Interim chancellor visits Mansfield, Lock Haven universities on tour

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Dr. Karen M. Whitney, interim chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, left, and Scott W. H. Barton, Mansfield University interim president, stand outside North Hall on Mansfield University Campus during Whitney's visit to Mansfield University on Tuesday.

Dr. Karen M. Whitney, interim chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, visited Mansfield University on Tuesday as a stop on her tour to visit all 14 state universities before the board of governors meeting on Oct. 18.

Whitney, who assumed the role of interim chancellor on Sept. 12, is visiting all the state universities in order to assess each firsthand before decisions are made on how to move forward with redesigning the educational system.

“My goal was to personally visit and meet with students, faculty, staff, alumni, civil and business leaders at all 14 universities before the Oct. 18 board meeting, and I’m on track to do that,” she said.

As she was previously Clarion University’s president for seven years, she has been to the other university campuses in the past.

“I’ve been to all 14 campuses, but it’s different now with this role as chancellor,” she said. “We’re in a very important moment. I wanted to acquaint myself with the students of Mansfield, faculty, staff, trustees and alumni, all personally.”

She said the No. 1 priority of the system is ensuring the student’s success as they graduate the university and develope a plan for what’s next in their lives.

“So I asked the students, ‘what do you love about Mansfield?’ “ she said. “They were just so fun to talk with … There was a general sense that the things they love most … are the people. In particular, they found the faculty to be very welcoming.”

She said the students also felt the staff were personally committed to their success.

“They like being at a small university. In fact, they chose being at a smaller university over other universities they could’ve attended,” she said.

She said some students thrive in a smaller university.

“The fit is everything,” Whitney said. “What they were saying to me is that Mansfield’s size of being small and personal really resonated for them as the best place they could pursue their college education.”

There has been discussions regarding how to shift from “system review” to “system redesign” in order to achieve the most positive results on behalf of students, the individual universities and the entire system, according to a press release from the state.

“The biggest message I’m going to be very clear with you about and it is the reason why I accepted the appointment as interim chancellor,” Whitney said. “I completely believe that every one of our 14 universities is vital and important and must continue for the commonwealth to be successful. The commonwealth needs all of us.”

According to Whitney, there will be no shutting down of any of the state schools.

“What I mean by that is I’m not interested in talking about downsizing,” she said. “What I’m interested in is ensuring that each of our 14 universities has a sustainable way forward to realize its important purpose.”

This requires looking at the universities individually and as a cooperative unit together.

“We’re going to stop looking at every university as one size fits all,” she said. “We’re going to stop being unnecessarily competitive. We’re going to start looking at ways in which we can be optimally collaborative.”

Her main objective is to try to change the regulations holding universities back financially.

“I am on a mission to not only continue to secure additional state investment through state appropriated funds, but I’ve began discussions with the state government that they need to deregulate us so that we can be the best universities that we can be,” she said.

She said that presidents of universities don’t have the authority they need to properly do their jobs, saddled with a lot of unfunded problems and regulations they have to miraculously find money for.

“That has to stop,” she said. “We have to stop unfunded state mandates. If the state wants to mandate something, they need to fund it. Or, they need to suggest it to us, and we work on it. These are simple ideas.”

“We had a fantastic, productive day. We are so appreciative of Whitney’s time and her commitment to Mansfield’s success. It cannot be understated,” said Scott W. H. Barton, Mansfield University interim president.

Whitney also visited Lock Haven University Wednesday, making it six schools she has visited so far.

The state system universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.