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Integration a major topic at LHU Trustees meeting

LOCK HAVEN — The integration of Lock Haven University with its sister schools Bloomsburg and Mansfield was one of two major topics of discussion during the LHU Board of Trustees meeting.

The integration was announced earlier this week in hopes it would battle the fiscal issues the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is seeing statewide in its six universities.

The proposal is still being discussed with integration projected to being in 2022 if approved.

University President Dr. Robert Pignatello addressed the integration during his report on Friday afternoon when reviewing LHU’s finances. The university is currently facing financial woes due to years of declining enrollment and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not something that’s only effecting us, it’s effecting universities and colleges across the country but certainly the majority of universities in our system,” Pignatello said.

The issues the university and PASSHE face is something that has been a long time in the making with declining enrollment and revenue losses.

“Frankly the system should have acted years ago but it didn’t. It is now and the need has become so very urgent,” Pignatello said. “Now the problem is really too big for many of our institutions to solve on our own.”

Pignatello said the new path of intigrating PASSHE’s six universities into two groupings will be made in an effort to “create efficiencies for academic offerings, support services.”

He added that this structure may conclude “where three will likely become one.”

Pignatello acknowledged the hardships and implications this would create but said the intent would be to create an infrastructure that would capitilize on each universities strengths for its students.

“That’s what we need to focus on. The process will not be easy and will take time but these combined assets locally and regionally can be very powerful if we do this right,” he said.

Dr. Ron Darbeau, vice president and provost, also acknowledged the financial difficulties the univeristy and PASSHE system are facing. In his report he touched on the requirements LHU will have to make to reach the Board of Governors and Chancellor Daniel Greenstein’s finanical benchmark.

“Chief amongst those are a reduction in both our faculty compliment as well as to our program array. That is further complicated by conversations regarding integration with intially Mansfield and now Bloomsburg,” Darbeau said.

Darbeau, who was appointed as provost earlier this year, said he hadn’t expected the challenges they face when first hired.

“But there are things that are necessary to maintain our ability to provide lattice opportunity for students in the region,” he said. “I am fully confident that the instituion can manage and navigate those and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We will be able to emerge from this stronger and more resiliant and capable of doing what is critical to our mission.”

The reduction of staff as a result of PASSHE’s requirements and university integration were points of issue that Peter Campbell addressed.

Campbell, LHU’s president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculty (APSCUF), said the staff felt the university should be made to find a solution to its finanical problems.

He noted that the university has the lowest debt in the PASSHE system, the highest reserves and, under Pignatello’s leadership, an increase in student retention of 10.5 percent.

These positives were only the result of collaboration between the university staff, coaches and management.

“The local management team has shown tremendous results over the past two years and they deserve the opportunity to implement their own independent plan to resolve the financial concerns at the institution in a timely fashion,” Campbell said.

Campbell said Greenstein was ignoring the progress the university made and manadated a “draconian” policy to all PASSHE schools instead.

“These measures fail to provide the local management teams with flexibility, autonomy and authority given their specific individual circumstances to solve the financial challenges they face,” he said.

This has lead to the possible reduction in its staff which Campbell feels could undo the good process LHU has made over the years and affect student enrollment and retention.

If PASSHE’s integration process were to be implemented in 2022 as projected, it would have a negative impact, he said.

“My concern is the reality will be one that reduces access to affordable quality education for students in the local community and throughout the Commonwealth. That Lock Haven University will not be able to provide the “special” quality educational experience that makes us unique to our alumni, current, and future students,” he said.

Campbell requested that the trustees review PASSHE’s integration plan, the program reductions and retrenchment.

“If after your review, you realize that the institution is under threat, I ask you to be vocal and express your concerns to the Chancellor and dissuade him of his flawed vision that will undermine the success, and perhaps, the future existence of Lock Haven University itself,” he concluded.

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