Faculty leader: Bill might spell trouble for West Chester University

At West Chester University, a statue of the mascot is near the library. A bill concerning the State System of Higher Education is in the works.
At West Chester University, a statue of the mascot is near the library. A bill concerning the State System of Higher Education is in the works. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 01, 2014

A bill in the works that might allow West Chester University to pull out of the financially struggling State System of Higher Education might come with a steep price of its own, the head of the university's faculty union warned Thursday.

If West Chester became state-related, rather than being part of the 14-school system, tuition could go up and less money might be available to retain full-time faculty, said Lisa Millhous, a professor and president of the school's chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester), who is working on the legislation with its sponsor, Sen. Robert Tomlinson (R., Bucks), said he understood Millhous' concerns. But citing a $60 million gap in funding for the state system in Gov. Corbett's proposed budget, he said tuition likely will go up anyway.

He also cautioned against prejudging the proposal, which remains a work in progress.

"I don't expect everyone to all agree or disagree, but I think it's a catalyst for a conversation that's long overdue," he said.

Dinniman noted that the system has experienced a drastic decline in enrollment in recent years, with only West Chester and Bloomsburg University experiencing increases. West Chester has seen the biggest bump.

Tomlinson could not be reached for comment, but in a news release posted on Dinniman's site, he said universities need more freedom to update curriculum and set up programs popular with students.

"What can we do to help schools meet these challenges, either by rightsizing or by giving schools, such as West Chester University, that are in demand the freedom to pursue these changes?" asked Tomlinson, a West Chester alumnus.

Millhous agreed that some action is necessary, but said she was wary of the proposed changes. "I think the faculty is divided and struggling to try to think through the implications of this legislation," Millhous said.

West Chester University had no official response, and Bloomsburg said it would not comment until a bill was introduced.

Millhous said any changes ideally would be brought about by the system's chancellor, not the legislature.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, said that the issue isn't new. "It's a complex issue," he said. "It's not an easy yes or no.

"I would anticipate a number of hearings. I think a lot of people, including members, will have a lot of questions," Miskin said.

State System Chancellor Frank Brogan declined to comment about the proposed legislation because he had not seen it, but said the system has been moving toward giving its schools more independence. In a statement, he mentioned that the system's board approved new degree programs and flexible tuition plans in January.

The system's board of directors is "exploring how it can achieve a better balance between system coordination and more local decision-making," Brogan said. "We look forward to continuing those efforts as the State System evolves, and welcome the opportunity to work with the General Assembly on our students' behalf."


mbond@philly.com610-313-8207

@MichaelleBond

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