By Yaasmeen Piper
Sporting an ESU Polo, PASSHE interim chancellor Karen Whitney made a guest appearance on campus Oct. 9.
Whitney met with a select group of students, faculty and staff and listened to their views of the campus and discussed possible improvements.
“Pennsylvania is home to some of the finest institutions of higher learning in the world,” Whitney said. “Our system is one of the largest and most robust in the country with over 100,000 students enrolled at 14 universities. So, we got game. We have a real contribution to not only the common wealth but the whole country in terms of our graduates.”
Whitney was selected as chancellor of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), after the sudden retirement of former chancellor Frank Brogan.
Brogan announced his retirement on Sept. 1, following a report that criticized the leadership and environment of distrust that was prevalent in PASSHE.
Before beginning her term Sept. 12, Whitney served as president of Clarion University, another member of the PASSHE system, for seven years.
“When Chancellor Brogan announced his retirement, we had to think about what our next step was going to be,” said the Chair of Board of Governers Cynthia D. Shapira. “We really appreciated that Dr. Whitney did come from a presidency and came from a university where she did face a lot of challenges and could really hit the ground running.”
According to Whitney, her years serving as a president and being a Pennsylvania native helped prepare her for the position as chancellor.
“I worked with all the presidents, I know Pennsylvania, I have an appreciation for all our challenges, and now my commitment is advancing the success at all 14,” she said. “So, it’s a huge help to have had that experience.”
As Whitney rolled into the position, the system already had a lot on its plate.
Over the years, PASSHE has gone through an enrollment decline, with only a hand full of universities seeing increases.
Between 2007 and 2016, the system has seen a drop of nearly 6,000 students.
Whitney says that instead of focus on the decline, universities should put their focus on making sure every student has the proper tools they need in order to achieve their goals.
“The key is we need to organize ourselves to achieve purpose and our purpose is to enroll and graduate students with a plan,” Whitney said. “I think we are re-aligning ourselves.”
According to PASSHE, Monroe County has actually seen an increase between the same years as enrollment rose from 2,360 to 2,432.
“For ESU, for three years we had no decline in enrollment,” said ESU’s president Marcia Welsh. “This year we did by about one percent, so we are not suffering for any severe decline in enrollment.”
Clarion University has also seen a slight increase in enrollment in the past two years.
Rumors of staff cuts are also floating around the system.
Whitney states that with such a large system, fluctuations of positions are common and at times inevitable.
“What I can tell you is at 14 universities, 100,000 students, every day we are adding positions and changing positions, we may eliminate positions all the time,” she said. “We are more about changing our universities and asking people to be flexible and thoughtful about possible changes in their jobs more than anything else.”
Welsh states that ESU has no concrete plans when it comes to staff cuts.
“There will be intentional lay-offs but every position will be evaluated,” she said. “We will look at every vacancy and determine if that position is something that we still need at ESU or should our resources be directed in another way.”
From her devotion to visiting all 14 universities and conversing with students, Whitney has made it clear she is invested in her interim position.
Whether she plans to drop the “interim” part of her title, she says is out of her hands.
“It’s not my authority to change my title,” she said. “The Chair of the Board of Governors and the Board of Governors recruited me to serve this year, which I gladly have done.”
Whitney is working her way through all 14 universities. So far, she has already found what she loves about each of the campus’.
“I can tell you though, my favorite thing is talking to students,” she said. “I love talking to the students because I want to keep in my mind what students love about their university. What do students love about East Stroudsburg? I’m going to find that out this afternoon.”
Whitney’s appointment runs until this summer.
There are no leads on possible replacement positions for chancellor.
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