Dan Greenstein, the head of Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education, is under fire after he said he would recommend dissolving the system if its governing board does not move forward with a plan to merge six of its universities.
One state lawmaker said she viewed Greenstein's remarks as a threat to make the governing board approve the consolidation plan. The system's faculty union called his words "reckless and irresponsible" in a statement.
PASSHE has struggled with declining enrollment and middling state investment for more than a decade. The mergers are being presented as a path to financial sustainability.
The enrollment and funding challenges led Greenstein to suggest six of PASSHE's universities be combined into two entities. California, Clarion and Edinboro universities, in the west, would concentrate on online education, while Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield, in the north and east, would focus on stackable and short-term credentials.
Both of the new institutions would operate with a single leadership team, programming array and enrollment strategy.
Details about the plan have been slow to emerge, raising concerns for the system's faculty union. PASSHE's instructors are already grappling with news that the system expects to lay off around 100 faculty members.
The union's latest criticism comes after Greenstein appeared before a state Senate panel last week to discuss the mergers and the system's financial position.
Greenstein explained during the hearing that the larger and more affluent PASSHE institutions have been subsidizing the system's other universities. That model that is no longer viable, he said.
Should the system not change how it operates, Greenstein said he would recommend to the board "that we come back to the Senate next year with a legislative package to dissolve the system."
One Republican state lawmaker pledged during the meeting to sponsor such a bill, questioning the benefits of the current framework. However, another, a Democrat, viewed Greenstein's comments as a threat to the governing board that it needed to approve the redesign plan.
"It's not a threat, senator, I'm giving you my best advice," Greenstein replied.
However, the union president said in a statement she was "certain that many of our members perceived it as a threat." She said she would be calling an emergency meeting of the union's executive council to "discuss the situation," adding that "action must be taken."
The board of governors is due to receive an update about the mergers in April. A public comment period would follow. The soonest that students would be able to enroll in the integrated institutions would be fall 2022, the system has said.