Eric Zavinski – Editor in Chief
CLARION, Pa- Clarion University of Pennsylvania administration has decided not to lay off faculty for the 2017-18 academic year. A letter acknowledging the possibility of faculty retrenchment had been sent out March 31, 2017.
Acting President Todd Pfannestiel came to his decision after consulting Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney and made the announcement that the letter to retrench faculty at Clarion University was pulled at Thursday night’s Clarion University Board of Trustees meeting.
“We look forward to working closely with the faculty union leadership to address our mutual goals of ensuring academic quality, affordability and cost containment,” said Pfannestiel. “Even though we still face significantly rising costs, we feel that our decision to rescind the retrenchment notice is in the best interest of our students and university.”
Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) President at Clarion Ray Feroz is looking forward to working with Pfannestiel, the administration and faculty to find solutions to cater to what students are interested in and salvage low-enrolled programs.
Feroz said, “When [Pfannestiel] announced it, we all stood up and clapped.”
“We can now devote our energy in a positive direction, working to improve academics, recover enrollment and improve systems here,” said Feroz. “I am absolutely convinced that collaboration and cooperation is the way to make Clarion University a great place for students to learn and faculty to work.”
Talks about retrenchment had started as early as the fall 2016 semester. While Clarion University has achieved a rise in overall enrollment, some programs within the school have not felt that positive change, which had caused the idea of faculty retrenchment to be seen as an option at Clarion.
“The university looks forward this year to continuing meaningful discussions on several topics important to the success of the institution without further considering retrenchment,” said Pfannestiel.
Pfannestiel further explained, “There’s different types of retrenchment. This was a discussion about low-enrolled programs.”
While Pfannestiel would not name troubled programs at Clarion since discussions to remove certain programs could still occur, he confirmed, “We have programs that have one or two students enrolled total.”
Faculty retrenchment had been a possibility for Clarion since these low-enrolled programs include faculty that would not be needed for students to receive degrees in programs that could disappear.
Once the idea formed in his head, Pfannestiel explained that the Clarion administration had to issue a letter of retrenchment according to a contract between PASSHE and APSCUF because a decision had not been made to absolutely avoid retrenchment before the April 1, 2017 deadline to say so.
Pfannestiel said Clarion University administration could then work on taking the letter off of the table, which took nearly six months to do so.
Coupled with the first positive increase in enrollment overall for Clarion this decade and having the school operate in a budget surplus for the first time in years, Pfannestiel felt more confident in his decision to retain faculty.
Feroz was concerned about the shadow of retrenchment this year and was ready to stand with APSCUF. He explained that if members are in danger of getting laid off, the first priority of the union is to defend its members.
“I’m happy we’re not going to experience those feelings,” said Pfannestiel in regard to possible tension between Clarion University administration and faculty.
He also stated that avoiding unwanted relationships between those two bodies was not the driving motivator behind his decision not to retrench faculty but is glad that the wants of both parties aligned.
Pfannestiel and Feroz agree that with retrenchment off the table, both parties can focus more on productive discussions.
“We still face challenges at this university,” said Pfannestiel. “I’m not here to threaten faculty, but I understand how they perceive [the retrenchment letter] as a threat.”
“You can get much more done working together than we can fighting,” said Feroz. “No matter what we do, we need our current faculty.”
Feroz said APSCUF plans to work with the administration to attend to Clarion’s challenges, especially without having to worry about retrenchment. Feroz said that removing the retrenchment letter was a great move for many reasons.
“There are areas where faculty need to be hired,” said Feroz.
Feroz also believes that having this situation work out with no retrenchment means that an interim president can come to Clarion without “a fight going on.” Two candidates for the position will be interviewed at the end of September with a potential appointment to come in October.
Feroz also said that he understands some programs might not be beneficial for the university but hopes many courses in the liberal arts can remain so that students in other majors as well can be better educated.
“We still love general education,” said Feroz.
A situation like the 2014 retrenchment of faculty at Clarion is going to be avoided, which Feroz believes is a good thing. He noted that when 24 Clarion faculty members were retrenched that year and the college of education was dissolved, a correlated drop in enrollment followed.
In the future, Pfannestiel said that a new interim president along with the Clarion administration could cut degree programs in some areas but retain courses within those programs. Retrenchment of faculty teaching in these programs is not an option for the current academic year.
With Clarion no longer considering the possibility of layoffs, Cheyney University remains the solitary school in the State System to have the chance of faculty retrenchment on the table.
“Cheyney’s the smallest and probably the most vulnerable [university],” said Feroz. “As a union, we don’t want layoffs at Cheyney either.”