Monday, June 27, 2016

The Gentrification of Public Higher Education - Part 3

Words Versus Deeds
We began last week’s blog post with the heading “Words and Deeds” as applied to the world of politics.  But when it comes to politics, generally speaking, a more apt heading might be “Words Versus Deeds.”

Merriam-Webster defines “versus” as “against, in contrast to, or as the alternative of.” 
In the case of the gentrification of the fourteen PASSHE universities by the PASSHE Board of Governors since 2002, there is evidence that the BOG’s public statements are often contradicted by their deeds.

The 14 PASSHE universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
Contradictions

Act 188¹ Versus the BOG’s Strategic Plan²

The statutory purpose of the fourteen PASSHE universities—according to Act 188 of 1982, the law that created them and legally controls them to this day—is to provide “high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.”  (Emphasis added.)

PASSHE’s current “Strategic Plan 2020: Rising to the Challenge” was adopted by the Board of Governors in January of 2014, and prominently displays the following statement of Vision:
“The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education [PASSHE] 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.” (Emphasis added.)

According to Act 188, a PASSHE education should be about the students; but according to PASSHE’s Strategic Plan—as approved by the Board of Governors—a PASSHE education is about the system.
It is difficult to imagine a contradiction more blatant than this one:  Act 188—the enabling legislation that created the PASSHE system of fourteen universities—also created the PASSHE Board of Governors!

Despite being Act 188’s creation, the BOG issued a strategic plan that places the PASSHE system above the students, in arrogant defiance of the law that created both the system and the Board of Governors.
BOG’s Public Statements on Students Versus BOG’s Gentrification Policy on Students   

A review of PASSHE news releases and newspaper articles in which PASSHE officials are quoted reveals that high PASSHE officials—in particular the Chancellor and the Chair of the Board of Governors—are very reluctant to acknowledge the Act 188 statutory purpose of the 14 PASSHE universities, which is to provide “High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.” 
If the Chancellor or Chair of the PASSHE Board of Governors ever publicly uttered the words “High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students” regarding PASSHE’s statutory purpose, it is a fact that somehow those words never found their way into any printed record that I could find!

Act 188’s statutory purpose, as well as the best interests of the students cited there, has been missing from the BOG’s public statements for years.  That same purpose as well as the students’ best interests have also been missing from the BOG’s contradictory policy choices and actions since 2002. 
Perhaps the Board of Governors reasoned that as long as they never publicly acknowledged Act 188’s statutory purpose or the best interests of the students cited there, no one would notice when they adopted policies and took actions that violated both Act 188 and the best interests of PASSHE students.

In a parallel way, the word “student” so prominently featured in Act 188’s statutory purpose, does not appear at all in the Vision statement proclaimed by the Board of Governors’ current strategic plan! 
The Words

During my 20 years as a PASSHE university president and the four years since, the Chair of the Board of Governors rarely issued a written statement describing the Board’s relationship to the PASSHE students.
In fact I could find only one document of that type, and it appeared in a 2012 PASSHE News Release³ entitled “PASSHE Board of Governors Chair sends open letter to California University of Pennsylvania.”  That letter contains, in part, the following statement over the signature of BOG Chair Guido M. Pichini:

“Students, please know that your interests always come first in every decision we make and every action we take. There is no more important responsibility for us as a Board than to help ensure that you have an outstanding educational experience that leads to your ultimate success.”

Words Versus Deeds

Words: “Students, please know that your interests always come first in every decision we make and every action we take.”

Deeds: The BOG’s gentrification policy helps only about one-third of PASSHE students (those from more- affluent families) and harms the other two-thirds of PASSHE students (those from less-affluent families).  One third of PASSHE students get unneeded State subsidies, and two thirds of PASSHE students receive one of two evil outcomes: 1) crushing student-loan debt, if they are lucky; and 2) no opportunity for a college education whatsoever if their family is unable to meet PASSHE’s bottom line cost of attendance.

Words: “…to help ensure that you have an outstanding educational experience…”

Deeds:  Ironically, as shown in earlier blog posts, the BOG’s “low-tuition-for-all” policy has been the cause of the steady erosion in the quality of a PASSHE educational experience since 2002.

In addition to causing that steady decline in quality, that very same BOG policy is causing the rapid gentrification of the fourteen PASSHE universities. 

In summary, the evidence shows that a large chasm exists between Board of Governors’ statements with their pretty words regarding PASSHE students, and the ugly outcomes actually being delivered by the Board of Governors to the vast majority of PASSHE students. 

To be continued.

¹ https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/6772880/act188-pdf-405k.


Monday, June 20, 2016

The Gentrification of Public Higher Education - Part 2


Words and Deeds

In last week’s blog post, we began by talking about “The Power of Words.”  This week, we will focus on some critical differences between words and deeds, especially in the world of politics as it applies to the elected and appointed officials who both inhabit and seek to exert maximum control over that world.

And if you are wondering what “politics” and “control” might have to do with the gentrification of public higher education in Pennsylvania, remember this: The fourteen PASSHE universities and the 100,000+ students and their families who rely on them, are subject to total, i.e., 100%, political control.  

The 14 PASSHE universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
    
The Definition of “Politics

Recall that Merriam-Webster defines the word “politics” as having two very different aspects: “activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government.” (Emphasis added.) 

The first aspect of politics is the familiar one in which citizens attempt to influence the actions and policies of the governments that affect them.  This aspect of politics is best captured by the term “civics,” defined as “the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how government works.”

Civics, this first aspect of politics, is seen as being quite respectable as manifested by the fact that everyday citizens are often encouraged to consider getting involved in improving their communities by, for example, running for local school boards or town councils.

But the second aspect of politics—getting and keeping power in a government—is neither as familiar, nor as respectable as the first aspect of politics, and for very good reason.

Have you ever heard an elected official or candidate for elective office say “I’m running for election because I am interested in getting and keeping power in a government?”   Of course you haven’t.

Any politician that honest about the true nature of politics would have no chance of getting elected.

Civics aside, politics—by definition—is about “getting and keeping power in a government.”

In the 60s, key insights into the essence of politics, i.e., getting and keeping power in a government, were volunteered by Jesse (Big Daddy) Unruh, a former Speaker of the California State Assembly who became famous for uttering the following quote: 

Money is the mother’s milk of politics

If you want to know what ‘getting and keeping power in government’ looks like, you need to “follow the money,” because getting and keeping power in government is mostly about a quest for money.

Consider the following facts relative to the 100% political control of the PASSHE universities:

Governance

·         Total political control of the fourteen PASSHE universities is exercised through PASSHE’s fifteen governance bodies which include: the Board of Governors (BOG) in Harrisburg, plus the fourteen Councils of Trustees (COTs) which operate from the individual university campuses.

·         Of the twenty members of the BOG, five are elected officials and fifteen are political appointees of elected officials.  Of the 154 members of the COTs (11 at each of the 14 universities), each COT member is a political appointee of elected officials.

Fidelity

·         Every one of the 174 members of PASSHE’s governance bodies takes the same oath of office, which reads in its entirety as follows:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, obey and defend the constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth and that I will discharge the duties of my office with fidelity.” (Emphasis added.)

·                  Note that the object of their fidelity is not specified in the oath taken by PASSHE governance board members!  Apparently, individual BOG and COT members are free—under the above oath—to decide for themselves to whom they owe their fidelity in carrying out their official duties.

·                  Would anyone then be surprised if a majority of the politically-appointed PASSHE governance board members decided that they owed their fidelity not to the PASSHE students, parents and alumni donors now providing 75% of PASSHE’s annual revenue, but to the elected officials who appointed them to their positions of power?

The Role of Money in the 100% Political Control of the Fourteen PASSHE Universities

·         Now that Pennsylvania’s fourteen so-called “public” universities are actually 75% private, financially speaking, it is instructive to compare PASSHE universities with universities that are 100% private.

·         For example, the individuals normally selected to hold seats on the governance boards of private universities tend to be citizens who have donated to the universities for the benefit of the students; while the individuals normally selected to hold seats on PASSHE’s governance boards tend to be citizens who have donated to various political campaigns for the benefit of the politicians.

·         In this sense, the politicians involved in the 100% control of the fourteen PASSHE universities are actually competing against the students for donations from PASSHE governance board members.

·         During my 20 years as a PASSHE university president, I worked with many different individuals who had been appointed to my university’s Council of Trustees.  And although many wonderful people were appointed, and although we were successful in developing a “culture of philanthropy” at our university that raised $55 million dollars in private donations over my twenty years, generally speaking, only a tiny fraction of that amount was donated by members of our Council of Trustees.

·         Most of the private donations to the university, for the benefit of our students, came from the university’s Foundation Board members—who were not political appointees but were appointed by a self-perpetuating private 501-c-3 non-profit corporation that existed solely for the benefit of the university.  These board members were mostly successful university alumni who came back to their alma mater to help the university they loved by providing scholarships for students.    

To be continued.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Gentrification of Public Higher Education


The Power of Words

We concluded last week’s blog post with a reference to the word “gentrification” as it applies to the fourteen PASSHE universities in Pennsylvania.  They include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities.



As suggested last time, the pleasant-sounding word “gentrification” masks both a cruel and ugly reality.



The cruel side of that reality may be seen in the devastating outcomes which the policy choice known as “gentrification” imposes upon students from Pennsylvania’s least-affluent families.



The ugly side of that reality is seen in the self-serving motives and lawless actions by the elected and appointed officials—both Democrat and Republican—who have continued to impose their gentrification policy choice on PASSHE students since 2002.



These two sides of the “gentrification reality” are inextricably linked by means of the following heading and text, paraphrased from my 2013 book entitled Privatization Without a Plan



Malfeasance with Personal and Tragic Consequences



Privatization Without a Plan is a story about public malfeasance leading to personal and tragic consequences.  To be clear malfeasance, from Dictionary.com, is “the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law.”

Also to be clear, the public officials in question include Pennsylvania elected officials, appointed officials, and senior policy executives, arranged in a hierarchy in which elected officials select the appointed officials, and the appointed officials select and direct the senior policy executives.    

The malfeasance cited in Privatization Without a Plan was easy to document because the flawed actions by the public officials in question violated not just the spirit but the letter of the law.

The personal consequences, however, are difficult to document because they involve things that did not happen as a result of the malfeasance of Pennsylvania public officials: e.g., the deserving students who did not graduate; the worthy alumni who could not afford to start a business; and the other students and alumni who could not afford to support a family.  Although personal and tragic, these kinds of stories can’t be easily documented or summarized. 

Privatization Without a Plan documents succinctly that the Act 188 statutory purpose of the PASSHE state-owned universities “High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students,” has not been provided to Pennsylvania’s students since 2002, reducing the promise of Act 188 to empty words for those students and alumni.

This is not a failure of law, but rather a failure of Pennsylvania public officials to obey the law.

The evidence for a failure to obey the law is seen in the fact that since 2002, the public officials with authority over the PASSHE system of 14 “state-owned” universities have been totally fixated on maintaining the lowest possible tuition, i.e., sticker price, when the law, Act 188, explicitly requires a focus on the lowest possible cost to the students, i.e., bottom line.

Recall Mark Twain’s dictum: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”  And so it is in this case as well.

That one egregious and misguided failure alone, substituting “tuition” for “cost to the students”—which makes the cost of attendance too high, and the burden of crushing student-loan debt too unbearable—leads directly to deserving students who don’t graduate, worthy alumni who can’t afford to start a business, and other students and alumni who can’t afford to support a family.

The Cruel Side of Gentrification



Stripped of all disguise, the gentrification policy imposed on Pennsylvania students by the PASSHE Board of Governors since 2002 has had the following consequences:

·         Students from Pennsylvania’s least-affluent families are condemned to one of two terrible fates:  1) years of crushing student-loan debt for students lucky enough to gain admission despite substantial financial obstacles; or worse 2) the inability to even attend a PASSHE university because the BOG’s gentrification policy creates financial obstacles for them that are simply too enormous to overcome.

·         Students in group 1) will have their lives and future prospects diminished, or at least postponed, by their student-loan debt, though in time they may be able to overcome such setbacks and achieve their dreams.  But the college-prepared students in group 2) who are being denied access to a college education—not because of academic deficiencies but rather because of insurmountable financial obstacles—will find their lifetime opportunities few, and their future prospects bleak.



The Ugly Side of Gentrification



The ugly side of the gentrification policy being imposed on students by the PASSHE Board of Governors involves not just the lawless actions taken by the BOG to enforce its policy, but also the obvious banality of the motives of the elected and appointed officials—both Democrat and Republican—who have relentlessly continued to impose this gentrification policy choice on PASSHE students since 2002.



As to why elected and appointed officials on the PASSHE Board of Governors would defy Act 188 by ignoring the mandates of Act 188, only one answer seems clear:  They must clearly be benefitting from their defiance of the law because for sure, the kinds of students for whom public higher education was created—students from less-affluent families—are clearly not benefitting from this law-defying policy.



Tragically, the only students benefitting from the PASSHE BOG’s gentrification policy are students from Pennsylvania’s more-affluent families.  And these are families receiving a totally unneeded State subsidy when in fact they can afford to pay a much higher sticker price, but are not being asked to do so by this gentrification-promoting Board of Governors.



If denying admission to qualified students from less-affluent families is one perverse consequence of the BOG’s gentrification policy, then giving State subsidies to wealthier students as they increasingly replace those less-affluent students in PASSHE classrooms is clearly an even more perverse consequence.


To be continued.


¹ https://www.amazon.com/Privatization-Without-Plan-Leadership-Pennsylvania/dp/1491295244/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465587886&sr=1-1&keywords=privatization+without+a+plan+-+armenti

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Wake-Up Call to PASSHE Students, Parents and Alumni Donors - Part 16


The Commission of Presidents

Act 188 of 1982, the enabling legislation that created and ostensibly controls the operation of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and its fourteen universities, includes the following verbatim language¹ in Section 20-2007-A - Commission of Presidents:  


“The Commission of Presidents of the System shall consist of the presidents of the several institutions who shall annually select one (1) of their members as chair-person. The commission shall recommend policies for the institutions and shall act in an advisory capacity to the chancellor and the governors. The commission shall meet quarterly and additionally at the call of its chairperson or the chancellor. A majority of the presidents shall constitute a quorum.” (Emphasis added.)

Recall that when used in laws, the word “shall” denotes what is mandatory



PASSHE’s 14 universities include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.



As described in recent blog posts, the Commission of Presidents failed to recommended any policies to the PASSHE Chancellor and Board of Governors during the sixteen-year period between 1993 and 2008.


In effect, the Commission of Presidents neglected to do its part, under Act 188, thereby denying to the Chancellor and Board of Governors any opportunities to consider Commission recommendations.



We also noted previously that during that 16-year period of total inaction on the part of the Commission of Presidents, neither the Chancellor, the PASSHE Chief Counsel, nor any member of the Board of Governors ever inquired as to why the Commission of Presidents was not obeying its part of the law.



As one of the fourteen PASSHE presidents during that period, I can attest to the fact that the majority of presidents had already become convinced that the Chancellor and Board of Governors had zero interest in recommendations that the Commission of Presidents might wish to send them for their consideration.



But so long as the Commission of Presidents neglected to do its part by failing to develop and send formal recommendations to the Chancellor and Board of Governors, any suspicions the presidents may have had about the motives of the Chancellor and Board of Governors remained unproven.



But that changed dramatically in 2010, when the Commission of Presidents sent its first formal motion, with rationale, to Chancellor Cavanaugh—and he refused to even present it to the Board of Governors!



By this time, the presidents were very familiar with Chancellor Cavanaugh’s repeated comment to them that “This Board of Governors is not interested in strategic planning” and, as a result, any doubts about the motives of the Chancellor and Board of Governors were quickly elevated from suspicion to fact.



 Chancellor Cavanaugh Refuses to Act on the Commission’s First Recommendation



As mentioned previously, when I met with Chancellor Cavanaugh in March of 2010 to deliver the first formal recommendation from the Commission of Presidents, he promptly refused to act on it!



Recall that our motion 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.”



In refusing to even forward the Commission’s recommendation to the Board of Governors, Chancellor Cavanaugh was acting to thwart the specific mandate of Act 188 regarding the role of the Commission of Presidents, which reads in relevant part as follows:  



“The commission shall [not may] recommend policies for the institutions and shall [not may] act in an advisory capacity to the chancellor and the governors.”  (Emphasis added.)



As Chair of the Commission of Presidents meeting alone with the Chancellor as he declared his refusal to act on the Commission’s first recommendation in more than sixteen years, I quickly concluded that this Chancellor, and most likely this Board of Governors, would not be overly concerned about ignoring the legal mandates of Act 188, the enabling legislation which created the PASSHE system of 14 universities.



Recall that the fourteen presidents had been frustrated for years by the fact that the Board of Governors would never meet with us in “closed session” to hear our most deeply held concerns, which had to do almost exclusively with declining PASSHE educational quality—caused by the combination of: a) rapidly declining State appropriation, resulting from powerful economic and demographic forces outside of the BOG’s control; and b) PASSHE’s destructive “low-tuition-for-all policy,” first implemented by the BOG in 2002 under Gov. Rendell (for eight years), and continued  under Gov. Corbett (for four years), and continued by Gov. Wolf since his election in 2014—which was very much under BOG control.   



The Chair of the Commission of Presidents “Goes Public



When Chancellor Cavanaugh rejected the Commission of Presidents’ first recommendation which I had just handed him in our March 2010 meeting, I asked if he had any objection to me publishing a public op-ed on the same subject the Commission of Presidents had wanted to discuss with the BOG in private.



He not only encouraged my proposal to publish an op-ed on the subject, he offered to review and suggest improvements to my draft before I might send it to the media.  I accepted his offer, presented a draft to him a few days later, and included his one suggested additional phrase into my final draft.



But during our conversation about the proposed op-ed, I made the observation that the BOG’s “Low-Tuition-For-All” policy was causing “gentrification” at the fourteen PASSHE universities.  I explained that, based on ten years of rapidly shifting PASSHE enrollment data, students from Pennsylvania’s less-affluent families were rapidly being replaced by students from Pennsylvania’s more-affluent families.   



Chancellor Cavanaugh told me in the strongest possible terms not to use the word “gentrification” in my op-ed.  While I didn’t realize at the time why a word that perfectly described the facts could not be used, I agreed to avoid using that term in my op-ed in deference to him as the person to whom I reported. 



My Op-ed entitled Fix Our Finances: State Universities Need a New Way of Doing Things² was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on May 10, 2010, and included the following sentence, which stopped just short of using the “gentrification” word:



“Taken together, it is clear that the [low-tuition-for-all] policy is failing at both ends of the financial-need spectrum.”



This sentence was code for a cruel, basic truth: Under the political thumb of Democrat and Republican Governors—the PASSHE Board of Governors has been enforcing a policy of rapid gentrification of the fourteen PASSHE universities, which were originally intended for students from less-affluent families.    



To be continued.




Monday, May 30, 2016

A Wake-Up Call to PASSHE Students, Parents and Alumni Donors - Part 15


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.



Monday, May 23, 2016

A Wake-Up Call to PASSHE Students, Parents and Alumni Donors - Part 14


The Commission of Presidents


We will now return to the story of the twenty-year history of the PASSHE Commission of Presidents for the years between 1993 and 2012.  Recall that Act 188¹ contains a specific mandate in these words:  “The commission shall recommend policies for the institutions and shall act in an advisory capacity to the chancellor and the governors.”  (Emphasis added.)



But despite this mandate, during the first sixteen years of that 20-year period, not a single resolution was ever moved, discussed or voted upon by the Commission!   And as a result of that failure, not a single Commission policy recommendation affecting the PASSHE universities was ever approved and sent to the Chancellor and Board of Governors for their consideration and possible approval.



Upon my election to the position of Chair of the Commission of Presidents in 2009, I resolved to get the PASSHE Commission of Presidents to function according to the clear, unambiguous language of Act 188.



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 Challenges Facing the Commission of Presidents



As far as living up to the Act 188 mandate was concerned, the greatest challenge facing the Commission of Presidents involved the near impossibility of bringing the fourteen presidents together in person for long enough periods of time to conduct meaningful discussion on the important issues and concerns facing the universities.  There were many pressing issues and precious little time to deal with all of them. 



But based on my experience, university presidents tend to be highly-focused problem-solvers at heart.  By the very nature of their work, and to have any chance of success in their careers, they must be able to identify both the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities facing their universities, and to provide the energy and guidance needed to turn planning and execution into successful outcomes.



While identifying and solving challenges came naturally to each of the PASSHE university presidents, certain, shall we say, political challenges, had managed to thwart the Commission’s purpose for years.  Chief among them involved the presidents’ painful awareness that the most critical challenges facing the individual universities—and the PASSHE students they served— could never be discussed inside PASSHE.



From the perspective of the fourteen PASSHE presidents, three decades of falling State appropriation— compounded by the Board of Governors’ “low-tuition-for-all” policy—was impoverishing the universities and their ability to deliver to the students PASSHE’s statutory purpose of ‘High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.’ 



The frustration of the PASSHE university presidents on this issue—feeling thwarted in their longing to convey their strongly held beliefs officially to the Chancellor and Board of Governors—manifested itself most powerfully every year as the July “tuition-setting” meeting of the Board of Governors approached.



Although the presidents between 1993 and 2012 regularly made the PASSHE Chancellor aware of their concerns—about declining educational quality and the need for tuition increases large enough to compensate for steadily falling State appropriation funding—not one of the three chancellors serving during that period was either: 1) able to convince the Board of Governors to heed the presidents’ second-hand advice; or b) willing to request an opportunity for the presidents to meet directly with the Board of Governors in a closed session to express their concerns first-hand and face-to- face.   



Instead, the only opportunity available to the presidents to notify the Board of Governors officially of their concerns about declining educational quality and insufficient tuition increases would come at the public tuition-setting meeting in front of the Harrisburg media.



A typical scenario at the July BOG tuition-setting meetings between 1993 and 2012 went like this: A resolution on the proposed tuition increase would be moved, seconded and opened for discussion.



The first Board members to speak—obvious supporters of the low-tuition-for-all policy—would begin by speaking to the responsibility of the BOG “to keep tuition affordable;” would praise the presidents for ‘the great job they were doing to save millions of dollars by cutting costs;’ and would end by expressing their support for the low tuition increase being proposed, and their confidence that PASSHE’s excellent presidents could continue to preserve educational quality as they had always done in the past.  



A few BOG members, typically one or more of the three student members of the Board, would speak in favor of a larger tuition increase in order to preserve the quality of their education.



The Presidents’ “Impossible” Opportunity to Speak



Prior to voting on the tuition-increase Motion, the Chair of the Board of Governors would routinely invite the Chair of the Commission of Presidents (a.k.a., ‘the president of the presidents’) to speak on the proposed tuition increase.  For my first sixteen years I watched in both horror and empathy as one of my conflicted colleague presidents struggled with the impossible opportunity being offered to them.



Why impossible?  Because despite apparently being given an opportunity to be truthful to the BOG before they voted on the Motion, no president in his/her right mind could bring themselves to be totally truthful about the decline in educational quality—in front of the media.  That headline could write itself:



“PASSHE’s ‘President of the Presidents’ Decries Decline in Educational Quality!”



The PASSHE presidents had been maneuvered into becoming enablers of the Low-Tuition-for-All policy.



When all Board members wishing to speak to the motion had been heard, and the Chair of the Commission of Presidents had also spoken, the proposed low tuition increase would be passed either unanimously or by a lopsided majority.



While I never criticized my colleague presidents for holding back on the truth in that terrible situation—a public Board of Governors meeting with the media present—I resolved to do it differently if and when my turn came as the chair of the Commission of Presidents.



But that story as well as the story of “The Professor and the Donkey” will have to wait until another day.  



To be continued.


¹ https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/6772880/act188-pdf-405k.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Wake-Up Call to PASSHE Students, Parents and Alumni Donors - Part 13


The Commission of Presidents (1993 - 2008)

As shown last time, the PASSHE Commission of Presidents during fiscal years 1993 through 2008 never carried out its Act 188 mandate¹ which is as follows:  The commission shall recommend policies for the institutions and shall act in an advisory capacity to the chancellor and the governors.” (Emphasis added.)
 
PASSHE’s 14 universities include Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.

Because of the Commission’s failure to do its part—by submitting recommendations or offering advice—the Chancellor and Board of Governors were never called upon during those years to receive or consider any input whatsoever from the Commission of Presidents.

Now one might think that the Chancellor and Board of Governors would have been disappointed or at least curious about the Commission’s failure to submit helpful recommendations or offer its best advice.  
 
But based on my 20 years as a PASSHE university president, any who might think that would be wrong. 
 
According to what I saw firsthand during that time, the Chancellor and Board of Governors were neither disappointed nor curious about the Commission’s failure to follow the law; in fact, they did everything in their power to discourage the Commission of Presidents from fulfilling its Act 188 mandate.
 
It became crystal clear to anyone present who was paying attention that the Chancellor and Board of Governors were not interested in hearing what the fourteen presidents might have to say.  That’s because in the secret meetings where PASSHE’s key decisions got made, many presidents were seen as political naifs who would embarrass the Board of Governors by suggesting things the Board might have to publicly reject—namely things that might benefit PASSHE students rather than PASSHE officials.      
 
You may recall a similar twenty-year dynamic with regard to predetermined “political budget requests” which PASSHE Chancellors would direct the fourteen presidents to submit every year—so as not to embarrass the politicians by having the Governor reject the more realistic, fact-based budget requests.
 
At no time during my twenty years as a PASSHE university president did anyone—including the Chancellor, the Board of Governors or, most importantly—the PASSHE Chief Counsel—remind the presidents of the clear language of Act 188 regarding the obligations of the Commission of Presidents.
 
Under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act,² the PASSHE Chief Counsel is designated as the attorney with the responsibility for making sure that PASSHE operates in accordance with the law.  But for the entirety of my twenty-years as a PASSHE university president, every Chief Counsel was totally silent on this issue.
 
By way of background, the PASSHE Chief Counsel (as well as the attorneys who provide legal advice to the 14 PASSHE universities) report to the General Counsel, who reports directly to the sitting Governor. 
 
While one might expect that PASSHE’s Chief Counsel would make sure that the various provisions of Act 188, including the provision for the Commission of Presidents, would be scrupulously followed, twenty years of evidence exists to show that such an expectation has not in fact been fulfilled! 

Perhaps this failure on the part of PASSHE Chief Counsels shouldn’t be all that surprising when one recalls that Act 188’s most important provision—PASSHE’s statutory purpose of “High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students”—has been ignored by the Board of Governors since 2002, while PASSHE Chief Counsels have looked on in silence.  Could they just be going along to get along?
 
It is unlikely that the several different attorneys who have served as PASSHE’s Chief Counsel between 1992 and 2012 didn’t notice that the Board of Governors’ focus on its “low tuition for all” policy—rather than on the Act-188 mandated “lowest possible cost” to the students policy—was “contrary to law” and hence by its very definition, “malfeasance.” 
 
But since PASSHE Chief Counsels report to the Governor through the Office of General Counsel (OGC), and sitting Governors benefit politically from being seen by the electorate as “keeping tuition low,” it seems likely that PASSHE Chief Counsels may be motivated to please the politician to whom they report--unfortunately at the expense of PASSHE students from Pennsylvania's least affluent families.         
 
The Commission of Presidents (2009 - 2012)

After 16 years of witnessing first hand that the Commission of Presidents was not functioning at all as mandated by Act 188, I ran for the position of Chair of the PASSHE Commission of Presidents, and was first elected by my colleague presidents in FY2009, eventually serving for a total of four one-year terms.
 
As the new Chair of the PASSHE Commission of Presidents, I resolved to follow the Act 188 mandate on how the Commission of Presidents was to function.  My first step was to schedule, with the presidents’ consent, regular conference call meetings of the Commission of Presidents one full year in advance.
 
Second, I performed the staff work that was needed to develop a series of draft motions for discussion by all the presidents.  As any experienced leader learns, Draft 1 of any key document is the most difficult one to create.  But after group discussion of Draft 1, suggestions would be made and those that received consensus support would be incorporated into Draft 2.  After several more iterations of this process, the Commission of Presidents would arrive at a version of a motion that could be approved by majority vote.
 
When one of the presidents asked “How do we know that the Chancellor and Board of Governors will want our recommendations and advice?”  My response was this: “Act 188 says what the Commission shall (not may) do; and we haven’t been doing it for the past sixteen years.  We need to do what the law says because if we don’t do our part, the Chancellor and Board of Governors can’t do their part either.”     
 
To be continued.
 
¹ https://www.keepandshare.com/doc/6772880/act188-pdf-405k.
²
http://www.ogc.pa.gov/About%20Us/Pages/CommonwealthAttorneysAct.aspx#.VzZmHmTD-mc.