HARRISBURG — Wednesday’s historic vote to integrate six Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education campuses into just two did not come unopposed. The live-streamed meeting lasted for hours before the vote, and was filled with comments by members of the Board of Governors and other interested parties — as well as a steady tide of rebuttal from the public.
The vote to integrate began what will be a years-long process to merge Lock Haven, Mansfield and Bloomsburg into a three-campus university in the Northeast, and Clarion, California and Edinboro in the West.
The following quotes are provided as excerpts of some of the hours of commentary, and are not exhaustive transcripts.
Public comment began the meeting, after a brief introduction by board chair Cynthia Shapira and some organizational matters.
Lock Haven University’s associate professor Dr. Rick Goulet was among those providing public comment at Wednesday’s meeting.
“As I have spoken against the consolidation before, I would like to say a few words on the proposed plan. The Chancellor’s office and the Board of Governors have claimed that they want to hear from all stakeholders concerning the integration plan for the past many months. In particular, during the public comment period. You’ve also claimed that you have incorporated many of the actionable suggestions to these plans and publicized approval of these changes. I would like to make two observations to challenge these claims.
“Firstly, I would highly suggest with regards to the impact of the consolidation plan at LHU, stakeholders from LHU and the community have not been heard or listened to. More than any of the other three affected universities and communities of the Northeast integration plan, Lock Haven has for many months voiced its opposition to these plans.
“Let us start with the local communities; The City of Lock Haven led by Mayor Joel Long, and other city counselors, published a unanimously supported statement against the consolidation plan earlier this year. The Clinton County Commissioners also published a similar statement against integration soon thereafter.
“Closer to campus, the staff represented by AFSCME, also opposed the plan. Their strong initial opposition has won some assurances for their membership but still continue to oppose the plan.
“In June, the food service workers, rallied against the integration plan in Triangle Park in Lock Haven. By a statement made June 30 by SCUPA President Dr. Todd Spaulding, he clearly stated that “SCUPA is not able to support these plans as they are written” indicating “there are too many unresolved issues” and that they “can not support a gamble of this magnitude.”
“The faculty of LHU has consistently expressed their opposition to these plans beginning in the Fall of 2020 and with a full page ad in The Express published in February 2021. And most recently, by the numerous public comments made during the public comment period.
“Finally, as indicated by the Northeast integration group’s own student survey, it is clear that the majority of Lock Haven and Bloomsburg University students will not be attracted to the so called program opportunities of a newly integrated university if these are to be offered by an online or distance education, which they will be. LHU faculty and staff know our students and they are not keen, if they are aware at all about the change the consolidation will bring. So, it is clear to whoever actually cares to listen, that Lock Haven and the surrounding communities are not in support of the proposed integration plan.
“My second point refers to the fact that the Chancellor’s office only chose to listen to and respond to actionable suggestions for changes to the plan, and of course all for a rejection of the plan itself but only allowed for slight modifications, tinkering around the edges of a plan which its main outcome has already been predetermined months in advance. This is neither exercising transparency nor listening to all stakeholders.
“I have one final comment which is an actionable suggestion: leave LHU alone. In January of 2020, Dr. Rob Pignatello, our former president, presented a five year sustainability plan which had both faculty and staff support. The plans made by the Chancellor’s office, however, imposed a much accelerated two year plan amidst the global pandemic which so seriously altered the original sustainability plan. It is has left Lock Haven without its own president and is being pushed even before the plan was ever officially accepted into a merger with Mansfield and Bloomsburg Universities.
Give us back our president and leave the Bald Eagles alone to compete athletically rather than being merged in some form that has still not been approved by the NCAA. I am sure that it is already hurting LHU’s ability to recruit student athletes and is affecting our enrollment. My appeal to leave LHU alone is not a negative statement against either Bloomsburg or Mansfield, two fine institutions with their own strengths and challenges. LHU is open to find common ways to share our opportunities for our students but needs not be done through integration. LHU has the people, the leaders, the faculty/staff, the community, and the financial reserves to grow and prosper on its own. We just want to be given a chance.”
Assistant professor Dr. Dan McCurry, of Bloomsburg University — one of the other universities in Lock Haven’s integrated block — agreed with Dr. Goulet’s assertion that there seem to be many oversights and unanswered questions in the integration plan.
“The primary motivator for this consolidation seems to be an increase in educational opportunities for our students. But unfortunately the plan does not include any indication of how this is going to take place. Perhaps the most important part of the university planning, the curriculum has taken a backseat for all these discussions. In fact, programs are going to be cut at Bloomsburg because there is no way for a consolidated university to consider and continue offering. How does this increase opportunity for students? Why vote to approve a measure that does not address the entire purpose of the University education?
“The process for implementing the consolidation has not really been transparent. It has been transparent when data shows a beneficial outcome for the system but has been completely ignorant of anything negative relating to this consolidation.
“We saw an economic impact study that does not show what it is set out to do. That is if there is a greater positive economic impact than if their institutions would have been if not integrated. The numbers for both the integrated and not integrated universities in 2023 are the same. No comparison was done for a non integrated university in 2025 and 2026.
“Survey data on student and parent perspective opinions of consolidation had a meager 1 to 4% response rate with results misinterpreted to show that there is widespread support for online teaching, etc. It is a pretty aggregious misrepresentation. What happened to the blue beyond survey with a higher response rate where students were strongly opposed to online learning? Why are the results of the public comment periods not shared in an easily digestible format?
“After tabulating all of the data that were released in those batches, of the responses that had a clear support or opposition of consolidation, 72% of respondents opposed it. 16% wanted the vote to be delayed. Only 11% were in support. This is not to due to apprehension, there are significant problems with this plan only a select few have been addressed in the recent update.
“This plan does not actually address the underlying issue affecting enrollment in the state system — affordability. I have had students withdraw because they could not afford tuition. Bright students with futures cut short. Without additional state funding, the state system is doomed to fail.”
Dr. Holiday Adair, a professor at California University of Pennsylvania, which was to be integrated with the universities at Clarion and Edinboro, said the following:
“I am asking the members of the Board of Governors to not move forward with the consolidation with either sets of institutions, which I do hope is voted on separately, since each school has a unique set of circumstances. I will be shocked and dismayed if the plans are voted for implementation. That would signal to me as well as PASSHE students, employees, and Pennsylvania residents that you have ignored our voices and paid little attention to our concerns other than to make some cosmetic adjustments to the documents.
“You have heard dozens of reasons about why the consolidation proposals are inadequate, including the lack of details and questionable data sets and assumptions. There is no meaningful mention of how the plans will achieve the data goals of those plans. DEI enhancement, serving the educational needs of the military, costs savings, or broadening program offerings for face to face students. You have heard and read hundreds of opinions from various stakeholder groups via the public comment avenues. Almost all of which are telling you to vote no or at least delay. If you have visited social media, you would see hundreds and hundreds of comments saying the same thing.
“All 14 state schools need to be on a continuous improvement plan and the scrutiny given to 6 of them in this process have identified areas to improve upon. System redesign can occur without consolidation, without the massive upheaval to current and future students, study, and graduation plans.
“I will be retiring this August from an institution that is valuable to me and all of the employees and the students that it serves. Consolidation will negate CalU’s unique contribution to their lives. Please listen to all of the comments that have been made over the last few months and today and vote no on the proposed consolidation plans.”
Several students from across the state system also spoke. One of them, Nick Marcil of West Chester, called out some of the trustees.
“I found it appalling that a member of the council of trustees referred to education as a business. That would, as Mario Savio, a student activist, once said make students the raw materials. I find that very appalling. I am a human being and I hope that all of us are being treated as human beings.
“I would also like to say that the chair of the board said that this was about student success and university success. I do not understand how affirming affordability for students is leading to student success. Many people have said throughout the public about the outcry of how this is not actually helping the students. Affordability is an underlying issue as to why students are not attending PASSHE universities. The Chancellor even said this himself. As well if you want to talk about student success, what about the NCAA?
“We still do not technically know what the outcome is going to be from that process. As well if you want to talk about university success, I do not understand how, just like Jack Wabby of the Pennsylvania Association of Councils of Trustees said: “They are right-sizing these universities.” How is that going to help with student success?
“Right-sizing, as many of you all know, means to cut, it means to harm. There are so many students, faculty, staff, community members expressing their dissatisfaction with the boards plan and demanding it to be delayed for people vote no. I do not understand how anyone would vote yes. I would like to say the idea that there has been ample time during the public comment period is absurd and laughable.
“You only had four public comment sessions, many of which, students, faculty, staff and community members have jobs and are working. No wonder you have not had many students actually participate in this process because they are working and it is the summer. They have not been engaged due to online modalities as you would like to say.
“I would also like to say that the impact study that the Chancellor most recently put out, showed that there would be a cut of 56 jobs within the integrated universities, or really consolidating universities. Vote no or delay the plan. Thank you to everyone who is actually trying to make a difference and make public comments to stop this board from doing harm to the PASSHE system.”
Emily Keener of the Executive Committee of the Woman’s Consortium of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education noted that the integration plan will disproportionately affect women — and other marginalized communities — in several ways.
“We would like to emphasize that there has been a disconnect between the Chancellor and the Board of Governors data commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion… The system redesign plan that includes job loss that significantly impacts women as faculty, staff, and students,” Keener said.
“As reported by Perry’s 2021 economic impact of the PASSHE employment reduction report, the employment reductions will disproportionately affect women. As reported, women faculty will negatively be harmed at higher levels than men due to tenure and none tenure status and seniority status,” she continued.
“Women faculty, mentors and rolemodels for female students, will also be disproportionately impacted by these changes. The reorganization that exacerbates the economic, professional and social oppression that women already experience in a patriarchal society and thus participates in structural sexism and significant immeasurable ways. What is missing from this report and PASSHE’s own communication is how the employment reductions will affect other marginalized communities, especially black, indigenous people of color,” Keener said.
“For example, the national data suggests that for women experiencing intersectional oppression, such as being black, indigenous or a person of color, these harms will be even more severe. In short, we know these communities are being hit hard and it does not seem like anyone is paying attention to that fact,” she said.
“Also missing from PASSHE communications and other reports, is a significant impact on women staff. It is unclear what proportion of the staff reduction will involve women. Certainly cut backs on secretarial, clerical, and administrative positions will impact primarily women. Women are also a significant proportion of the custodial staff and also a significant proportion of the professional staff such as in student affairs. For the many women of color employed by the PASSHE system, there are also in these various positions. Cutbacks in staff will impact the experience of students, the productivity of the faculty, the efficient operation of the departments of the colleges, and the global economy,” she continued.
“As members of the Woman’s Consortium of PASSHE, we have specific concerns about the desperate impacts of the PASSHE reorganization and gender terms. Our mission is to further the status of all women within PASSHE. As such we would like to raise awareness of and protest against these harms and ask that PASSHE leadership not contribute to and replicate the long-term structural oppression of women,” she concluded.
Following hours of public comment, stakeholders and members of the Board of Governors had the chance to provide testimony.
Shapira, the board chair, stated:
“A number of the actions this board will consider over the next two days are key components of our overarching system redesign. I just wanted remind everyone about the journey this system has been on since 2016. It is a journey that many of the board members have helped to lead and it is a journey that will take us more years to complete.
“I want to remind everyone that from the beginning, system redesign has focused on finding ways to do three things/priorities: enhance student success, leverage the collective strengths of our universities, and transform our own governance to support all of it and be excellent in how we govern. In doing so, we have also come to understand how we must place as paramount: diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is the thread that ties all of those together… As part of system redesign, the board reoriented its own structure to reflect these strategic priorities and outlined the expectations for what it needed to tackle in order to move the system forward… We completely did our own structure to reflect our three priorities around student and university success and excellence and transparency in governance. Then we hired Dan in 2018 and we charged him to take the board’s concepts of systemness and accountability and actualize them. (To) help us understand and get to the point of what it would mean in practicality to be a sharing system. One that fundamentally understands that what is happening at one of our university, affects all of them.
“That if we can reach our priorities, then we can greatly enhance opportunities, services, and chances for success for all of our students and indeed all of Pa. That work included enhancing accountability at every level to each other and to the public. Also in increasing transparency in how we operate. All of that allowed us gain better visibility into the status of our underlying financial sustainability of each of our universities; thus of our system as a whole.
“In doing so, we know that significant change must occur if we are going to ensure that accessible and affordable public higher education remains available and, indeed, attractive to students in every part of Pa… All along the way, we have received input from every stockholder group and even more input over the past two months.
“This includes the receiving of 1,000 written comments and more than 8 hours of verbal comments across four public hearings and four board meetings. This is a reminder that a university integration is only one part of our larger system redesign effort.
“System redesign is an evolutionary process and it is a complicated process with many parts; all of which, we are moving along together. What it does is seek to transform the system for the future so that every Pennsylvanian regardless of age, background, income level, race, gender, zip code, whatever, have the ability to utilize the state system as the key that unlocks their future and their success in life.”
Later during testimony, Jack Wabby, President of the Pennsylvania Association of Councils of Trustees — who Marcil, the student, had addressed during public comment — said the following:
“We are delighted to learn that the new and additional funding will be coming to the state system to support important initiatives and priorities. We hope the distribution plan for the money will serve the needs of all individual universities as well as prioritize the establishments by the state system. Despite the availability of these new funds, we believe that the sustainability initiative will still be the top priority for the state system.
“All of the universities need to make difficult decisions, to right-size their university and balance their budgets. We understand that the financial and depth problems that a number of our universities have been dealing with are in decades in the making. They will need help and support to address these problems.
“It is imperative that the sustainability process continue as to relieve the burden that has been placed on a financially stable university. Today, the Board of Governors will make an important vote on integration. We believe the process has been transparent and all supporters and critics alike have had ample time to express their views.
“Regardless of the vote from the Board of Governors, know that PACT will support the board’s decision and will do all that we can to assist in the next stage of this process. If the votes support the integration plan, then we will be there to help implement those plans. If the votes do not support the integration plan, then we will be there to help develop alternative plans that will lead to the sustainability of our struggling universities and the state as a whole… The trustees come from many walks of life and different backgrounds but the primary thing we have in common is the devotion we have for the institutions we represent.
“All trustees are passionate about their schools and want to find the best path forward to make them sustainable so they may continue to serve students for many years to come. As president of PACT and on behalf of the trustees of the 14 universities, I want to say thank you to the Chancellor, the staff, the board of governors, the chair, the presidents, faculty, staff, students, and all of those who work tirelessly to address the many difficult challenges we are facing.”
Shortly after these and other testimonies, the final vote was cast, and the Board of Governors moved ahead with integration.
The vote has stirred a variety of replies from elected officials, faculty groups, and community members. Reactions by APSCUF and the Save Our State Schools group were published in Thursday’s edition of The Express. Several others now join them in print.
“Tough decisions had to be made if we want to save our state universities, as a whole, from closing in the not too distance future,” said Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton/Centre). “These actions do not come without hesitation from me as a state representative. I have tried to make myself available to all those impacted by these changes at Lock Haven University and will continue to do so. I am optimistic for the future of Lock Haven University and I am looking forward to seeing our students, faculty and staff, IN PERSON, later this fall at university sports events and many other activities.”
Michelle McCann, a representative of Borowicz’s office, told the Clinton County Commissioners Thursday that Borowicz and State Senator Cris Dush would be speaking with concerned faculty.
“Yesterday they did have the vote on the integration with LHU and Representative Borowicz and Senator Dush will be meeting again with the professors because there’s ongoing concern of what is going to happen. Which they also have been meeting with them regularly whether via zoom or in person,” she added.
At Thursday morning’s meeting of the Clinton County Commissioners, Commissioner Angela Harding made a brief statement condemning the vote.
“I do just want to express my disappointment in that decision,” she said, explaining, “Mainly because so many things are still questionable and secondly because I think it leaves a lot of residents who are employed by Lock Haven University waiting in the wings to find out if they’re going to be able to maintain their employment.”