By State Rep. Jim Struzzi, 62nd Legislative District
With the PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) Board of Governors’ Wednesday morning vote to approve the system redesign, and the 60-day public comment period about to begin, I believe it is important for the people of Indiana County to fully understand this proposal and its impacts on Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). First, I need to be clear that the proposed retrenchments and furloughs at IUP are not the result of the system redesign as many have been led to believe. Rather, they are due to a separate effort by the Board of Governors and Chancellor Dan Greenstein to develop a financial sustainability plan.
As a member of the PASSHE caucus, I have participated in many discussions on the state system redesign. Earlier this month, I expressed my concerns directly to the chancellor regarding retrenchments, furloughs, and the lack of effective communication related to the redesign. I am deeply concerned with the impact that any proposed change will have on IUP and Indiana County. Last week, I also participated in discussions with APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) representatives. I supported Act 50 of 2020, the legislation which facilitated the system redesign, as did APSCUF and AFSCME. I would not have voted in favor of these bills without their support. I need to reiterate that this legislation is not the cause of the recent retrenchments. Act 50 simply allowed the board of governors the authority to restructure the state system, which is still only a proposal at this point.
In a call earlier this month, Chancellor Greenstein outlined the mounting financial challenges the system faces while highlighting the need for changes. The state schools operating in the black are supporting those in the red in the form of millions in subsidies. This is clearly not sustainable, thus the proposed redesign. During last week’s PASSHE caucus call, union representatives expressed their concerns about learning models, future accreditation if schools are combined, sports programs, and more. I again questioned the retrenchments and job losses at IUP.
On Monday afternoon, I spoke directly with APSCUF President. Dr. Jamie Martin, who said the number of faculty retrenchments at IUP has been reduced to around 30 positions, with about 40 support/administrative staff members potentially also being furloughed. Many on the original list have retired or taken other incentives. While these numbers are still concerning, we do know the losses will be fewer than what was previously announced. Dr. Martin confirmed that the retrenchments were not caused by the proposed redesign, but rather through an effort to address student-to-faculty ratios. The original plan was a five-year transition to reach targeted rations, but this was accelerated to a two-year timeline to align workforce and expenses. This is what cause the retrenchment letters, not Act 50 and the proposed redesign.
My concern is that if some continue to mistakenly blame the retrenchments and furloughs on Act 50 and the proposed redesign, they will miss the larger purpose of the redesign and potential positive impacts. In its current form, the state system is not sustainable long-term if changes are not made, which is why APSCUF and AFSCME supported Act 50. The redesign, put simply, is an effort to make changes to save our state system schools. To learn more, follow this link to FAQs on the redesign: FAQs | PA State System of Higher Education
(passhe.edu). Public comments on the proposed redesign can be submitted here: Public Comment | PA State System of Higher Education
I know many in our community are deeply concerned with IUP and the future of PASSHE. Many of you have asked the Legislature to consider additional funding to save jobs at IUP. I have and will continue to advocate for additional funding for the system, but until the larger matter of the long-term financial sustainability of the system is addressed, many of my colleagues see additional dollars as a temporary solution that would not address the root problem.
Know that I share your concerns. I also share your love of IUP and a deep appreciation of its presence in our community, culturally and economically. IUP is woven into the fabric of who we are in Indiana County, and I will do my part to help safeguard the university, its jobs, and the whole state system. It is my hope that the plan for redesign will put IUP and PASSHE on a path toward financial sustainability to ensure that the system can continue to provide an affordable, quality education.