Flashlight: Mounties join APSCUF to lobby state legislators

Photo courtesy of Jason A. White

Photo Caption:
Named in no particular order: Rose Boone, Ariel Faber, Halie Gandee, Danielle Gilbert, Erica Henry, Sara Huffman, Marc Kiessling, Amelia Lieberknect, Kourtney Lomax, Bryan Mahosky, Thomas Maro, Victoria McNamee, Sandra Nelson, Kelly Raleigh, Zech Rossetti, Chelsea Simmers, Rachel Sterling, Amanda Tanner, Brad Veach, Nicole Welsh, Jared Wiest, Kori Williams, Jason White, Colton Long, Alex Farley, and Travis Hume.  Not pictured is Santos Feliciano.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————

Mounties join APSCUF to lobby state legislators

By Bryan Mahosky, Editor-in-Chief of The Flashlight

85 Mounties traveled to Harrisburg to support the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) in restoring funding for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

            “Increased class sizes, reduced course offerings, 130 academic programs slashed, sweeping faculty cuts at the end of every year.  This sounds like a preview for a horror movie,” PA Representative Ronald Walters said at a press conference in Harrisburg. “But this is the reality of the state system of higher education.”

Students Jason White, Colton Long, Travis Hume, and Alex Farley drove to Harrisburg on Tuesday, Oct. 15, for a legislative reception.  They met with PA state legislators, members of APSCUF, and faculty from the 14 schools in the PASSHE system at Ceoltas Irish Pub.

25 students boarded a bus at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16 to travel to the capital.  55 Mansfield University Choir Concert members boarded a separate bus and left shortly thereafter.

            The 25 students met with Mansfield University student and APSCUF intern Alex Bock.  Bock split the students into groups, which joined with White, Long, Hume, and Farley, as well as faculty members from other schools in the state system and members of APSCUF to lobby state legislators.

            Among the representatives and senators met was Representative Gregory Lucas (Republican).  Representative Lucas opposed any increase in appropriations to the PASSHE system, and instead supports an increase in tuition.

            “I have a son who works three jobs while doing his classes,” Representative Lucas said.  “He doesn’t see a dime from me.  If he can make it work, then so can you.”

            According to Edinboro University English professor Elizabeth Joyce, Lucas’s son lives at home and pays no rent, so room and board costs are therefore not factored into what he must pay.  Lucas’s son’s three jobs and full-time classes also take up any free time that could otherwise be used for extracurricular activities and getting involved with organizations on campus.

            “What [the state] is doing is cutting the quality of education,” APSCUF Vice President Ken Mash said.  “This is not a logical path.  It may be penny-wise but it is pound-foolish.  How are you able to have high retention rates when you announce to the world that you’re cutting all of these academic programs?”

            “We are all, or mostly all, touched by the [PASSHE] school system and understand the value of higher education,” Representative Brian Ellis (Republican) said.  “I would jump on the chance to provide more appropriations, but where would we get it?  We’re all hoping for the exact same thing—a better economy.”

            22 lobbyists met with Senator Gene Yaw’s chief of staff. The majority of the conversation consisted of the students and staff expressing their lack of faith in an online form of education, which is one suggested route, or fix, for Mansfield University’s future.

            Mansfield University has faced a 6% enrollment average decrease over the last three years.  According to instructor Jason Roscoe, the creation of the retrenchment list did not take into account the loss of students that will result from certain professors or majors being cut.

            “I’ve been keeping track,” Roscoe said.  “I’ve had about 40 students, so far, express interest in transferring out if their professors or majors are cut.”

            Following the lobbying session, a press conference was held in the rotunda of the capital building.  Representatives Madeleine Dean, Ronald Walters, Steve McCarter, and Mike Hanna, Senator Mike Stack, and Mansfield University student Jason White spoke.

            “Education is not the place to cut state funding, especially while allowing multi-million dollar corporations to avoid paying their fair share in taxes,” Representative Mike Hanna said. “That’s money that could be used to restore the cuts made to PASSHE universities, and we would still have enough left over to help school districts throughout PA that have also faced Governor Corbett’s budget tax axe.”

            In the state school system, 90% of the students are from Pennsylvania, and 80% of those students stay in the state and find employment upon graduation, according to Senator Mike Stack.  “By choking out the state system of higher education,” he said, “we are choking out the future of our workforce, of our inventors, of our creators, and of new products. How can we say that we care about the future of this commonwealth when we slash, cut, and burn education every chance we get?”

            There are more than 500,000 alumni living in Pennsylvania that generate an annual income of over $7 billion, according to Representative Madeleine Dean.

            “I am demanding the full restoration of the state system funding,” Senator Stack said. “The leaders of tomorrow deserve nothing less.”

            “Pennsylvania ranks 45th for state support of full-time students,” Representative Dean said.  “While Pennsylvania continues its cuts of higher education, 37 states have increased their funding for higher education—their commitment to their young people.”

            “Article 3, section 14 of the PA constitution states: ‘the general assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of our commonwealth,’” Representative Dean said. “I believe that statement is not exclusive to kindergarten through 12th grade.  We are not living up to our constitutional obligation for the 14 PASSHE schools.”

            Representative Dean will be exploring solutions that have little to no effect on the individual taxpayers, the most important of which being a tax on the Marcellus Shale extraction, not unlike the other states that do so.

            “Budgetary cuts also increase student costs such that an affordable education is becoming a thing of the past,” White said in his address. “State funded education used to mean that education was affordable and accessible for nearly everyone. With rising costs, education is being placed further out of reach for an increasing number of Pennsylvanians.”

            “We need Pennsylvanians to stand together to ask for sustainable funding solutions and a restoration of funding to our state’s system of higher education,” White said. “Restoring our funding is about more than making an investment in education, it is about making an investment in the future of Pennsylvania.”

            Following the press conference, Peggy Dettwiler, Mansfield University’s Director of Choral Activities, lead the 55 choral members in five songs in the rotunda. 

            Mansfield University’s music department has four (of 15) faculty on the retrenchment list.  Each of the 55 choral members has learned from these four faculty members in some way.

            Mansfield University is currently facing a $6 million deficit, and is facing a $14 million deficit in following years.  Because of this, 29 faculty and 25 staff positions are in jeopardy of being cut.

            “It’s disappointing to see a society of people who want to be educated but can’t afford it,” Mansfield University student Nicole Welsh said.

“Despite the fact that I feel most of the legislators we talked to were Democratic and thus in favor of higher education, and that most of the legislators that we talked to that were opposed were of the Republican persuasion, I hope we were able to bring state wide attention to the plight of the PASSHE system,” Long said. “Regardless of the eventual outcome, it was a phenomenal opportunity for the students involved because at the end of the day, we fought for the education we believe in so strongly.”

Mansfield University’s Student Government Association (SGA) is planning a second trip to Harrisburg on Dec. 4 “Our goal is to have all 14 PASSHE presidents, faculty, staff, student governments, and their respective state representatives on board with us,” SGA Director of Public Relations Cole Black said.

There will also be a “pre-rally” on Dec. 3 to “get everyone fired up on our campus and then drive down to Harrisburg [the next day],” according to Black.

Look for more information on the Facebook pages: “Mansfield University Rally” for Dec. 3, and “PASSHE Rally to Harrisburg” for Dec. 4.

This article was originally published in The Flashlight, Mansfield University’s student newspaper.