The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 18, 2012

Branch campuses are vital cogs | Threatening closures not smart move


The Tribune-Democrat

— While the governor and major universities haggle over millions, branch campuses have become pawns in the game of state education funding.

Those smaller campuses – including Pitt-Johnstown – deserve better from their parent institutions.

In 2011, then-Penn State President Graham Spanier threatened that his school’s numerous branch campuses could be closed if Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal passed with 19 percent cuts in education funding.

Last week, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg employed the same strategy in opposing cuts in Corbett’s planned 2012-13 fiscal spending plan, which calls for another 30 percent in cuts for state-affiliated schools, which would mean $41 million for the Pitt system.

Nordenberg’s comments – that branch campuses could be “the most vulnerable units of the university” – raised a ruckus on the Richland Township campus among students, faculty members and other employees.

Could Pitt really jettison its facilities in Johnstown, Bradford, Greensburg and Titusville if state funding continues to drop?

Although such hard decisions could eventually be necessary, we expect this is more rhetoric than reality – that closing these important regional campuses would be an extreme step even with belt-tightening continuing in Harrisburg.

And we hope Nordenberg and others at Pitt’s main campus in Oakland would seek out other avenues of making ends meet before shuttering these local education hubs and economic

drivers.

Losing UPJ would be a huge setback for Johnstown.

The campus provides the region with 500 jobs and it educates 3,000 students – many of them from local communities.

UPJ also is a cultural center for the Cambria-Somerset region – offering entertainment, collegiate athletics and cultural activities that would be sorely missed should the worst-case scenario play out.

UPJ‚ÄąPresident Jem Spectar – in an exclusive interview with The Tribune-Democrat and in an opinion piece we published March 11 – urged area residents to contact their state lawmakers to oppose severe cuts in education funding and to support the local university.

“I’m confident that our advocacy in Harrisburg will be successful,” Spectar said.

We agree. Residents should let their representatives know how they feel about this issue – either way.

We suspect some folks will agree with every proposed cut that comes down from the Corbett administration.

These are not fun times.

Government money is tight, and all of us – individuals, agencies, even universities – must do our parts in moving Pennsylvania forward.

But we also recognize the value to our commonwealth of our educational institutions – state-owned universities, state-affiliated universities, community colleges, private colleges and business schools.

Through their halls pass our future leaders, business owners and work-force members.

Those schools keep us up to date on technology and information, and their research programs generate many jobs and critical services.

The state must do all it can to support the educational system, and should balance its budget across all spending areas.

And while we understand the political strategy of crying wolf, we would urge Nordenberg, new Penn State President Rodney Erickson and others in their positions to go easy on the rhetoric.

Too often, the wrong folks get stirred up unnecessarily when such tactics are at play.

UPJ and Pitt’s other branch campuses should not be pawns in the game of funding and politics.

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