The State System of Higher Education drew a stream of opposition Wednesday when it held its first public forum on merging six public universities into two, a move that includes California University of Pennsylvania.
Many of those who commented urged the system’s board of governors to slow down the process for the plan, which is expected to come to the table for approval in mid-July.
“The pace that we are moving to consolidate universities is too fast, especially during a pandemic,” said Roger Wolbert, an associate professor at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.
He said decisions are being made about curriculum and other issues as if the plan has already been approved.
The state system is required to cut costs to address a declining enrollment, and its board of governors moved forward with a plan to merge Cal U. with Edinboro and Clarion and do the same with three schools in the northeastern area of Pennsylvania.
The meeting Wednesday focused on the three universities in Western Pennsylvania, all of which would retain their campuses and broaden offerings.
The universities have a combined enrollment of about 93,000 students, a number that has declined by more than 20% over the past 10 years.
The state system needs to right-size to prepare for the future, said 2010 Cal U. graduate Marc Stempka, who was the only person who commented in support of the mergers.
“Right now the best option on the table is the integration plan,” Stempka said.
Cal U. faculty member Laura Tuennerman also appeared before the board during the virtual meeting.
“I believe we need to slow the process down,” Tuennerman said.
The board of governors is not expected to delay the vote on the integrations, said Cody Jones, state system spokesman.
“A vote by the board of governors in July means the campuses can begin planning for the future,” Jones said. “It means students and communities could begin experiencing the benefits and tapping into all the expanded opportunities of integrations by the fall of 2022.”