Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rally for education and two interesting letters

(Daily Local News photo: Tom Kelly IV)

I received two interesting email letters this week. One from colleagues on the Council of Chairs at West Chester and a second one from a former student. In separate and distinct ways, they both address Governor Corbett's severe budget cuts to public education.

First, the letter from the Council of Chairs:


The West Chester University Council of Department Chairs and Faculty Senate believe that Governor Corbett’s proposed budget would compromise the educational mission of West Chester University to make an affordable high-quality education available for all Pennsylvanians. Currently, WCU offers an outstanding education at a very low cost. For four years in a row, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance has rated WCU among the 100 best values in American public higher education. The University holds more than three-dozen national and international accreditations and now annually receives more than 21,000 first-time applications.

This kind of quality, at this kind of price, is possible because of the Commonwealth’s long-standing financial commitment to WCU and to the 13 other universities comprising the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). The WCU Faculty Senate and Council of Chairs appreciate this support and recognize its many important consequences and benefits, including:

The affordability of a WCU education for working families who might otherwise not be able to send their sons and daughters to college.
High retention and graduation rates, especially among lower-income and at-risk students.
Varied course offerings that provide students comprehensive training in their chosen fields, thus preparing them for a competitive job market.

Quality of classroom instruction is also directly impacted by State support. PASSHE institutions pride themselves on the quality of their teaching, but this quality rests on faculty’s ability to give students individualized attention. In particular, the smaller class sizes that WCU students enjoy is a direct consequence of the State’s financial contributions, and results in the following practices essential to student success:

Opportunity to provide detailed feedback on student work in order to strengthen their communication and writing skills.
A focus on complex and multi-faceted assignments designed to assess students' learning gains in critical thinking and problem solving.
The ability to model “best teaching practices” for our students, particularly our education students.

Vigorous State support promotes a positive educational environment in other ways as well, by ensuring the following:

A wide range and high frequency of course offerings so that students can complete their degrees on time.
The recruitment of outstanding faculty attracted by opportunities to teach courses in their areas of expertise.
A relatively small student-to-faculty ratio so that students can receive personalized academic and career mentoring from faculty advisers.

We write as professionals who have our students’ best interests at heart and know what they need to succeed. While we recognize the Governor’s goals of fiscal responsibility and savings, we also believe that a 50 percent reduction in state appropriations to PASSHE universities would cause immediate and irreversible damage to Pennsylvania’s educational and economic future. It would undermine the successful practices described above and compromise our ability to educate effective leaders for Pennsylvania communities, schools, and businesses. Continued investment in WCU and PASSHE, by contrast, will enable the Commonwealth to maintain a competitive edge in the areas of research, teaching and business development – key factors in driving the economy forward.

We urge students, parents, and community members to write or telephone legislators for their help in preventing Pennsylvanians from losing access to quality, affordable public higher education. For additional advocacy information, including a link to Pennsylvania legislators and their contact information, go to (WCU employees may not use campus resources—including University letterhead, e-mail, phones, or fax machines—to communicate with legislators or other public officials regarding budget support for the University.)

Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of West Chester University students, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and the strength and prosperity of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


The West Chester University Council of Chairs and Faculty Senate


Dr. Julian Onderdonk, President of the WCU Faculty Senate,

Dr. Timothy Brown, Chair of the WCU Council of Chairs,

Then, a few hours later, I received this email from a former journalism student, Mike Miller.

Mr. B,

This is a former student of yours. (I graduated from WCU in December '05, did a short stint as a prep sports reporter at the Daily Local if that helps jog your memory)

I've been meaning to write you for a while and express my gratitude for what you did for me as a teacher and simply as person I admire. Through high school and half way through college I had been a below average student. I wasn't interested at all academically until I sat in your News Writing class in the spring of 2002 I believe it was. Your teaching style and the content of the course had a profound effect on me that I am now able to see through maturity and the benefit of hindsight. I started reading everything I could get my hands on, following world affairs, and my political views began to form. It sparked the sort of curiosity I saw in my father and other men of intelligence that I never truly understood. College at this point had been more about watching sports and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. My education had a new purpose but it was over before I wanted it to be.

You kindly wrote a flattering recommendation letter for me when I was applying to law school. I recently passed the bar exam (second try) and thought it was a good time to write and say thanks for really turning my life around and sparking my interest in the world around me.

I hope your teaching continues to leave you fulfilled and I hope you remain conscious of the potentially life changing effects you can have on your students.


Mike Miller

I am proud of Mike's accomplishments in passing the bar and grateful he took time to acknowledge how, as his professor, I was able to help him become engaged in his studies and give his life some direction. I was helped in just this same manner by professors who inspired me as an undergraduate at Loyola University. Almost everyone who has been to college can point to some person who inspired them to get involved in life; to become curious; to develop their minds; to engage in the rigors of citizenship.

That is what educators do for us, from the time we are in kindergarten all through our learning years. Cliff Johnston, West Chester's APSCUF union leader, reminded those gathered at the rally for education yesterday of one essential lesson: one never stops learning in life.

That's why Governor Corbett's budget cuts to public education need to be reconsidered. Education is the future. It should never become a political football.

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