ESU’s Council of Trustees officially began the search for a new university president at last Thursday’s meeting held inside the Innovation Center.
The search for a new university president became necessary when current ESU President Dr. Marcia Welsh announced that she would be retiring as university president effective July 31. Her retirement was accepted by the Trustees during a special meeting of the Trustees held on January 29.
Three trustees were appointed to the new search committee. Trustee Tina Nixon will serve as the chair. She will be joined by Patrick Ross is the chair of ESU’s Council of Trustees and Marcus Lingenfelter, Vice President of the Council of Trustees.
“We did a good job last time, and hopefully we will do a good job this time,” Ross said.
Welsh may be leaving ESU, but she reaffirmed her strong commitment to ESU at the meeting.
“It was an extremely difficult decision. I will be committed to ESU and our students and will be working to meet some of both my own personal goals as well as institutional goals before I leave. So please don’t consider me to be a lame-duck president. I am here until I am not and will continue my very strong commitment to ESU,” Welsh said.
With that being said, Welsh presented her President’s Report which focused on the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE’s) redesign.
She discussed the financial sustainability of the 14 different PASSHE institutions. Five-year sustainability plans are to be prepared annually by the universities deemed to be experiencing financial stress. For this past fall and the spring, nine of the 14 State System institutions were required to submit five-year sustainability plans to the Pennsylvania Board of Governors as part of the normal budget process.
According to Welsh, the plans were reviewed by PASSHE, and all plans were deemed insufficient. All nine institutions were told to go back and revise their plans asking them to move faster in attaining sustainability. With the plans as written, the nine institutions would need $97 million over the next five years.
For now, ESU is in what is categorized as a financially stable position, so ESU was not required to submit a financial sustainability plan.
Nevertheless, Welsh noted that the long-term financial sustainability of ESU remains a concern.
“ESU will work with other institutions to basically become a stronger system working together whenever it is in the best interest of ESU to do so–sharing classes, sharing faculty, partnering with academic programs and perhaps even sharing executive staff when necessary to save on precious resources,” Welsh said.
Further, Welsh said that ESU will be reviewing all under-enrolled academic programs and under-enrolled courses to close or consolidate for cost savings.
Welsh stated that the State System has committed to a retirement-incentive program with the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) if the faculty members will commit to retiring by March 2. If 200 APSCUF members agree to retire, then the faculty members who retire will receive a bonus payout.
At this time, 11 ESU faculty have announced their retirement since this agreement was reached. System-wide at the time of this writing, there are now 154 announced retirements.
“I think it is important to know that hitting that 200 number is very important for our sister institutions especially, but it is also helping us,” Welsh said. “So, we do hope that APSCUF does hit the 200 marks.”
The meeting also brought up a frequent question among college athletics: Should student-athletes get paid for the use of their names, images, and likenesses?
“The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference presidents–all 18 of us–are united in asking that college sports be regulated at the national level, preferably by the NCAA, where it can be monitored for uniformity of rules and a level playing field for our student-athletes,” Welsh said.
Welsh then announced that this spring’s commencement speaker will be Dr. Wil Del Pilar, Vice President of Higher Education Policy and Practice at the Education Trust. In his role, Del Pilar works to highlight inequities and outline solutions in order to improve access, success, affordability, and completion of higher education for low-income students and students of color.
Before joining the Education Trust, Del Pilar served in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration as Deputy Secretary of Postsecondary and Higher Education where he developed and implemented the state’s vision of higher education and also served on the PASSHE Board of Governors.
“He is one of the very few members of the Board of Governors who have ever visited our campus,” Welsh said.
The Strategic Initiatives Committee Report was presented by Provost Joanne Bruno on behalf of Trustee Lingenfelter.
Bruno said that a special cross-divisional approach to what is being called the “Warrior Success Network and Retention Challenge” yielded some good results. This cross-divisional project was informed by data and was conducted in partnership with the Student Government Association. Together, they identified 288 ESU students who were not able to register ostensibly because of financial holds. Out of those 288 students, ESU was able to get about one-third of them registered for the spring semester. As a result, Bruno said that the fall-to-spring retention rate for this year has reversed a four-year trend.
“We are going upward in terms of retention from fall to spring,” Bruno said.
Bruno also announced that a grant proposal was submitted to study developmental math reform at ESU and other PASSHE schools. This research study aims to test the efficacy of different approaches to developmental mathematics.
Lastly, the Provost said that a new gaming center dedicated to eSports was being developed in the University Center.
“It is to be followed by another opportunity in Rosenkrans to build on the momentum of gaming across the college campuses, which also helps students get out of their dorms and into public spaces and be very productive as they develop skills aligned with the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields,” Bruno said.
Separately, it was announced that room 113 inside Stroud Hall will be renovated over the summer and the facilities inside Koehler Fieldhouse are scheduled to be upgraded this year.
Ross then revealed that long-time Trustee Harry Lee has retired as an ESU Trustee. Ross said that Lee served for 22 years and made great contributions to the university.
Ross also said that Trustee Vincent DeFranco is not in very good health and asked people to keep him in their prayers.
The next Council of Trustees meeting is scheduled for April 16 at the Innovation Center.
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