The union representing the faculty at the State System of Higher Education organized a rally Wednesday on the steps of the rotunda in the state Capitol, calling for greater state support of the publicly funded universities.
At the rally Sen. Mike Stack, D-Philadelphia, said Gov. Tom Corbett’s 18 percent slash of the State System of Higher Education budget two years ago, and his subsequent orders to hold funding steady, are forcing state-owned universities to cut professors, phase out programs, and fire managers and staff members who are being punished for bad state budgeting decisions.
“Ever since this governor has been in Harrisburg, he’s targeted Pennsylvania’s 14 great universities as the place to balance his budget at the expense of families,” Stack said. “It is wrong. It has always been wrong.”
State Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Lawrence County, was among the lawmakers who attended. Gibbons’ district includes Slippery Rock University.
The dire straits facing the public universities mirrors the problems facing public schools, Gibbons said. Years ago, all levels of education had far more state support. As the state dollars have dried up, the public schools have leaned more heavily on local property taxes. Universities have used tuition increases to cope.
The dependence on property tax for school revenue has contributed to inequities between rich and poor school districts. And the diminished state support is now contributing to similar winners and losers within the State System of Higher Education.
The budget crises have largely been driven by dwindling enrollments. Eleven of the universities in the system have seen declines in enrollment since 2009.
Edinboro’s enrollment peaked in 2010 at 8,642. In 2012-13, the university had 7,464 students. With tuition at $6,622 this year, that decline in enrollment translates into a loss of $7.8 million in revenue for the university.
The universities with stable or increasing enrollment – including Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Bloomsburg University – have managed to escape without painful cost-cutting. But the universities with the greatest enrollment losses have been forced to take more drastic action.
Clarion furloughed 22 faculty members while leaving six positions vacant. Mansfield will eliminate 29 professor positions. Edinboro will lay off 42 professors and eliminate foreign language and music programs. Slippery Rock has announced it is eliminating 25 positions by not filling vacancies.
While those universities are asked to operate with diminished support, they must still abide by the terms of the statewide labor contract that covers faculty at all universities in the state system.
That contract would bar Edinboro from seeking the kind of concessions a state lawmaker has suggested could be used to stave off those 40 job cuts, Edinboro spokesman Jeff Hileman said.
“We appreciate what Rep. (Brad) Roae is saying, but those negotiations are centralized in Harrisburg,” Hileman said.
Roae, R-Crawford County, represents a district neighboring Edinboro.
Roae is pitching a plan that would include requiring professors to increase the hours they spend teaching from 12 to 15, while eliminating paid sabbaticals.
“Rather than paying overtime, like they do now to professors who teach 15 hours a week rather than 12, consider it the new regular course load,” Roae said. “High school teachers teach about 30 hours a week in the classroom, so I am confident professors can handle 15.”
Even if those concessions were an option, they would face stiff resistance from the union.
Roae’s comparison to high school teachers is “comparing apples to oranges,” said Jean Jones president of faculty union local at Edinboro.
College professors typically invest more time in designing the classes they teach and they are expected to conduct research. Professors in the state system are already expected to teach more classes than professors at many other universities, Jones said.
Sabbaticals are worthwhile because they provide professors with the opportunity to focus on research, Jones said. Often, professors will use the time for writing. Jones said she has an sabbatical planned. She intends to spend her time revising a textbook she authored and by traveling to Spain to visit a university there.
Enrollment changes at state universities
2009 enrollment – 9,512
2012 enrollment – 9,950
Change: 438 (4.6 percent increase)
2009 enrollment – 9,017
2012 enrollment – 8,608
Change: -409 (4.5 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 1,488
2012 enrollment – 1,284
Change: -204 (13.7 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 7,346
2012 enrolment – 6,520
Change: -826 (11.2 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 7,576
2012 enrollment – 6,943
Change: -633 (8.3 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 8,287
2012 enrollment – 7,462
Change: -825 (9.9 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 14,638
2012 enrollment – 15,379
Change: 741 (5 percent increase)
2009 enrollment – 10,634
2012 enrollment – 9,804
Change: -830 (7.8 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 5,329
2012 enrollment – 5,328
Change: -1 (0.02 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 3,569
2012 enrollment – 3,131
Change: -438 (12 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 8,427
2012 enrollment – 8,368
Change: -59 (0.7 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 8,253
2012 enrollment – 7,724
Change: -529 (6.4 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 8,648
2012 enrollment – 8,559
Change: -89 (1 percent decrease)
2009 enrollment – 14,211
2012 enrollment – 15,411
Change: 1,200 (8.44 percent increase)
Source: Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education