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University integration ratified

Vote unanimous; process means layoffs, restructuring

HARRISBURG — The Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has put its unanimous stamp of approval on combining six universities within the 14-school system, including Lock Haven.

The vote came via a live-streamed, hours-long meeting on Wednesday that sets in motion what likely will be a years-long process of restructuring Lock Haven, Mansfield and Bloomsburg universities in a single school with separate campuses in the east, and Clarion, California and Edinboro in the west.

A majority of board members talked about not seeing any other way forward as the system faces significant financial challenges because all of the schools have not proportionately cost-cut in the face of declining enrollments, contractural obligations and minimal state funding increases.

The motion needed 12 votes to pass under the Legislature’s Act 50, but received all 18 BOG members’ support.

There was talk of delaying the vote, but Chancellor Dan Greenstein said the system would — with deferred maintenance, contract costs, building, programming and other expenses — basically be “bleeding $40 million to $50 million a year” without integration.

A delay in integration, Greenstein argued, also would “prolong uncertainty for students, faculty, staff, other stakeholders … (and have) negative enrollment impacts.”

Further, he said a delayed vote “threatens emerging partnerships with the General Assembly,” indicating — along with chair Cynthia Shapira — that the process has prompted some legislators to communicate with PASSHE for the first time.

The chancellor emphasized that, under integration, “the six institutions involved in these integrations will maintain their historical names and identities along with robust residential educational experiences while expanding academic program opportunities, enhancing supports that improve outcomes for all our students, and reaching communities that are currently underserved,” the system said.

“These universities have been part of the cultural and economic fabric of their communities for well over a century and they will continue to be so for years to come. Additionally, the degrees they offer to new graduates, as well as those held by alumni will maintain the highest value. We set out on this journey determined to do what’s right for students, their communities, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am humbled and tremendously excited by the opportunity we have today to work together, building towards that objective. I want to thank the people who dedicated their time and ideas in crafting and commenting on the plan and look forward to working with you and all our stakeholders going forward.”

He promised all students they “will complete their degrees without disruption” and had positive messages for parents, alumni and host communities.

Greenstein pledged that students, moving forward, will be “enrolled in insitutions at the forefront of educational practice … that is deeply connected to community.”

The consolidation is to start taking place in the fall of 2022, with many details still to emerge.

All six campuses will remain open, with integrated faculty, curriculum and enrollment.

But integration will result in job losses, though estimates differ.

Greenstein has pledged to “minimize” cuts through attrition.

At last look, LHU is projected to lose 23 percent of its workforce, or about 114 positions.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center developed a report based on PASSHE documents that projects a reduction of 661 full-time equivalent positions at eight other universities in the system, for a total cut of 1,531 jobs systemwide as of 2023. That would drop the size of the workforce from 11,048 positions in 2019 to 9,517 in 2023. Women, who hold a disproportionate share of the untenured positions, would be disproportionately impacted, the report states.

“The cuts, amounting to 14 percent of overall PASSHE employment, are of a magnitude equivalent to the largest private-sector plant closings and mass layoffs in a decade in Pennsylvania,” the report states.

Still, the chancellor pledged a ‘high degree of transparency and accountability” as the integration proceeds.

He again insisted, citing a third-party study, that integration would ‘have a greater positive economic impact (on host communities) than their respective institutions would have if not integrated.

“Today’s vote represents the most profound reimagining of public higher education in the Commonwealth since the State System began in 1983,” said Cindy Shapira, chair of the Board of Governors. “This effort has proven we can fulfill what we set out to do– ensuring student and institutional success while providing the highest quality education at the lowest possible price.”

While the vote represents the culmination of a year’s worth of work by more than 1,000 students, staff, faculty, trustees, and more, the efforts to complete the two integrations will take years.

Among the most important tasks are developing the curriculum that supports the new academic program array, fleshing out organizational charts, and finalizing work with the NCAA to ensure athletics will continue at each campus.

“As we have said from the beginning, building an integrated university will take time,” said Greenstein. “You cannot flip a switch and expect it to be done. The work will engage all stakeholders, be conducted transparently through routine quarterly reporting to the Board and the General Assembly, and be subjected to our constant review and refinement so that we accomplish the best possible result for our students and their communities, now and in the future.”

The board also appointed Bashar Hanna as interim president of Mansfield and Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson as interim president of California, to begin no later than Aug. 1. Hanna currently serves as president of Bloomsburg and interim president of Lock Haven, while Pehrsson serves as president of Clarion and interim president of Edinboro.

“The appointments of Hanna and Pehrsson will help to ensure a smooth leadership transition while the first phase of integrations implementation gets underway. They will serve in these roles until permanent presidents are selected for the integrated universities according to the Board’s policy for presidential appointments, which requires the involvement of students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and others in the process,” the system said in a prepared statement.

Greenstein, meanwhile, pledged to work “with collective bargaining units to minimize impacts of further pre- and post-integration job losses.”

State system faculty have binding collective bargaining agreements that assign seniority for job security, meaning those with the most seniority are more protected from job losses. System-wide coaches also have a collective bargaining agreement.

Greenstein said integration will benefit students at the universities because they will have access to a much wider selection of programs of study, both in-person and online.

“A student at Mansfield (for example) should have access to 80 or 90 programs of study” due to the availability of programs at all three schools, he said, asking rhetorically, “And why shouldn’t they?”

He reviewed and quantified the public commment received since the April prelimnary vote to integrate, and it was clear that constituents of LHU were very vocal. Indeed, some 100 comments were recorded from LHU-affiliated supporters, second only to West Chester, the largest school in the system. Overall, faculty were the largest group to speak out, accounting for 43% of the total. Second were alumni at 21%.

A majority of those who offered public comment during a 60-day period that ended June 30 expressed opinions opposed to integration.

New organizational charts are expected to be released in the coming months as the institutions begin the transition process. Integration means with three partner campuses — each allegedly maintaining their unique brand identities and on-campus educational and student life experiences — there will be a single administration, budget, unified faculty, and student information system, helping to put these institutions on more solid financial footing while expanding access to an increased number of programs across the institutions.

“Key to supporting this effort is the Commonwealth’s recent commitment of $200 million over four years that will be used to invest in student success initiatives, reduce current debt loads, and support faculty and staff training and transition,” the system said.

The first cohort of students will begin at an integrated university in August 2022, with the integrated curriculum being finalized by August of 2024.

Integrations are made possible by Act 50 of 2020, which received near-unanimous support in the state Legislature and Governor’s Office. It lays out a process, including ongoing, quarterly consultation with elected officials, by which the State System can restructure itself for the benefit of students, to improve financial sustainability, and to continue to serve their regions with educational opportunities and as major employers.

In the aftermath of the vote, LHU sent a message to “alumni, donors and friends.”

Sent by Joe Fiochetta, LHU’s vice president of university advancement, the statement reads as follows:

“Earlier today, the Board of Governors voted to approve and move forward with the Northeast and West Integration plans. The Board’s decision is a vote of confidence in the 1,000+ people who have worked tirelessly to develop the first phase of the plan and allows us to move forward with the implementation phase. To you, our loyal alumni, donors, and friends of Lock Haven University: I want to take this opportunity to assure you that each institution’s foundations and alumni associations will remain independent, connecting classmates with their beloved alma mater. This is a continued affirmation that we will maintain our identity as Bald Eagles.

“Your continued support and commitment to our University will help us move forward and become stronger as we approach this new chapter in the life of our beloved institution. As always, you, as our donors, will continue to be able to designate funds in support of students and programs that mean the most to you. We remain steadfastly focused on our students and their success. We are committed to expanding affordable, high-quality educational opportunities for our students while maintaining vibrant campuses within our respective communities.

“We will continue to keep you informed of the next steps and important milestones. I thank all of you who have been so generous with your time, expertise, and philanthropic support over the last year. I appreciate your ongoing commitment to our students and Lock Haven University as the university community moves forward with implementing the integration plan.”

Voting Wednesday were Robert Bogle, state Rep. Tim Briggs, Bill Gindlesperger, Allison Jones, state Sen. Scott Martin, David Maser, Marian D. Moskowitz, Noe Ortega, state Rep. Brad Roae, Alexander C. Roberts, state Sen. Judith Schwank, Zakariya Scott, Shapira, Larry C. Skinner, Samuel H. Smith, Stephen L. Washington Jr., Neil R. Weaver and Janet L. Yeomans.

Don Houser, a former LHU trustee who served on the Board of Governors, resigned his position on the BOG last month before today’s vote.

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