For the Pocono Record, East Stroudsburg professor Allen Benn took wrote an op-ed describing East Stroudsburg University’s retrenchment plan and criticized Kenn Long’s – ESU Vice President of Finance – justifications – which was also published in a Pocono Record story – for faculty retrenchment.
In the Pocono Record article that highlighted Ken Long’s concerns at ESU, Long is described as saying:
“It’s going to take a village. Everyone has a stake in this to make the university better,” said Ken Long, ESU’s vice president of finance and administration. “If we don’t change, were going to have a bunch of mediocre programs, deteriorating facilities and enrollment will continue to decline.”
By trying to pit the legislators cliff funding of higher ed, the governor’s lack of general interest in the state system of higher education, and the promises made by the PASSHE Board of Governors to not outpace tuition increases with the rate of inflation against faculty salaries:
Each year, the PASSHE Board of Governors sets tuition for the state schools, usually increasing it to match the rate of inflation — about a 2 percent increase in tuition each year. As far as the university’s expenditures, the largest costs are salaries and benefits, which account for about 70 percent of the current year’s budget and are expected to increase by about 5 to 6 percent per year.
“So our expenditures are going up about 5 percent, but our total revenue is only increasing by about 2 percent,” Long said.
Another concern that Long and the author highlight is declining enrollments:
During the last four years, ESU’s enrollment has dropped by 10 to 12 percent, Long said.
In the next year, it’s anticipated that high school graduation rates across the country will be even lower than in previous years. In the Northeast, a significant segment of the population is moving to the South and the West.
But ESU’s enrollment problem isn’t rooted in recruiting new students. “Keeping students is our biggest problem,” Long said.
According to the article, Long was unable to pinpoint the reasons for declining enrollments, but one good guess would come from the lack of testosterone coming from the PASSHE Board of Governors in pushing for increased funding in higher education? Maybe that would be a decent reason?
Then Ken Long goes into full “neo-liberal” mode when talking about “those” academic programs. You know, stuff like the arts, the sciences, the languages, the liberal arts and all the other stuff that makes a college degree a college degree. In that part of the article, Long states:
“You have to take into consideration that students are shying away from certain programs,” Long said. “I say we are restructuring the university and investing in better programs.”
Then there is the Keyston Center, the 100 million dollar building that will be financed by student fees, the state and a $30,000,000 bond, which that scheme was uncovered by the Raging Chicken Press last week. In the article, Long says:
“What people don’t want to recognize is that the business of higher education is very competitive,” Long said.
He cited figures from a recent Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education study that revealed 60 to 70 percent of students pick a school based on their major, but 70 to 80 percent of students base their final decision on the amenities a school offers.
ESU and Bloomsburg could both offer the same program, but the deciding factor likely comes down to which campus has the better facilities, Long said.
So higher education is a business? Right? Well considering the journalist who wrote the story – on Ken Long’s behalf – didn’t quote anyone from “the other side” like any fair and objective journalist would do, Allen Benn from East Stroudsburg University wrote an op-ed in opposition to the Ken Long love affair.
To start the article, Benn wrote:
“The big picture at ESU,” a Record article of last Monday, presents financial vice president Ken Long’s incorrect justification of the university’s plan to improve its finances by laying off professors — i.e., “retrenchment” — effective in May 2014. Tenured professors to be retrenched must be notified by this Wednesday.
Firing faculty might worsen finances and will certainly worsen educational quality. Retrenchment at ESU is a terrible idea.
Then Benn stated exactly what programs “students are shying away from,” and they include:
Chemistry, Physics, Music, Physical Education, Movement Activities & Lifetime Fitness, and Early Childhood & Elementary Education remain on the list for layoffs.
What about those faculty stooges taking up all the money?
Faculty salary levels are often blamed for any school’s budget problems, but raises at ESU have trailed cost of living increases. The percentage of ESU’s total budget allotted for salaries has dropped from 38.6 percent in 2005 to 34.2 percent in 2012
What about the enrollment problems ESU admins are talking about?
Are ESU’s financial problems so big that more faculty reductions must happen? No. Enrollment last year fell just over 2.38 percent, as opposed to the 2.15 percent average for all PASSHE schools. Mansfield, Clarion and Edinboro, the other PASSHE schools planning to lay off faculty, have had much larger enrollment problems than ESU, which has an obvious geographical advantage located between New York and Philadelphia.
Then Mr. Benn explains what ESU should do as an alternative to Kenn Long’s planned retrenchment:
1) Stop the Keystone Project, a $110 million, four-year rebuilding of the campus core to begin this summer. Mr. Long defends it, stating that students care more about “amenities” than “their major.” Really? Although this money comes from the state and student fees, further millions in ancillary costs will accrue. Undeterred, Mr. Long says, “that’s still four years away.” The project gambles that ESU’s enrollment will increase. But if growth is certain, why fire professors and be branded as an institution in crisis with large classes and small options? Why shrink programs to pay for bigger buildings?
2) Restore summer school, which always helped students and made money. Cutting it was another penny-wise, pound-foolish measure.
3) Reduce managers. ESU’s ratio of managers to students ranks second of PASSHE’s 14 schools, trailing only Cheyney.
4) Collaborate with faculty to find other solutions, even at the Council of Trustees level.