Indiana University of Pennsylvania is one of seven Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education institutions that have been told that a significant number of faculty layoffs is a possibility.
“Retrenchment at IUP would be devastating,” said Dr. Erika D. Frenzel, professor of criminology and criminal justice and president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty chapter at IUP. “Here the retrenchment numbers considered are 128 (full-time equivalent employees) that is about a third of the faculty here.”
According to IUP Executive Director of Media Relations Michelle Fryling, the university has “601 permanent and temporary faculty.” She did not have a breakdown by those tenured (with more than five years on the faculty) and not tenured.
Frenzel’s numbers are similar to those provided by Dr. Jamie Martin, an IUP faculty member who is statewide APSCUF president. IUP is the second-largest of 14 PASSHE universities — and the largest served notice of possible retrenchment, along with California, Cheyney, Clarion, Edinboro, Lock Haven and Mansfield.
Letters warning of possible retrenchment also went out in the summer to faculty at Bloomsburg, Millersville and Kutztown, but Martin said those schools have since rescinded those letters.
“It isn’t just the loss of careers/jobs at IUP,” Frenzel added. “It hurts the students, (and means) larger classes sizes and less choices for classes and potentially programs.”
It is a decision that may have to come soon, perhaps within two years, under directives sent out by PASSHE Chancellor Dr. Dan Greenstein. The first directive went out Feb. 13.
“In February, the universities needed to show how they could align their costs with revenues and find financial sustainability within five years,” PASSHE spokesman David Pidgeon said.
That includes dealing with what Pidgeon called “our single largest piece of our financial puzzle, 74 percent personnel costs.”
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new directive April 13, requiring the universities to achieve 2010-11 student/faculty and student/non-faculty ratios by the 2021-22 academic year. As Martin pointed out, that was the peak of student enrollment in the state system, 119,000, and an average ratio of 21 students for every faculty member.
IUP reached a record enrollment in credit programs of 15,379 in the fall of 2012. Since then, the APSCUF president said, “there has been a decline in enrollment but also there have been declines in the number of faculty.” According to IUP’s social media, the ratio now is 18 students for every faculty member.
“Why must our students face larger class sizes that are less optimal for learning?” Frenzel asked.
“I don’t know why a student at IUP or a student at any of the universities in the state system are less deserving of a smaller class size than their counterparts at (state-related) Penn State or Pitt or Temple or Lehigh, or SUNY,” the State University of New York system, Martin said. “It is a system that is similar in nature to PASSHE. Our student-faculty ratios are higher than any of those.”
That average takes into account both classes where fewer students may be involved, such as in a laboratory, and larger students, such as those who may fill up auditoriums for lectures.
It makes Martin wonder: “What is going to happen to those students when they go into their junior year?”
Official numbers for the fall of 2020 are not yet available, but should be released shortly. IUP reported enrollment of 10,348 in the fall of 2019.
She wonders if retrenchment could lead to getting rid of majors. And there are other problems.
“You don’t get to know the students as well,” Martin said. “How do you send out letters of recommendations (for jobs, graduate schools, etc.) when you don’t get to know the students?”
Other things have changed in the past decade.
“The chancellor has made very clear that we could not continue to burden students with carrying the cost of the state system,” Pidgeon said. “Back in 2009-10, we were roughly $7,000 more affordable than state-related universities. We were roughly $9,000 than your average private school in Pennsylvania.”
Unfortunately, the PASSHE spokesman said, the competitive edge has been eroded, at least through 2017-18.
“The difference now is $2,000 with state-related universities, $2,700 for private schools,” Pidgeon said.
Amid all this, Martin said, faculty morale is eroding, with the directives and the concerns raised by the pandemic.
“Systemwide 258 faculty took advantage of a retirement incentive opportunity, some last year, some over the summer,” Martin said. “There was a deadline in August. I believe at IUP at least 30 faculty retired.”
And, she added, the economic impact could be widespread, on housing and jobs in fields that depend on IUP.
“This has been a challenging and stressful time,” Martin said.
Competition with other schools and the demographics that haven’t favored increased enrollment in area colleges in recent years are not the only complications here.
There is the ongoing System Redesign, PASSHE’s bid to ensure student success, leverage university strengths and transform the governance and leadership structure at IUP and the other State System universities.
There is the outgrowth of Act 50, legislation that opens the door to sharing services among multiple schools in the State System. IUP and West Chester are exempt from one aspect of such sharing, the talks now ongoing to bring together California, Clarion and Edinboro in the west, and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield in the east.
It is termed an integration of those schools. Greenstein is having a financial analysis done, the results of which may come out at the next PASSHE Board of Governors meeting later this month.
“These are difficult conversations to be had, up and down the state system,” Pidgeon said.
Conversations also have been going on regularly among faculty, at times weekly. Earlier this week, APSCUF invited students and reporters for student newspapers to take part in a conference call discussing possible retrenchments. Other media was barred from the call.