Five universities in Pennsylvania’s state system have moved to lay off more than 100 full-time faculty members, which would be the largest such retrenchment in the system’s history, according to the faculty union.
The step follows years of declining enrollment in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and as the system undergoes a redesign, including the integration of six of the 14 schools into two entities.
Cheyney, a historically Black university in Chester and Delaware Counties, would lose six faculty members. Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which has lost about a third of its enrollment in the last decade, would take the biggest hit. More than 80 tenure and tenure-track faculty have been targeted for job loss at the university, which is preparing to restructure and eliminate five fine arts programs and move its journalism and public relations department into communications media. Other schools include Edinboro with 21, Mansfield, three, and Lock Haven, two.
Lock Haven, Mansfield, and Edinboro are among the schools targeted for integration. Indiana and Cheyney are not. West Chester University, which consistently has grown its enrollment, is not laying off faculty.
The layoffs would take effect at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
“Not only are faculty cuts a blow to the professors themselves, but, by extension, layoffs take opportunities away from students,” said Jamie Martin, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the union that represents about 5,000 faculty and coaches in the system. “Retrenchment is devastating at any time, but these letters are threatening to take away livelihoods and health care in the middle of a global pandemic.”
The union’s contract requires the state system to notify tenure and tenure-track faculty by Oct. 30 if they are in danger of losing their jobs in the next academic year. Nontenured faculty members who could lose their jobs must be notified, too, but not until December and March, depending on their category. Tenured professors targeted for retrenchment may be able to move into other jobs or move to openings at other universities, the union said.
The 93,000-student system has lost 22% of its enrollment since 2010 and universities have continued to dip into their reserves to fund expenses. The pandemic has dealt another blow, though the system redesign was in the works before the virus hit. System Chancellor Daniel Greenstein indicated earlier this month that downsizing was necessary, given the decline.
“Thirteen universities have lost 30% of their students since 2010,” not including West Chester, he said. “We’ve pushed tuition about as high as we can. We are losing students. It’s just not fair to continue to operate in a way that doesn’t take account of the fact that we’re just smaller.”
Tuition and room and board costs top $21,000 annually.
In a statement Friday, the system said the universities were “doing their part to improve the alignment of costs with revenues.”
Cheyney, which has struggled with enrollment in the past but has grown in the last couple years and now has more than 600 students, also issued a statement.
“As part of Cheyney’s efforts to ensure the university’s future viability, the administration is restructuring some of its academic programs to better reflect course enrollment and educational opportunities that are relevant in today’s job market,” the school said. “ … These are difficult decisions but they are made in the best interest of Cheyney’s students.”
The union pledged to continue to work at the state and local levels to avert the job loss.