Back on April 6, 2015 we began a series of weekly blog posts that included the words “A PASCU Chapter at Each PASSHE University” in their titles. Now seventeen weeks later, it may be very helpful to recall the challenge that prompted this series of posts, as referenced in the blog post of April 20, 2015.
“To itemize and discuss the options available to citizens whose elected officials ignore the law.”
The law in question is Act 188 of 1982, the enabling legislation which created the public corporation now known as the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
The specific citizens in question are PASSHE’s Majority Stakeholders—the students, parents and private donors, primarily alumni—who currently provide 75% of the operating revenue at each of the 14 PASSHE universities, including Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities.
According to Act 188, the statutory purpose of these fourteen PASSHE universities “…shall be ‘To provide high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students.’” According to Merriam-Webster, “when used in law, the word ‘shall’ refers to what is mandatory.”
Despite being mandated by Act 188, official PASSHE data show that the PASSHE Board of Governors has failed to deliver ‘high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students’ since 2002, suggesting that, in fact, the clear specific mandate contained in Act 188 is being ignored by PASSHE’s leadership.
The elected officials include the Governor of the State and leaders and members of the State Senate who together control the appointment of PASSHE’s governance board members on the 20-member Board of Governors and the fourteen 11-member councils of Trustees at each of the individual PASSHE universities.
Dealing with Malfeasance
According to Dictionary.com, “Malfeasance is the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law.” If a group of public officials chooses to ignore the law—as the evidence in this case clearly shows—what could be more contrary to law than that?
Surprisingly, however, there are few options available to the citizens negatively affected by such choices.
Legislative Censure and/or Impeachment
When malfeasance involves the Governor of a State, legislative censure and/or impeachment are two political options that have historically been employed to deal with it. In the instant case, however, the malfeasance is political but non-partisan in that Governors and legislators from both major political parties benefit from the current status quo which has lasted 100 years or more, and in which the fourteen universities are seen as huge patronage opportunities for elected officials from both parties.
So while legislative censure and/or impeachment might arise in cases of blatant corruption by a sitting Governor, it is unlikely to arise in cases where politicians from both parties benefit from the status quo.
Appeals to the Office of Inspector General and the Office of General Counsel
Although both of the above named offices possess official responsibilities for guiding State agencies such as PASSHE to operate within the law, appeals to both of these offices produced polite but noncommittal responses which generated little assurance that the failure by the Board of Governors to preserve and deliver the Act 188 statutory purpose of the 14 PASSHE universities might be addressed anytime soon.
The problem one might argue is that, because these two offices report directly to the sitting Governor, they are not likely to dissuade the governor from continuing to operate the 14 universities as the great sources of political patronage they’ve been seen as representing for the last one-hundred years.
Appeal to the Office of Auditor General and the Office of Attorney General
Although the above two offices do not report to the Governor of the State and are, in fact, led by officials who are elected independently of the Governor, both of these offices failed to respond in any way to the certified letters which they received regarding the apparent malfeasance involved in PASSHE’s failure to preserve and deliver the statutory purpose of Act 188.
That failure may be due to a recent history which shows that Auditor Generals and Attorney Generals in Pennsylvania have tended to be busy preparing to run for Governor of the State and who could hence be reluctant to abolish the patronage opportunities they might get to enjoy later in their political careers.
The West Chester Proposal
There can be no doubt that—if the PASSHE Board of Governors had been concerned about preserving and delivering the Act 188 statutory purpose of the PASSHE universities since 2002—West Chester University would never have needed to even consider seceding from PASSHE to become a State-related university.
The fact that all 14 PASSHE universities continue to be operated to serve the best interests of elected officials and their political appointees—at the expense of students, parents and alumni—is the source of a growing discontent at the PASSHE universities, of which the West Chester Proposal was only a symptom.
Although the West Chester Proposal was defeated by the politics of numbers, a clear-eyed review of that defeat suggests a path to victory over the tyranny created by ‘privatization without representation.’
That victory will also rely on the politics of numbers, just different numbers, that will allow each and every one of the PASSHE universities to escape the suffocating embrace of PASSHE’s totally political governance.
To be continued.