State system takes next steps toward ‘redesign’

Edward McFadden – Staff Writer

CLARION, Pa- Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced that meetings  continue in efforts to determine what must be done to address the enrollment and financial troubles vexing system and constituent schools. Last year, former Chancellor Frank Brogan contracted the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) to conduct a critical analysis of problems in the system. He also asked for recommended action which led to  a detailed publication in July. In a news release Friday, PASSHE called  the meetings of board members, members of the office of the chancellor and stakeholders a “shift from system review to system redesign.”

Ultimately, much of the decision-making power rests with the office of the chancellor, a team of over 15 professionals not including the chancellor.  Former Clarion President Dr. Karen Whitney assumed the duties of interim chancellor Sept. 12. She spent  her first few weeks on the job visiting universities in the system. Whitney met with presidents, students and other stakeholders in an effort to connect with members of all universities.

She declared her intention to do so on a personal blog linked to the PASSHE website. Whitney and all other members of PASSHE have been eager to assert that their decision-making process is derived from student needs. Board of Governors Chair Cynthia Shapira was quoted saying, “As a system we want to focus on student success. We will define what that means and measure progress toward achieving that goal.”

While no details on any intended changes have been released from PASSHE, the 63-page system review document offers a glimpse into what the NCHEMS recommended the state system to do next. The redesign as proposed by the writers of the review would see the governing body of the state system change both in structure and mindset.

Structurally, the review calls for a replacement of the Board of Governors as it now exists with a Board of Regents, a move intended to “signify the need for a clean break with the current governance model.” The suggested change comes with a nuanced description of the balance of authority between the board members and the chancellor, as well as definitions of responsibilities.

On the other hand, the writers of the review call for members of PASSHE to treat universities more as educational institutions rather than businesses. With appeals to focus on affordable and quality education, the system review went on to point out that professional programs are a benefit to both universities and students. The document suggests at points that the current situation of the schools has been stoked by a culture of competition, political agendas and bureaucracy.

However, if Whitney’s responses to her visits of state universities are any indicator, it would seem that the interim chancellor values a bottom-up approach more. Whitney praised Edinboro University during a visit last week for what she saw as a “strong path forward,” an article on the goErie website reported.

Contributed Photo/ The Clarion Call
Former Clarion University President Karen Whitney commented on the state system changes.

“The strength that I see here is a great sense of community, loyalty and exuberance for this university that not only matters to the students here, but to the Erie community. And I see depth in the relationship between students and not only faculty, but administration as well,” Whitney said.  “To be the best chancellor I can be, I have to listen to the students, alumni and employees. I can’t rely only on what a report says or what people in Harrisburg say.”

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