Sunday, January 25, 2009

Buy Buy Buy: Penn State Continues To Expand

While Penn State leadership continues to sing the financial blues as an excuse for higher tuition and lower salaries, they're continuing the rapid expansion by purchasing more buildings and properties.

Penn State will pay $4.4 million to buy the James Building, which it currently rents as offices for the Daily Collegian and The College of Communication. This is on top of last spring's purchase of the Houtz property for millions more.

Long-term, they're saying that the move will save money. But, it's impossible to justify this spending when we're in such precarious financial position.

Unless, of course, we're not in that bad of financial straits and this is the typical BS and PSU.

Friday, January 9, 2009

How Other Big Ten Schools Are Approaching The Budget Problem

Penn State's leadership and its minions have trotted out excuses for the University's dismal economic position adding that, "other universities are facing problems" and "other universities are laying off workers" and on and on.

It's probably true: poor fiscal management and over-ambitious spending are not exclusive to Penn State; there are other Universities that made bad moves at bad times and now they--or usually their faithful employees--are paying the price.

However, it's equally true that there are Universities that are in much better shape fiscally because their leadership made good decisions. Some of these are the Universities in Penn State's own conference, the Big Ten.

While the economy has hit all the Big Ten schools, including Michigan and Michigan State, which are located in the hard-hit home of the declining auto industry, none of the schools' reactions appear to be approaching the severity we are facing at Penn State.

The University of Michigan, in fact, appears to be going on with its construction schedule. No word from Michigan State about problems like the ones facing Penn State, in fact it was recently named one of the best places to work in academia, so hats off.

University of Wisconsin is hard hit, but the leadership is actually asking its staff, faculty and students to find ways to save money, instead of unilaterally declaring war on their livelihood.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Spanier Continues To Justify Moves

President Spanier released a video and message explaining the cost-cutting moves. (This type of obsessive reaction seems to be based on a genuine fear of the backlash this is generating.)

There seems to be some good news for Penn State staff:

  • No job cuts, per se. (For the time being.)

  • No cut in retirement funding.

  • No hike in parking fees. (The current costs are unfair already.)

  • No hike in health care costs. (Nationwide, the costs are moderating.)

How long will these last? As long as we are cut off from these discussions, as long as staff continue to make themselves subservient to leadership whims, these could be cut at any time.

Here's the video. I'd like to hear some comments.

    Change Is Coming to Penn State

    When President-elect Barack Obama becomes President Barack Obama, it won't just be the nation that faces change. Penn State employees will have the best chance to change their own economic destiny.

    President Obama was widely supported by the staff of the University. Tens of thousands crowded the Hub lawn to hear him speak. There was even talk that University president Graham Spanier not only consulted with the Obama team, but also was a rumored pick as Secretary of Education.

    Those rumors were quickly dashed when news of riots and a questionable financial picture flooded the media, no doubt.

    It's now time for Dr. Spanier and the numerous employees and staff members who supported President Obama to embrace the change that is coming to labor relations in America and at Penn State. President Obama has had a pro-labor voting record and plans to take this stance into his term of office.

    Obama quote from

    So I owe those unions. When their leaders call, I do my best to call them back right away. I do not consider this corrupting in any way; I do not mind feeling obligated toward home health-care workers or toward teachers. I got into politics to fight for those folks, and I am glad a union is around to remind me of their struggles.

    It is time for workers at Penn State to take command of their economic future. It is time for workers at Penn State to have an equal voice in the matters that concerns the University, to share in its successes and failures.

    It's time for change at Penn State.

    Monday, December 29, 2008

    Who Silenced Us?

    A cult-like abhorrence to question anything uttered by Old Main pervades Penn State's culture. Silence and apathy are the glues that bind the Penn State way.

    If you work at Penn State, decisions are made by the administration and those edicts are expected to be treated as though they're etched on stone tablets and brought down from Old Main by Moses.

    Your opinion on tuition hikes, salary cuts, job titles, working conditions, spending decisions and building projects aren't needed. After all, you're fortunate just to have a job. Managers have little say if those decisions are off target, either; they're just responsible for pulling the trigger.

    Penn State employees are disconnected from the Penn State legacy, a legacy that is reserved for deans and presidents, trustees and chancellors, whose pictures, they believe, will one day adorn the hallowed halls and ivory towers that they spend so much money on.

    And, exactly, what type of legacy will it be? High tuition. Crippling debt. Reckless spending. Declining wages. Hostile working conditions.

    It's time that Penn State staff members realize that they are critical in re-righting one of Pennsylvania's proudest educational institutions. If we are expected to sacrifice, we should at least be able to add a voice to the decisions that affect our students and our future.

    Friday, December 19, 2008

    Sacrificing Staff

    President Spanier recently added to remarks he gave to the Faculty Senate. In this latest round of remarks, he continued the theme of the sacrifices that would be needed by students, faculty, and staff members.

    He also mentioned that while the University was in good shape, fiscally speaking, these were tough times economically. (He did seem to stop short of saying that the University was in excellent financial shape... which I attribute to the massive debt taken on by new building projects.) Lower state funds and higher medical insurance were just some of the fiscal challenges that Spanier mentioned.

    Those sacrifices include higher workloads, higher tuition, and lower wages.

    These steps may be unavoidable and the staff, as usual, is prepared. What I felt was missing was any mention of the continual sacrifices of the staff over the past years, years when record tuition and record enrollment would lead one to believe that revenue would outstrip the small sum of state monies. However, salary increases have been lower than the pace of inflation and employee's pay for a higher share of health insurance costs as their choices of health insurance plans decrease. Higher fees, longer hours, and congested commutes have taken their toll on staff, as well.

    It doesn't end there. The staff of Penn State has been instrumental in taking Penn State from a paper-shuffling bureaucracy to a more tech-savvy operation and, despite the glitches, there's no doubt that the University is a much more efficient, more productive place than it was 10 or 15 years ago.

    This innovation has gone unrewarded and, one could say, that it's only been punished.

    Why has this happened?

    Penn State staff has no independent voice. Their needs are secondary (if they are considered at all).

    Penn State staff members will meet the fiscal and technological challenges that we are facing, but will the University meet its obligations to the staff after this economic strife has passed?

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    The Parking Prediction

    Penn State employees pay to park.
    And it's not for convenience.
    In the University's push to create a pedestrian campus, they forgot to create the necessary spaces on the edges of campus that would make the walk to work more convenient. So, most parking is slapped at the edge--the very hinterland--of campus, near the Bryce Jordan Center. Or, workers can brave the suicidal traffic in one of the parking decks.
    For this, staff members pay over $400 a year. Recently, when Penn State raised salaries a paltry 2 percent, they yanked up parking fees over 10 percent.
    There's no employer in the region that forces their employees to pay these types of exorbitant rates.
    Parking has become a source of revenue for the University.
    There are already rumors that parking fees will go up and some lots that were free will now require permits.
    Why should we be surprised?