After Hearing, an Interview with Graham Spanier
Calm and yet downtrodden, President Graham Spanier made his way out of the state Senate Appropriations hearing room and into a sea of microphones and cameras. Prodding reporters were fully equipped with an arsenal of questions to throw at the seemingly destitute leader.
The press was itching to know how President Spanier would react to the over two hours of incessantly tapping his feet before a congregation of Pennsylvania senators. Sharing stake in Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed $660 million in education cuts, the roughly 20 legislators weren’t exactly an easy crowd to please.
“It sounded to me today like senators agreed that [$660 million] was too much to expect of higher education,” said Pres. Spanier regarding a question about the overall climate of the discussion.
He admitted that the 50 percent cuts proposed toward funding higher education was something none of the administrators had expected. Flat appropriations that have plagued the university since 2001 could have been more easily calculated into the budget, according to Spanier. However, the gash put into our university’s funding by Gov. Corbett’s appropriation is something Spanier believed was a shared woe of both Penn State and senators.
“I’m very hopeful, based at least on what I heard today, that [budgets cuts] will be moderated,” he said in an optimistic tone.
Reporters must not have bought Spanier’s assurance in the senate and began to shift the conversation toward the president’s means of dealing with affairs of the university if the proposal was to be passed. Tuition hikes, program closings and even the shutdown of branch campuses were options for Spanier, if the roughly 20 percent of Penn State’s general education funds were dissolved into feeding the state’s deficit.
“A lot of belt tightening is going on already, said Spanier as he lamented the financial effects of the proposed attrition. “But this would go way beyond normal belt tightening.”
Tuition increases would place burdens onto students and families while potential lay offs could debilitate cooperative extension programs being conducted inside the university. With funding for programs such as the College of Agriculture’s community outreach stemming from federal funds, there is no way to offset the deficit created by leaking faculty income veins. The result is up to 400 professors and researchers losing their jobs, crippling the procured advancements and educational gains of the program.
According to Spanier, closing a Commonwealth campus is the “last thing we want to do.” However, administrators are examining the viability of the 24 satellites according to their demographics and enrollment. He gestured at the honest truth that possible cuts could translate into a death sentence for the scattered Penn State system.
However, current students can exhale a weak but warranted sigh of relief. Even in the event of discriminatory program closings, current students will be afforded the privilege of completing whatever academic tract they are bound to. Which means degrees will be awarded to those who are already enrolled in a major. Spanier admitted (rather bitter-sweetly) that besides rising tuition, budget cuts will mainly affect prospective students rather than the present Penn State population.
In a closing statement, our disheveled captain dolefully confessed the average debt incurred by graduating Penn Staters will undoubtedly increase or remain stagnant at its current $31,000 price tag. However, Pres. Spanier confidently assured that he will not lose sight of what is important to the university. It is not about the lavish HUB expansion, new IM fields, or liberal arts majors. It’s about the students.
“It’s the principle reason that we worry about a cut in appropriation,” said Pres. Spanier. “Ultimately it’s about the students and they are the ones affected.”