light of this, APSCUF is now lobbying for a restoration program in order to get at least part of that $90 million back into the higher ed. budget. Budget aspects are not generally looked at until around April and May, according to Senator Mike Hanna (D-Pa.), so APSCUF’s goal is to show initiative and lobby early.
“We can’t do anything about retrenchment without more resources – that’s where legislation comes in,” said Stanley Berard, a political science professor at Lock Haven University.
Throughout the meetings, officials showed sympathy towards APSCUF’s cause. While most legislators would rather be funding higher ed, the biggest problem they face is that money needs to be cut from something.
“Show me where we can take the money from,” Senator Greg Lucas (R-Pa.) said.
The state schools are currently trapped in a ‘vicious circle’ that began with the initial 2011-’12 large scale cuts.
“They had to make some strategic cuts…” Senator John Wozniak (D-Pa.) said. “That means less classes that people might be attracted to, which means less students, which means next time we have to cut more classes. That’s what we want to prevent from happening.”
At this point, most state schools feel that their only options are to raise tuition and retrench – meaning to cut down on faculty and staff members. This hits home for Senator Madaleine Dean (D-Pa.), who is also an English professor at La Salle.
“Retrenchment sounds more like a military term,” she said. “‘We have to retrench.’ Are you kidding me?”
Following the press conference, the Mansfield University choir performed five songs in the main capitol rotunda. Each song had to do with hard times for various people throughout the ages and how those people persevered. The set included “Ave Maria,” “How Can I Keep From Singing” and “Clap Praise.”
Mansfield announced last month that they will be laying off 29 faculty members.
“The message is keep music in your life,” said Peggy Dettwiler, a professor of music and the director of choral activities at Mansfield.
“Music is expensive,” Dettwiler said, “that’s why it’s usually the first program to be cut from schools…this rotunda was expensive…sometimes you need to choose what costs a little more because it is important and it enriches us.”
After this event APSCUF President Steve Hicks, an English professor at Lock Haven, felt that the event was a good starting point to restore funding.
“We’ll be following up with representatives, and working on getting a restoration through the House,” Hicks said.
Editor’s Note: Ariel and Kate were able to attend this event thanks to APSCUF members who provided rides to and from Harrisburg. Although APSCUF provided transportation, the Eagle Eye ensures that the article is as impartial as humanly possible. We emphasize that these budget cuts are not a “want to,” but a “need to” situation, as far as legislators are concerned. There are no known government officials who are openly for cutting higher education, APSCUF members stated.