It’s not very often a top dog at a public institution makes a public pledge — a threat, really — to do away with his own job as well as the institution for which he works.

But that’s what happened days ago when Daniel Greenstein, the chancellor of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities, testified at a state Senate committee hearing that he was willing to recommend dissolution of the State System of Higher Education.

Predictably, the testimony sent shockwaves through the ranks of faculty and coaches. The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties — some 5,000 strong — condemned Greenstein for statements that APSCUF members say could hamper student enrollment efforts and athletic recruitment within the State System.

The chancellor’s testimony comes as he seeks approval for plans to merge six of the 14 universities into two institutions that he says will be enhanced and streamlined. Without approval of the merger strategy/rescue plan, he testified he is prepared to recommend that the entire system be canned.

An APSCUF leader complained that the remarks will undermine confidence in the system.

And he may be right.

But the essential point is that confidence among parents and students in the State System should be tempered with a realistic assessment that this is a system in trouble.

Greenstein is in a good position to see this. And his forthright take on the situation — that without seismic change, the system could and, perhaps should, fail — should be taken seriously.

The chancellor has clarified that he does not hope for dissolution nor does he want to recommend it, but that it’s an option that should be considered, sans approval of the merger plan: California, Clarion and Edinboro universities would be combined in Western Pennsylvania, and Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield would be merged in the northeast. The system’s 14 universities also include the western regional campuses of Indiana and Slippery Rock universities, as well as Cheyney, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, Millersville, Shippensburg and West Chester universities.

Enrollment in the State System hit nearly 120,000 a decade ago and is down to about 94,000. Greenstein has said the practice of using stronger member schools to prop up the weaker ones simply isn’t working. A rethink that’s been ongoing since 1997 must hit fruition with a new plan — and that plan is merger, he said. And he should be believed.

Merger will be painful. Staff reductions will be made. But pruning the tree is necessary to yield fruit.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

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