Eric Zavinski – News Editor
CLARION, Pa.- Clarion University’s 2016-17 school year was one unlike any other; the first faculty strike in Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) history, a review of PASSHE schools in the following semester, a turnaround in enrollment for Clarion and a continued focus on programs tailored to professional careers all helped shape the campus.
President Karen Whitney was there to see it all alongside university students, staff and faculty and gave her thoughts on the present and near future to The Clarion Call for this year in review.
“It’s been a year of historics such as a strike, great achievements such as increases in our enrollment and continued challenges, and through it all, we’re Clarion,” said Whitney.
As a university president who has her contract recommended to extend to 2020 by the Clarion University Council of Trustees for PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan to approve, Whitney maintains that she wants to see the current strategic plan, which is also outlined until 2020, followed.
“Students’ academic interests are driving the university’s strategic thinking,” she said in reference to the rise in professional programs on campus.
According to goals outlined in Clarion University’s strategic directions, Whitney cited wanting to further excel in program offerings relating to teaching, business, health and human services. Clarion University also would like to increase the number of degrees and certificates in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and health-related disciplines.
Whitney mentioned they were careful to align the university’s goals with those of PASSHE including preparing students for careers, providing affordable education and increasing transparency.
Cooperation with PASSHE is one of the reasons Whitney is energized about the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) review of Clarion University and the other 13 PASSHE schools.
“I look at [Brogan’s] directive as a call for change,” said Whitney.
Whitney feels the review of Clarion will breed positive results, allowing the administration and faculty to take recommendations and implement them.
“Is there anything immediately there that we should act on?” Whitney asked rhetorically. If something is in Clarion’s power to fix, she said she is eager to learn about it and change.
NCHEMS visited Clarion University for its review Thursday, April 27 and questioned students, faculty and administrative personnel alike. While details of its review are not meant to be disclosed until the official report expected in late July or early August, Whitney feels positive about the experience so far.
“We have our own history, culture and community,” she said.
Whitney is confident rumored scenarios such as a closure or merger of Clarion University are unlikely, and that substantial recommendations will be issued from NCHEMS to not only the university, but also PASSHE and the state legislature.
Whitney was also proud to report how Clarion University has become more active in terms of its online presence and via social media. With new assets such as the #clarionproud campaign and The Zimmerman Agency’s marketing prowess, Whitney sees informing the public as beneficial for both current students and alumni.
“It’s like stock in the stock market,” she said. “I want you to always feel like it’s rising.”
The Zimmerman Agency has also been assisting Clarion University in its marketing to prospective students, and metrics regarding how much the firm has helped are due in the summer.
Ground is also expected to break this summer in regard to the Tippin Gymnasium and Student Recreation Center renovations, which is slated to include a pool for the rec center, according to Whitney. Originally set to already be in construction, the renovations have been moved up due to a lengthy contracting process.
“The idea of time becomes relative,” Whitney said of the search.
She reported that bids are about to be received, and that when construction begins this year, the real timeline will begin. The renovations for these buildings are scheduled for an 18-month completion from the start of construction.
“[Athletes] are going to be making some sacrifices,” Whitney said.
She also said that renovations will be of better value to the university than simpler repairs in the long run. Whitney encourages residents, students and teachers on campus to have flexibility and a sense of humor while the renovations are being completed.
New installations on campus are not all that excites Whitney. The College of Health and Human Services will make its debut July 1, replacing the original name of the Venango campus to better distinguish what the Venango College’s focus is.
Clarion University will also celebrate its 150th anniversary starting in the fall semester. The administration has special events planned throughout the 2017-18 school year and are looking for student feedback regarding how they can make the sesquicentennial memorable.
“The 150th is going to be big,” said Whitney.