New PASSHE Chancellor optimistic about struggling state university system |
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Deb Erdley
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Greenstein

Three weeks after talking office as the fifth chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Daniel Greenstein said he’s encouraged by the reception he has received from students and faculties at the 14 state-owned universities.

Greenstein, 57, who previously managed higher education initiatives for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, settled into his new post with the struggling state university system on Sept. 4 and quickly launched a listening tour.

“I posted a blog on my first day or so and invited folks to email me and talk about who we are and what we want to become. I have just been overwhelmed by the response. I’ve literally received hundreds of emails,” he said in a phone interview Friday.

He said the responses showed passion, creativity and “a deep sense of resilience.”

Over the last year, the PASSHE universities that have been buffeted by declining enrollment, stagnant state subsidies and faculty union tensions, were the topic of two different independent studies. Both concluded the system that enrolls about 100,000 students statewide and includes California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania, was overdue for a major overhaul.

After studying what works at colleges and universities across the nation during his six years at the Gates Foundation, Greenstein said he was stunned to find that the state system lacked “the sort of basic enterprise management tools that you’d expect in a place of this size and complexity.”

By establishing clear cut goals, strategies to meet those goals and making themselves accountable for budgeting decisions that go with the first two priorities, Greenstein said the university presidents can begin to view their budgets as tools to reach goals rather than mere revenue shortfalls.

Greenstein, who has visited campuses in Shippensburg and Millersville and plans to makes his way to the other 12 universities soon, said the system must undertake a culture change if it is to adapt and survive.

He said he’s seen distrust and deep trenches, dug over many years as the 14 universities functioned as a loose federation of self-sustaining, autonomous institutions.

“We’re talking about showing one another respect. We’re talking about offering one another trust and actively listening to one another so we know where we’re coming from. I intend to model that behavior and ask my staff to do it. I will be transparent and inclusive and respectful… I think there are real starting points,” he said.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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