The Role of Context
Merriam-Webster defines “context” as “the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs.” In addition, context usually involves the use of the descriptive terms through which that “something” can be fully understood and assessed.
The fact that Act 188’s mandate regarding the Commission of Presidents was ignored by PASSHE’s Board of Governors as well as its Chief Counsel for the 16 years from 1993 to 2008, is just one more unfulfilled “something” from Act 188 that cries out for an explanation.
Act 188¹ contains the following mandate: “The commission shall recommend policies for the institutions and shall act in an advisory capacity to the chancellor and the governors.” (Emphasis added.)
Recall the statutory purpose of the fourteen PASSHE universities from Act 188—high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students—has also been ignored by PASSHE’s Board of Governors and Chief Counsel. With such a lawless context, is anyone surprised that the Act 188 mandate regarding the Commission of Presidents might also be ignored?
PASSHE’s 14 universities include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
The Commission of Presidents (2009 - 2012)
Recall from last week’s post that while I never criticized my colleague presidents for holding back on the truth in the only settings available to us between 1992 and 2008—public Board of Governors’ meetings with the media present—I resolved to do it differently if and when my turn came as Commission Chair.
With the start of my first term as chair of the Commission of Presidents in July of 2008, I resolved that “differently” would include: 1) Sending Commission of Presidents’ motions to the Chancellor and Board of Governors, and 2) speaking more truthfully in public whenever such opportunities came up.
By doing the necessary staff work, and then conducting regular phone-conference meetings of the Commission of Presidents, I was able to see progress toward our first tangible success as a Commission.
Here is the first document approved by the Commission of Presidents during my term as Chair:
Commission of Presidents’ Meeting – March 15, 2010
The ongoing privatization of ‘public’ universities is inescapable because of a gigantic 50-year shift in the demographics of American society. Between 1950 and 2000 the percentage of voting households with at least one person 18 or younger living there fell from 57% to 34%. This means that by 2000, fully two-thirds of the voting households in America could no longer benefit directly from public higher education and, consequently, it is likely that the people living there don’t want their taxes raised to send someone else’s son or daughter to college.
As a result of these demographics, the privatization of ‘public’ universities became inevitable. The only remaining question is whether it continues to occur without a plan. Since the last 27 years of privatization have occurred without a plan by our elected officials, it is extremely likely that that situation will persist indefinitely unless the ‘public’ universities, and the System of which they are a part, take the lead in developing a plan for privatization that is acceptable to all the relevant parties, including the universities, the System, the Governor and the Legislature.
The above two paragraphs served as the Rationale for our very first Commission of Presidents’ Motion to the PASSHE Chancellor and Board of Governors.
The first Commission of Presidents’ Motion to the Chancellor and Board of Governors read as follows:
“Resolved: That Chancellor Cavanaugh set up a meeting between the Commission of Presidents and the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors at which the question of PASSHE taking the lead in developing a plan for privatization that is acceptable to all the relevant parties including the universities, the System, the Governor and the Legislature.”
The Chair of the Commission of Presidents Meets with Chancellor Cavanaugh
Shortly after the Commission of Presidents had approved its first motion and rationale in more than sixteen years, I met with Chancellor Cavanaugh to deliver this milestone document, in partial fulfillment of the Act 188 mandate on the role of the Commission of Presidents.
As I saw it, now that the Commission of Presidents had finally done its part, the Chancellor and Board of Governors would then do their part, as Act 188 clearly intended.
I fully expected that Chancellor Cavanaugh would promptly agree with this official motion from the Commission of Presidents and was totally shocked when he turned me down cold!
He simply refused to schedule such a meeting with the Executive Committee of the PASSHE Board of Governors, and when I pressed him on his refusal, he responded as follows:
“This Board of Governors is not interested in planning.”
Chancellor Cavanaugh made identical comments to the fourteen presidents at meetings of the ‘Council of Presidents,’ the name given to the regular monthly meetings of the presidents with the Chancellor and his staff in Harrisburg.
That this Board of Governors is not interested in planning seems obvious from the fact that PASSHE operated without a strategic plan between June 30, 2009, when its previous plan, “Leading the Way,” expired, and January 23, 2014, when its new plan “2020: Rising to the Challenge,” took effect.
Merriam-Webster defines “strategic” as “of or relating to a general plan that is created to achieve a goal in war, politics, etc., usually over a long period of time.”
That PASSHE operated without a strategic plan for four and one-half years says this Board of Governors allowed the fourteen PASSHE universities to drift as far as goals were concerned.
But PASSHE’s strategic plan “2020: Rising to the Challenge” portends a future more sinister than drift alone—this plan officially ignores Act 188’s statutory vision of “high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students,” and replaces it with its own narcissistic vision:
“The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education seeks to be among the nation’s leading systems of public universities recognized for (1) excellence, relevance, and value in education; and (2) responsiveness to regional, state, and national needs through its programs, service, scholarship, and research.”²
Note that the word “student” never appears in the Board of Governors’ new Vision Statement!
The Board of Governors has made it official—the fourteen universities are no longer about the PASSHE students; they are about the elected and appointed officials who control them.
To be continued.
¹ https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/6772880/act188-pdf-405k. ² https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/7490741/strategic-plan-2020-rising-to-the-challenge-10-14-pdf-2-1-meg.