HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors July 14 unanimously approved an integration plan combining six universities into two entities of three institutions each, including Clarion with Edinboro and California.
The plan also integrates Bloomsburg, Mansfield and Lock Haven.
The PSSHE motion prohibits the closure of any of the participating universities. The process for integrating PASSHE universities is defined by law in Act 50, which doesn't grant the power to close campuses.
The final portion of the four-phase plan involves implementation, which is scheduled for the start of the 2022 fall term.
During a public comment period prior to the vote, Clarion University trustee Joy Dunbar said she was initially protective of the university but became a supporter of the integration plan.
Not all of the comments, however, were in favor of the plan.
Todd Spaudlin, of the State College and University Professional Association, asked board members during the Zoom meeting to vote against the plan.
Spaudlin said members of his association who occupy many of the administrative positions at the universities would be negatively affected if the plan were to be adopted.
Emily Keener, of the Women's Consortium of PASSHE, said the plan would affect female employees unfairly; many of them have clerical positions.
Mario Savio, who identified himself as a "working class" Edinboro student, asked the board to delay the vote because the plan would increase the cost to students.
PASSHE Chancellor Daniel Greenstein said the integration plan would increase the availability of programs at all six of the universities.
Greenstein said the "downward pressure of declining enrollments, erosion of the price advantage (of PASSHE schools), and lagging state support ... threatens a university's financial viability."
State Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery County, said 47 members of the Democratic Caucus had requested a one-year delay in implementing the plan.
"We are bleeding $40 to $50 million a year, so to delay the plan would cost us $40 million," Greenstein said. "In the end we would vote on the same plan."
Greenstein said the delay would also prolong uncertainty for students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders.
"A delay would also affect student enrollments and our emerging partnership with the legislature," he said.
State Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster County, said not adopting the plan would have consequences for institutions that "we believe are financially healthy."
He said the financially ailing schools would require loans from the state to remain solvent, and that would divert money from healthy institutions.
PASSHE board member and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Sam Smith, of Jefferson County, said, "Doing nothing was the worst thing that we (the board) could do. I believe this is the best thing we can do. It will be hard on some people, but sometimes that is the cost of change."
Clarion University professor Jamie Phillips said he understands there has been concern among the faculty.
"When I look at integration, I see an opportunity for our students," Phillips said. "We will work to make this happen. Failure is not an option."
Cindy Shapiro, who chairs the PASSHE board, said students and parents "have everything to gain."
Greenstein said, "This is the beginning; not the end of the process. It is a process that will take time."
Reaction to the plan approval was quick from AFSCME Council 13.
AFSCME Council 13 represents more than 65,000 public employees in Pennsylvania, including 2,900 PASSHE employees.
"AFSCME Council 13 is extremely disappointed in the (PASSHE) Board of Governors' unanimous decision to approve the consolidation of six of the system's 14 universities into two," a news release stated. "Council 13 maintains its position that this is a rushed, inadequate plan that threatens the livelihoods of the PASSHE workforce and the quality of service and education on the system's campuses.
"It is clear that the PASSHE Chancellor and Board of Governors made their minds up long ago that this would be their course of action. Shamefully, even a $50 million down payment on a $200 million state investment in PASSHE was not enough for them to reconsider their plan.
"Fortunately, part of that investment will go toward avoiding furloughs and retrenchments as the consolidation plan is implemented, as well as a system to offer placement opportunities with other state agencies for those facing role elimination.
AFSCME will continue to explore every avenue to avoid outsourcing and job cuts on PASSHE campuses for the good of students and employees alike."
Pehrsson has additional role
The PASSHE Board of Governors July 14 appointed Clarion University President Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson as interim president of California and Bashar Hanna as interim president of Mansfield, according to a Clarion news release.
The appointments will begin no later than Aug. 1, the release said.
Pehrrson also serves as interim president of Edinboro; Hanna currently serves as president of Bloomsburg and interim president of Lock Haven.
The release said Pehrsson and Hanna will serve in the interim roles until permanent presidents are selected for the integrated universities, according to the board's policy for presidential appointments, which requires the involvement of students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and others in the process.
In addition, new organizational charts are expected to be released in the coming months as the institutions begin the transition process, the release said.
The release defined integration as three partner campuses -- each maintaining unique brand identities and on-campus educational and student-life experiences -- with a single administration, budget, unified faculty and student-information system, helping to put the institutions on more solid financial footing while expanding access to an increased number of programs across the institutions.