Old Main at California University of Pennsylvania

Kelly Tunney

Old Main at California University of Pennsylvania is pictured in this file photo. The school reported its first enrollment increase in the the last six years.

Officials in the State System of Higher Education are warning that reductions may take place in faculty numbers next year at five of the system’s 14 universities, including California.

“All of the universities that have notified the (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) union of the possibility of retrenchment did so to meet the terms of the union contract,” system spokesman Kenn Marshall said Tuesday.

That contract requires what amounts to a full academic year’s notice of retrenchment or elimination of faculty positions, or in this case until July 1, 2018.

“We understand finances are tight, but cutting programs and faculty members is penny wise and pound foolish,” APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash responded. “Limiting opportunities will not help universities heal or grow. It certainly does nothing to encourage potential students to enroll.”

APSCUF represents 5,500 faculty members and coaches at the 14 universities. That includes 391 faculty in both permanent and temporary roles at Cal U in eastern Washington County.

While concerns have been raised about what funding the state system will get in the budget now under discussion by the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, Marshall stressed retrenchment notices by Cal U as well as Cheyney, Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield universities were related to possible programmatic changes, not state funding cuts.

“For example,” Marshall said, “Cal U has been talking for a while now about refocusing its mission to emphasize science and technology. That could result in the university needing to readjust its faculty composition.”

The school’s efforts received a thumbs-up from the state senator whose district includes Cal U.

“I appreciate the fact that the university is exploring all options to provide a quality education at a reasonable cost to students while focusing on the fields that are in the highest demand in today’s economy,” said state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela.

Cal U’s Associate Vice President Christine Kindl said any significant program and budget changes are addressed with a great deal of care and thought. As suggested by Cal U’s President Geraldine Jones in a February address, Cal U’s “special mission in science and technology” since the mid-1970s could guide the university’s way forward.

“Yes, program reviews certainly could lead to expansion in high-demand areas,” Kindl said. “It is important to align our faculty complement with student demand and the university’s needs.”

Mash said the letters add to an atmosphere of uncertainty that has already been fueled by talk of possible closures and mergers.

“The mission of the State System is to provide a high-quality university education at an affordable price,” Mash said. “The cost has continued to increase, and now universities are threatening to strike at quality by reducing the programs they offer students.”

Systemwide, Marshall said, between 2010 and 2016, a total of 76 retrenchment notices were issued by seven universities.

Of those, he said, only nine faculty members who received individual letters of possible retrenchment are no longer employed in the State System, and two of those volunteered for retrenchment and accepted positions at universities outside of the system.

“Lawmakers are already studying how we can assist PASSHE schools and their students deal with stagnant enrollment and increasing costs,” Bartolotta said. “I am optimistic this cooperative process will result in a solution that meets the diverse needs of local students and prepares them for success in the workforce.”

Kindl acknowledged that a number of financial factors remain uncertain, so the notification was made in case it had to be used.

“Our students’ needs must come first, but our administration is always mindful of the impact that its decisions may have on our faculty, as well,” Kindl said. “We intend to continue working with the faculty union to achieve the best possible outcome.”

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