In the midst of intense contract negotiations between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and one of its largest unions – the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties – PASSHE Chancellor Dr. John C. Cavanaugh has resigned his post, opting to join the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area.
Cavanaugh will leave PASSHE at the end of February.
“We are sorry to see Dr. Cavanaugh leave the State System. He is one of the brightest minds in higher education today,” said PSSHE Board of Governors Chairman Guido M. Pichini via a statement released by his office. “As Chairman of the PASSHE Board of Governors, I join my fellow Board members in wishing him great success in his new venture. All of us in the State System, and, most importantly, our almost 115,000 students, have benefitted from his efforts to bring new ideas and high standards to all we do. The Board, Office of the Chancellor staff and our university presidents remain committed to our major initiatives, none more important than completing our final collective bargaining agreement with our faculty, preparing for the upcoming legislative session and our appropriations hearings in March and ensuring our students have every opportunity for success in their academic work and their careers.”
The state-owned universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. PASSHE also operates branch campuses in Clearfield, Freeport, Oil City and Punxsutawney and several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg.
According to PSSHE’s succession plan, PASSHE Executive Vice Chancellor Dr. Peter H. Garland will serve as acting chancellor upon Dr. Cavanaugh’s departure, and Garland brings a wealth of expertise to the position. Garland was named vice chancellor in 2002, and has previously served as PSSHE’s chief operating officer.
Cavanaugh’s decision to leave PASSHE when it is in high-level talks with APSCUF – negotiations that have struck a somewhat testy tone and led to the union announcing it would open up strike authorization voting – could cast doubts on PASSHE’s ability to reach an amicable agreement with the union.
APSCUF has since backed away from its strike threat, and both the union and PASSHE have mutually decided to postpone the next round of negotiations until early January.
In a recent open letter to his membership, APSCUF President Steve Hicks stated the position of the union and the gulf that still remains.
“Faculty knows you are worried that your professors will go on strike. We know you are concerned about the impact a strike would have on your classes, your finals, and your tuition dollars. After thoughtful deliberation and consideration about how a strike at this time would affect our students, we have decided to postpone consideration of a strike for the rest of this semester,” Hicks wrote, in part. “APSCUF and PASSHE leaders have negotiations sessions scheduled for December. However, there is still a gulf between your faculty and the Chancellor. He still wants a separate pay scale for some temporary faculty. He is still proposing increases in payments for reduced health care benefits. He wants to cut our retirement health care and stop offering those benefits to new faculty. He wants to stop payments for distance education, but has not addressed our concerns about growing class sizes.
“The Chancellor continues to demand more concessions from your faculty than the Governor asked from our campuses’ hardworking secretaries, groundskeepers and custodians. These negotiations remain about simple fairness.”
In response, PASSHE Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Labor Relations Gary Dent said that PASSHE is dedicated to striking a fair deal that wouldn’t add another financial hardship to students.
“Many of our students and their families have limited ability to absorb cost increases. As a result of overall declining state support over the past several years, students now provide almost three-fourths of the revenue necessary to operate the 14 PASSHE universities through tuition and fees. Any agreement with APSCUF must reflect that reality, as have the agreements reached with all of our other unions,” Dent said. “In exchange for modest salary increases, each of those unions agreed to a variety of cost-saving measures, such as the elimination of shift differential and some overtime payments, reductions in sick leave and limits on the amount of annual leave employees can earn.
“Increases in healthcare costs for both active and retired employees, combined with rapidly rising pension costs, are placing unsustainable financial pressure on the universities,” Dent continued. “In this regard, PASSHE is no different from the federal or state governments, or most other organizations, all of which have identified increasing costs in these areas as urgent problems that must be addressed. We have no alternative. We must agree to new approaches before these costs overwhelm the System.”
“I encourage you to think of me as a teacher,” implored Maya Angelou. “The truth is I am a teacher who can write.”
Angelou is much more than a teacher and a writer. The illustrious educator, poet, novelist, actress, historian, film producer and human rights activist spent an evening addressing a few hundred students, faculty and guests at Cheyney University’s Marian Anderson Music Center on Thursday.
“Each one of us is a rainbow in the clouds,” she stated shortly after the curtain opened and she was welcomed by warm, thunderous applause. “We have the possibility to be someone’s rainbow in the clouds.”
Humble and modest beyond measure, Angelou, 83, went against her physician’s orders, traveling from her Winston-Salem, N.C., home to spend an evening speaking in Delaware County. “Retired means expired. I keep on going as long as I continue to be wanted,” she said before visiting the campus.
In her distinct, deliberate speaking style, Angelou said she is “impressed with Cheyney University and the students of the Keystone Honors Academy. “This is the right place for them to come.”
In addition to hosting nationally and internationally renowned scholars and speakers, the Keystone Honors Academy has one of the highest graduation rates of African-American college students in the country.
Prior to Angelou’s gracing the stage, alumni of the Academy shared their testimonies on what the program has meant to their lives.
Alumnus Christopher Carter, a 2011 graduate currently pursuing a law degree at the University of Pittsburgh, said, “I admire Dr. Angelou’s ability to express herself, open everyone’s hearts and find ways to touch them.” The Pittsburgh native is also the vice president of the University of Pittsburgh’s Black Law Student Association.
As Angelou recited Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, self proclaimed “nontraditional” Keystone Honors Academy student Rashid Salahud-Din found himself reciting along with her. “I learned the sonnet preparing for a play here at Cheyney. It was a memory exercise,” said the 63-year-old Vietnam veteran, father of 11 and grandfather of 29. “She was amazing. Eloquent, sophisticated and real.” The 1966 Overbrook High School graduate is studying psychology and acts as a dormitory resident adviser.
“I have a tattoo of ‘Still I Rise,’ said first-year Academy student Sierra-Katherine Brooks of Carlisle. “I’m really excited to see her.” The track and field student-athlete has a full scholarship and acts as a student ambassador for prospective Cheyney students. “Whenever I go through a rough time, I am inspired by her (Angelou) to keep going.”
Cheyney University President Michelle Howard-Vital said she was delighted to host such an “icon” and “have Dr. Angelou share her thoughts in a venue like this. Our students and the Keystone Honors Academy are fortunate to share this experience with people that have come from many areas throughout our region.”
John Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, echoed the sentiments of President Howard-Vital: “This is a fantastic opportunity for not only Cheyney University, but for the state of Pennsylvania. The Keystone Honors Academy program is one of the state’s jewels.”
“It is very important for a young Black person to go for their first college degree at an HBCU — Historically Black Colleges and Universities — so that she or he can be introduced to great ideas of people like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and 18th-century writers of African descent,” Angelou said in an interview before her appearance.
Throughout her life Angelou has lived by and utilized the words she shares with audiences around the world. “Language can be beautiful, and used as a device like clothes are used to keep us warm. Read aloud to hear the language — to hear it in your own words.”
Angelou has gained global respect and admiration, often being referred to as a powerful voice for the masses for her accomplishments. “I know that I am thought of highly, and for that, I am grateful. I have an attitude of gratitude,” she said. “All great achievements require time.”
In her signature, deeply raw yet rich and compassionate oration, Angelou reiterated her message before leaving the stage: “I am a man. I consider nothing that is human alien to me,” reciting Terence, an African playwright of the Roman Republic. “Develop the courage to be a human being,” she encouraged, and urged the audience. “Be that rainbow in someone else’s clouds.”
“She left blessings with each of us,” said Keystone Honors Academy Dean Tara Kent,
Founded as the African Institute in 1837, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is the oldest of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in America.
Behind the dollars slashed in Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget are the people — Malik Williams, a freshman at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, is one — along with thousands of other Pennsylvania college students whose lives would be affected by the governor’s proposal to cut funds to state colleges and universities by 25 percent.
“If tuition goes up, I would most likely be forced to leave and pursue other venues to further my education,” said Williams, 19. “It wouldn’t be feasible to stay here.”
He might leave the state in search of less expensive schools, or try community college.
It’s a reality that officials at Cheyney acknowledge, and are trying to change.
“It’s premature to talk about tuition,” said Eric Almonte, executive associate to the president at Cheyney, noting that neither the school’s trustees nor the state board of governors has yet mentioned tuition increases. University officials are studying all options, he said, including the possibility of hosting summer sports camps and charging for them, online classes to raise extra revenue, renting dorm rooms to campus visitors and improving overall efficiency of operations.
Most families that send students to Cheyney are not flush with cash. Any increase in cost has an immediate impact.
“Our average family income is under $40,000, and when you take that into consideration with what happened last year with the 18 percent cut, that translated to a $750 increase, it just puts the families in a real precarious situation,” Almonte said. “The last thing we want to do is negatively impact people’s lives. But, at some point it’s tough.”
Williams, who hails from Pittsburgh, has a 3.75 grade point average, and attends Cheyney through a combination of state and federal aid and a package of eight scholarships. He must maintain a 3.0 to keep his funding.
“I work so hard to get these scholarships and to keep my GPA up — and by raising tuition it would make it that much harder for me to be able to take care of expenses,” he said. “I don’t believe I would be able to do it.”
It took a lot of work just get into college. Williams estimated that he applied for 150 scholarships to receive the eight he now has.
“We spent two summers on that,” he said. “The time and work it takes to get these scholarships — it’s draining and with this happening, it’s going to take more. The pot is getting smaller — there’s going to be more people clawing.”
His parents are simply unable to pay.
“My mother? Maybe she could tackle the burden of books but tuition, that’s too much,” said Williams. “My father, definitely not.”
More students are having problems paying for college.
A report released this week by the Federal Reserve found that 27 percent of students who owe on student loans are at least 30 days late.
Tuition and other college costs have gone nowhere but up.
This is the second year in a row that Corbett has slashed spending for higher education and, if enacted as proposed, would represent a 50 percent cut over 18 months in state funding to state-operated schools like Cheyney.
Last year, after some negotiating with the legislature, funding was cut 19 percent. This year Corbett has proposed a 25 percent reduction.
“The proposed budget represents the latest in a cascade of reductions to the state system in the past 18 months,” said John C. Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in a statement. “ If this proposal stands, we will have lost more than $170 million in state and federal education and general funding, compounded by a 50 percent reduction in our capital allocation and the loss of … funding dedicated to deferred maintenance.”
That pits the physical priorities of any university against its intellectual priorities.
“These reductions now mean that we must increasingly decide whether to renovate and maintain our existing physical plant, or provide students the courses and programs they require to graduate,” said Cavanaugh.
The cost of attending Cheyney had already been rising.
For 2011–2012, tuition was $4,202, but total cost of attending was more than four times that number at $17,464.
That was up from a total of $16,204 in 2010–2011 and $15,398 in 2009–2010.
After last year’s increase, enrollment declined after rising 3, 6, and 9 percent for the previous three years.
“We were definitely trending in the right direction,” Almonte said. “The last year we lost a significant number of students. It was a variety of factors.”
Every time costs rise, students like Williams have to work harder to keep up.
“It’s raising the bar, so I have to go out and get into other things. I have to put in more work, and give up more time just so I can take care of my deficit and my finances,” he said. “I have this debt monkey on my back that I have to continuously worry about.”
Without college, Williams would likely be in the military.
“If it weren’t for the scholarships, I’d be in Iraq,” he said. “I’d rather hold a pencil than a gun.”
Williams knows from experience the importance of a college education.
His mother graduated from Penn State. His father was in jail for most of Williams’ childhood, and when he was released, his parents experienced marital difficulties that forced Williams from his childhood home and school in Pittsburgh to a series of five high schools during his junior and senior years.
“Our family went through things,” said Williams. “My father, he took us on a long ride.
Williams spent much of his junior year at Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Md., a school he described as a “house of bones.”
“It changed my outlook on a lot of things. I saw the struggles of kids,” he said. “I felt that I was being told to climb a ladder of success, but the ladder only came to my knees. Because I wasn’t in the most credible schools, I wasn’t going to get my chance.”
But he changed schools, persevered, and eventually decided to attend Cheyney.
Many of his African-American peers followed other paths.
“Some are incarcerated. Some are in the military. The majority didn’t believe they could make it,” he said. “Which is a lie.”
Williams wanted to go to a historically Black college because he thought it would give him an advantage.
“I feel like they could prepare me for being an effective African American in today’s society, and focus on grooming me more than other schools might as someone who is at the head of an organization,” he said. “They know where to push me, the gaps that I can fit in. They can groom me to be a better individual.”
Initially, Williams planned on getting a degree in hotel management, but college has expanded his ambitions and he’s taking more of an interest in foreign affairs.
“I’m starting to look into political science a lot more than I have in the past,” he said. “The more questions I’m asking, the less I’m satisfied with the world I’m living in.”
One thing is certain, armed with a degree Williams hopes to make life better for himself.
“I’m never going to be homeless again. I’m never going to be hungry again. I’m never going to have the lights cut out. I’m never going to have the water cut off. I’m never going to have the heat cut off in the winter time,” he said. “I’ve got to study.”
Almonte said education should be a top priority for state officials — particularly for students like Williams.
“Right now education is a civil rights issue,” he said. “We demonstrate what our values are with the resources we put toward education.”