By Mike Maher
Alumnus / Former SC Editor
When I left East Stroudsburg University in 2009, I thought the school’s dark times were coming to an end.
I thought the school had finally started to turn a corner, that the students and faculty who stood up to a corrupt administration (for legal purposes, we’ll say it was “allegedly corrupt.” For the purposes of this argument, we’ll just assume that corrupt means that, in this writer’s opinion, it was “morally corrupt.”) had made a difference and a lasting impression on the school.
As it turned out, I was only partially right. I attended ESU from 2005 to 2009, and during that time I was the Vice President and Forum Editor of The Stroud Courier for three years.
During that time, unfortunately, a number of students were harmed, in various ways. As a student leader and as a journalist, I became deeply involved.
The news kept coming out: students had been (allegedly) harmed by a member of the administration, what was done to them was sickening, the university had paid a six figure settlement to a former employee in exchange for her silence, and more.
Each bit of news was more despicable than the last.
The students, the faculty, and the community were outraged. We turned to then President Robert Dillman and demanded answers.
We received none.
E-mails went unanswered. Phone calls were received only with “no comment,” and the cries of students, faculty, and community members were ignored.
The administrator accused of those sickening actions was suspended and then finally let go, and Dillman finally stepped down last year (although I would have preferred a much different exit).
Time and court proceedings (which are still ongoing) will tell how much certain members of that administration will have to pay for their parts in what happened.
2013 could have finally been a fresh start for ESU. That is why it is so frustrating to see what is happening at ESU right now: retrenchment and regression.
At a time when ESU could be taking a step forward, they are instead taking several steps backward.
Yes, enrollment has fallen at just about all of the PASSHE schools over the past five years or so. Yes, enrollment at ESU from 2009 to 2012 fell around 10 percent.
But think about that time period for a minute.
Think real hard about those years, 2009 to 2012, and you will have a pretty good idea why enrollment would fall.
Those are the years immediately following the news of what happened to ESU students, (allegedly) at the hands of an ESU administrator, with the same administration and President in place.
It is also the same time period which saw an equally horrifying but much more widely known situation come to light at Penn State University.
ESU is very much a university made up of people from the area.
They boast a large number of commuters and students who live in the area year-round.
The parents of these students and potential students know ESU, and they know what happened here.
Look at those years and all of that information and then ask yourself:
What parent in their right mind would want to send their student to ESU, a university which so clearly put the safety of its students near the bottom of its list of priorities?
A new President and another year removed could have been a big step forward, a chance to continue to rebuild the university’s reputation and make ESU a place students want to attend and a place parents are comfortable allowing their children to attend.
Instead, it has been disastrous, although in much different ways than in years past.
It is clear that by hiring Marcia Welsh, ESU was looking for the anti-Dillman. They wanted someone positive, engaging, and energetic.
Someone with a warm face (as compared to the toad-like glare we grew accustomed to with Dillman), someone who shows up at ESU athletic and multicultural events.
Someone omnipresent to be a face for the university.
They got some of those things. President Welsh, for her part, is many of those things. She is even active and sometimes engaging on social media sites like Twitter.
However, the university also got a few other things with Welsh: shortsightedness and the inability to remove herself from the big picture.
That is where the retrenchment comes in. Now, Welsh obviously did not devise this plan of cutting programs and laying off faculty on her own, but she is standing firmly behind it.
At the press conference announcing many of the cuts, she even mentioned how difficult the process has been and that she has been called names, that she is offended by anyone who thinks these decisions have been easy.
Get over yourself, Marcia.
Now, this is not an article which is going to lay out better options for balancing the budget. Dr. Alan Benn’s recent Op Ed in the Pocono Record is a good place to start for that information.
I do, however, know that cutting programs and faculty is at the top of a mountain of terrible ideas.
I know that the Keystone Project, a four year construction project which is going to cost over $100 million dollars (while you are trying to balance a budget), is the next idea down on that mountain.
And I know that cutting the Counseling Center is a great way for an administration to show that it still does not care about its students.
Retrenchment is not the answer for East Stroudsburg University. Closed door meetings, leaving the faculty union and the students in the dark about plans is not the answer. That is what the previous administration did, and it is why the university continues to be undesirable.
Students are not going to want to come to a university if they think their major is going to be cut either during their time there or shortly after, severely diminishing the value of their degree.
They are not going to want to attend a university which builds a brand new Science and Technology Building and then cuts Sciences.
They will not want to attend a school without a Music department, a school which eliminates a Counseling Center. You get the point.
If the ESU administration is looking to appoint blame for the reduced numbers in enrollment over the past several years, they would do themselves a disservice if they did not start by looking in the mirror. Students did not feel safe at ESU.
Parents did not feel right sending their children to ESU. No one wanted to be here, and they had every right to feel that way. Now, though, we have the opportunity to turn things around. Retrenchment takes that opportunity away.
Despite what happened while I was there, I am still proud of the education I got at ESU. I was taught by some truly incredible professors (see: McKay, Madigan, Misurella, Broun, Benn, Smith, Eckard, Strete, and many others), and I feel like I received an outstanding education.
I have a job I love, and I attribute that to my ESU education.
But I want to be proud of my school, not just the students and faculty, and it is up to the administration to make the right decisions and turn things around.
They have to work with students and faculty, not try to work around them.
If this trend of retrenchment and regression continues, then President Welsh and other administrators will have every right to be offended. They will have earned it.
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