ESU Faculty Face Possible Retrenchment

The black ribbons symbolize the faculty's struggle with retrenchment. Photo Credit / Jessica Tanski
The black ribbons symbolize the faculty’s struggle with retrenchment.
Photo Credit / Jessica Tanski

SC Editor-in-Chief

During the spring semester of 2013, the East Stroudsburg Administration gave The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF) a retrenchment letter that would allow the university to lay off both tenured and non-tenured faculty members. The issue of retrenchment is due, in part, to the financial difficulties ESU is facing.

According to APSCUF, while claiming a $7 million debt ESU has put aside $6 million for the Keystone project, a construction plan for a new student union.

The calculations that were made for paying for the Keystone project were based on  student enrollment projections that are no longer applicable.

According to the administration, The Keystone Project will be funded by the State, ESU Student Activity Association Inc., and Dining Services, not by $6 million that ESU earmarked.

Still, rumors continue to circulate on the ESU campus of the decreasing of general education requirements and retrenchments on specific departments.

On August 30, the Administration released binders of information related to the first six departments being considered for retrenchment. That information has not yet been made public.

“We know that retrenchment is on the table; what the faculty does not know are the criteria being used to judge why one department or faculty might be retrenched versus another department or faculty member,” said Professor of Communications, Dr. Charles Warner, “which makes it kind of difficult to respond to the desires of the administration.”

At this point, APSCUF is holding several meetings with the administration to avoid retrenchment.

“Our interest is to try to avoid or minimize retrenchment; the faculty is working cooperatively with ESU Administration to do so,” said President of  ESU APSCUF, Dr. Nancy VanArsdale.

“Like other institutions of higher education, we must look at the long term financial drain as the number of high school graduates decreases and our own retention rates continue to be lower than we need them to be to stabilize our budget,” said Brenda Friday, speaking on the behalf of the administration.

According to APSCUF’s revised proposal regarding Article 29 (Retrenchment), tenured faculty members to be retrenched will be given notice on or before October 30. Probationary non-tenured faculty members beyond their second year will be notified on or before December 1. Second-year probationary non-tenured faculty members will be notified on or before December 15. First-year probationary non-tenured faculty members will be notified on or before March 1.

The retrenched faculty members will be entitled to unemployment compensation benefits as authorized by law.

ESU’s Student Senate had the opportunity to meet with APSCUF and discuss the issues of retrenchment.

Vice President of Administration & Finances, Kenneth Long, also met with the Student Senate to provide an update on the Budget for 2013/2014. According to the proposed Student Senate Minutes, the approximate $7,559,549 budget deficit was reduced to a $4,981,673 deficit after the changes were made.

In the proposed Student Senate Minutes Long was quoted saying, “One of our great challenges is retaining our students. Enrollment didn’t drop 10% over night so it will take time to bring it up.”

This year, the admissions team was challenged to double its efforts to increase enrollment to help manage the projected shortfall and achieved their goal.

“As many of you are aware, our university is facing tremendous financial challenges. As a result, the issue of retrenchment has arisen.  It is not an easy concept to discuss, as we are talking about the jobs of individuals,” said Senate President,  Justin Amann, in a message to the students. “What is important is that we, as students, focus on our number one goal. That goal is to receive a solid education, delivered efficiently.”

Vice President of APSCUF, Kenneth Mash, and ESU President, Marcia Welsh, communicated via social media on Tuesday, September 3, sending their own messages to the students.

“We could start really controlling student costs by not raising student fees to pay for administrators’ Robert Moses-like dreams,” tweeted Dr. Mash.

“Not an informed response. nice try to appear student-centered,” responded President Welsh.

Recently, ESU APSCUF instructed professors to not use class time to discuss possible retrenchment or budget concerns during time that is dedicated to student learning.

“I certainly agree that faculty should not ever use classrooms for preaching their personal politics, but I also think that just like we are using ‘one book, one campus’ approach to the reading of a philosophical autobiography that might help students perform better, we should be taking a ‘one campus, one challenge’ approach to our financial difficulties,” said Communications Professor, Dr. Patricia Kennedy.

“The concerns surrounding retrenchment are complex and sensitive, and should be taken up in confidential meetings between the faculty union and the administration of ESU per the APSCUF contract before the final plan is made public,” said Amann.

According to the State System of Higher Education, ESU APSCUF believes all efforts to prevent retrenchment and the reduction of large numbers of course offerings for students should be considered.

“There’s no question in my mind that it is not just the faculty who are stakeholders here; it’s also the students. At the end of what happens here how will this impact your ability to get the quality of education that you came here for in the first place,” said Dr. Kennedy.

“This year’s projected $7.6 million shortfall has left the university with difficult choices and few alternative ways to balance the budget,” said Friday. “We continue to look at options that will sustain ESU for the long term as a university with good degree programs for students, while minimizing any negative impact on student learning.”

ESU hopes to finalize its budget within the next few weeks.  No firm decisions about the restructuring of academic programs or retrenchment have been made at this time.

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