GOP’s Enron-esque higher ed plan: Fire tenured faculty to fund student dorms

by James Cersonsky, Salon, 1/14/14

In Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, if it’s public and it’s education, burn it down!

The tenure system in American higher education is a limitless source of debate: Critics say it leaves younger scholars to publish or perish, or decaying professors to cash in on mediocrity; advocates note its importance in protecting academic freedom, risk-taking and, insofar as professors are workers, job security.

In Pennsylvania, it’s all moot. Now, under the stewardship of Jeb Bush’s former sidekick, tenured faculty are being laid off in droves. The response has been student sit-ins, faculty mobilization and investigations of Enron-style accounting. It’s a real-time, rolling image of higher education shock therapy — and a threatening signal to public universities nationwide.

Subject A: Edinboro University.

Edinboro, an 8,000-student campus in northwestern Pennsylvania, is one of 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, or PASSHE. Last September, in the name of “strategic investment for the future vitality of the University,” president Julie Wollman announced that 42 teaching staff, including 18 tenured faculty, would be laid off, or “retrenched.”

“At first, the students were outraged,” says Crystal Folmar, a senior communications major — especially, she says, over the wholesale elimination of the school’s music program. One hundred and fifty students, faculty and staff rallied outside Cole Auditorium. Later, students delivered a 1,200 signature petition to the president’s office.

President Wollman wasn’t available, so they sat in. After a little over an hour, she emerged.

“I don’t think the reputation of Edinboro has to be damaged,” she said. “I think it will be damaged if the word goes out that this is a negative thing.” Because of state cuts, enrollment declines and hiring costs, she added, “we don’t need all the faculty members that we have.”

A student replied, “We have freshmen that are calling us, and on the 2018 Facebook that are asking, should we even come to Edinboro?”

“Well, the answer should be yes!”

Another asked, “Why are we spending so much money on buildings when we can’t pay the faculty?”

“The money has not come out of the general budget,” she said, echoing a common belief. “I think I’ve explained this a number of times. That’s incorrect. It’s true that in many states, there are two separate pots of money.”

The situation at Edinboro — layoffs, uproar, blithe financial entreaties — repeated itself at four other PASSHE schools. …

read more at Salon


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