By Ben Weyman
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories on York College and some of the key issues it faces moving forward.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected schools across the nation, and York College of Pennsylvania is no exception. Minutes from meetings between college administrators and faculty have documented a rift between leadership and staff, with faculty members expressing their concerns about the school’s direction, leadership and dropping enrollment.
A late October faculty meeting drew the following conclusions:
1. We want the Provost, who is the Academic Leader, to report to the Academic Senate each month.
2. There should be faculty trustees sitting ON the board, as at other schools.
3. Changes in academics should be led by or at least endorsed by the faculty — schedules, caps, forced substitutions — and it seems that is already underway.
In this interview, Dr. Brian Furio from the Mass Communications department and Dr. Michael Zerbe from the English department assess the current state as well as the future of YCP. Several other faculty members contacted for this story did not respond.
Q: Previous Senate minutes have shown that the faculty is concerned by a lack of leadership from the higher-ups. Do you feel that the current leadership is doing their part to drive the school forward?
Dr. Furio: YCP is in a transitional period. As with any transition, it takes time and, in some cases, corrections to stay on the planned track. I wouldn’t say that there is a comprehensive lack of leadership at YCP but there have been some weak administrators making it more difficult for YCP to push through this transition successfully.
Dr. Zerbe: I think the administration is doing the best they can in a challenging higher education environment. My sense is that the anxiety on campus stems largely from enrollment difficulties. We may need to do something a little more unorthodox to attract attention to York College: many of the traditional methods for recruiting students don’t work as well as they used to.
Q: It’s reported that enrollment has been declining for 8 years. What could the school do to increase enrollment?
Furio: Enrollment is down at many colleges and universities nationally. I have noticed many schools in our region going beyond the normal admissions practices, i.e., using faculty to directly contact potential students, to increase enrollments. YCP has done this in the past but the faculty recognize that we can be more engaged, as we have done in our open houses throughout the year. I know that some faculty have made phone calls to prospective students to answer any questions about YCP programs and create a feeling of personal engagement. Given that YCP is tuition-dependent for funding, it is imperative that all stakeholders involve themselves in securing a successful freshman class each year.
Zerbe: We need to figure out our new market niche. For a long time, we drew middle-class, first-generation college students from Pennsylvania and surrounding states, and that was a strong demographic. But the middle class is dwindling, and many of those potential first-generation college students are choosing not to go to college at all, largely because of the enormous debt that they would incur. [In general, colleges and universities seem to have priced themselves out of the market with decades of tuition and fees increases that outpaced inflation. It was unsustainable.] Wealthy families will send their kids to prestigious institutions that have more money and longer histories than wel do. Families of more modest means will send their kids to community college or less expensive [compared to YCP] state schools, or the kids won’t go to college at all. Where does YCP fit in this scenario? My sense is that we need to try to find students who want a small, less-expensive private college that has a good reputation. We also need to see if we can attract more international students.
Q: From your perspective, do you feel like the greater faculty is being disrespected by administration?
Furio: I have been a faculty member at YCP for many years. In the past, there was more involvement and direct engagement between the faculty and administration regarding the functioning of YCP. This has been less evident in the past seven years. More administrators have been hired at YCP creating more distance between the faculty and higher-level administrators here. This “distance” makes it more difficult to clearly communicate ideas, suggestions, and concerns to key administrators. Many faculty feel that their voices are not being heard/considered in key decisions about the functioning of the academic component of YCP.
Zerbe: Overall, I don’t see a major clash between faculty and administration. Of course, I [and probably many other faculty] might make some different decisions, but we are hanging in there: We’re not thriving at the moment in terms of enrollment, but we are enjoying a successful capital [fundraising] campaign, and the hope is that we can use these funds to make changes that will attract students.
Q: Would putting academics (course catalog, assessment, etc.) in the hands of faculty be more beneficial than leaving it to administration?
Furio: Academic decisions were never entirely in the hands of the faculty. However, in the past, many faculty [members] felt that they had significant influence and input into the key academic decisions within this institution. The academic success of YCP rests in the united efforts of both faculty and administration. Many faculty [members] feel that this mutual responsibility has become unduly weighted towards the administration in the recent past.
Zerbe: Faculty participate actively in writing and editing the catalog and in assessment, and I don’t see that changing.
Q: Where do you see the school in 5 years? What changes need to be made to keep YCP running?
Furio: I think YCP is making efforts to adapt to changes in the 21st century. We are promoting entrepreneurial community engagement and experiential learning opportunities for YCP students. However, we should not lessen the key ingredients that made us successful to this point. Maintaining our foundational belief in the value of a liberal arts education in conjunction with new innovations and technologies will allow YCP to remain relevant and successful in the years to come.
Zerbe: I’d like to see us get our numbers back. We don’t necessarily need to get to 5,000 students, but it would be nice to reach a point of stability. To that end, we also need to work on a financial model that leans more on endowment and investment rather than on tuition. I’d like to see us have a more diverse and more international campus in terms of all constituencies: students, faculty, staff, and administration. I’d like to see more (American) students study abroad, either short term or for a whole semester. And we need air conditioning in the first-year student resident halls!
Ben Weyman is a junior majoring in Mass Communication.