On February 11, Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, Acting President, hosted a zoom session to provide new information on the state of PennWest integration to Cal U students, faculty, and staff. Titled “Inclusion 101”, Pehrsson reiterated some basic facts and provided updates on the merger between Cal U, Clarion and Edinboro that will kick off in five months.
According to the president, PennWest will be the second-largest university in western Pennsylvania with 15,600 students, 1,800 employees, about 700 of whom work in Washington County, and 180,000 alumni. More than two-thirds of alumni currently live in western Pennsylvania.
“When you think about what kind of power our universities combined will have, that’s a lot of influence,” Pehrsson said of area alumni. “It’s a lot of weight in the industry, it’s a lot of weight in the legislature, in business. As President Jones said, it will truly become a powerhouse and those kinds of numbers say a lot.
Each institution will maintain local identities and traditions with their current athletic logos, colors and mascots. Cal U will always be Vulcans, Pehrsson said.
Pehrsson also discussed PennWest’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Plans to uphold these values will include efforts to close the workplace equity gap, provide diversity education and training, secure funding for scholarships and grants for underrepresented students, improve programming culture and emergency response mechanisms and strengthen overall student engagement.
The owner of Cal U Sheleta Camarda-Webb has become PennWest’s assistant vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.
The working group on shared governance has just been launched. This working group is made up of students, faculty, staff, and administrators who represent all interests of the three sister schools. Together, this team will be responsible for proposing the principles and structure of a shared governance model by May.
“Cal U should be very proud of that,” said Pehrsson of the model. “It came out of the work a lot of you have done with the Middle States with accreditation.”
According to the president, the government structure plan proposed by Cal U will serve as the foundational proposal for the merged institution. Unlike the faculty senate or student government, this task force will combine interests and voices when examining the core value of Western Pennsylvania education.
While students have been engaged in onboarding conversations from the start, student input and engagement has increased in preparation for the July 1 launch. Pehrsson said she meets with student leaders monthly and receives feedback on onboarding communications such as social media posts and short videos.
There are also committees that meet to discuss degree design and review PennWest’s brand guide.
Jim Geiger, senior vice president for college advancement at Clarion, said they were working with a group of student leaders from Cal U, Clarion, and Edinboro to come up with different degree models. Geiger also said that while degrees must bear the official university name and PASSHE name, there is wiggle room.
“We’re looking at several ways to use the local name and local graphics, so I think we’ll have some good options,” he said.
Geiger said the PennWest Brand Style Guide is comprehensive and university-approved. It has been shared with vendors and bookstores so orders can be placed after July 1.
The style guide is awaiting Middle States approval and will be kept “secret” until launch.
Student clubs and organizations will continue to exist independently on each campus, but will now have the ability to network and share resources with each other.
Students in current programs will also be able to graduate on time and will not be required to travel between campuses, concerns that many enrolled students have raised.
“You can finish what you started, where you started,” said Pehrson. “We will do everything we can to ensure that students graduate in a timely manner because we know that the longer it takes to graduate, the more money you have to spend and the less chance you have of earning a income.
Faculty engagement is in its third phase, “launch readiness” Pehrsson described it.
“Deans are up and in transition,” she said. “A new provost is in place… all the cabinets are in place; presidents have been elected, so we are doing a lot of refinement.
Daniel Engstrom, Vice-President, Curriculum Management, reported that the Interim Curriculum Committee (ICC) has been in place since the fall and is in the process of finalizing policy and procedures with the ASPCUF. Graduate programs and curriculum will be synthesized after approval of policies and procedures.
Next steps include reviewing the general education requirements and curricula that were originally drafted last spring by faculty and management.
“The other thing that comes after that is looking at all the undergraduate programs and we’re asking faculty to start thinking about synthesizing those programs so that once we have gen eds we can just plug them in and be ready to roll for launch in fall 2023,” Engstrom said.
As for the academic structure, Pehrsson said he consolidated the flawed into a single entity with 30 academic departments across PennWest’s six colleges. Faculty assignments have been made and department chairs have been elected. Degree programs and mergers have been announced and can be viewed online. Minors and certificate programs will follow soon.
Edinboro’s Scott Miller was chosen to serve as Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost.
people and places
“Yeah, that’s right, I drive 380 miles to get to the different sites and different campuses sometimes more depending on how much activity there is,” Pehrsson said.
“So a president is an economy, but significant changes have been made to improve financial sustainability and we have identified our cabinet. They’re all in place now for PennWest…and we’ve begun consolidating key operations, such as human resources, across campuses,” she said of streamlining administrative functions.
The savings from these combined offices are resources that can be reinvested in student support and learning resources, she explained.
Pehrsson also commended the technical teams for all the work they have done to align technology functions to provide seamless admissions, enrollment and financial aid experiences.
The best of the west
Pehrsson ended the presentation by telling the nearly 230 attendees how humbled and proud she has served as interim president during this historic work.
“Our sister institutions, we are all part of one family,” Pehrsson said. “We are different, we are eccentric, we have our own nuances wherever we are. I have to say the past year and a half has been an absolute pleasure learning about all the differences and quirks.