By Lowell Hepler
The Meadville Tribune
Republican state Rep. Brad Roae believes that in my Oct. 23 column I went too far in criticizing his education plan. In his Oct. 31 response, he concludes with these words: “Criticism of statements an elected official actually makes should be fair game. But it is not right to make up statements that were never said by an elected official and then criticize those statements.” I couldn’t agree more with him. Let’s use Mr. Roae’s statements in his own words from two Tribune columns to be sure the record is set straight. In addition to his Oct. 31 comments, I will quote from his March 23, 2012. column. I urge you to find that issue in your local library and read it in its entirety.
Oct. 31: “I never said Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) professors ‘work’ 12 hours a week. I did say PASSHE professors ‘teach’ 12 hours a week ...” He did use the word “teach” but used it to reach this conclusion:
March 23, 2012: “Non-tenured instructors, clerical staff, the cleaning people, etc., are not the problem. They work full work weeks and they are not receiving excessive salaries. Tenured professors are the ones who are driving up costs.”
Oct. 31: “I never said PASSHE professors should take a pay cut.”
March 23, 2012: “In my opinion, professors earning over $100,000 a year can afford a 7 percent pay and benefits cut more than students can afford a tuition increase. Professors who only teach 12 hours a week can afford a 7 percent cut more than the struggling taxpayers can afford a tax increase.” Mr. Roae also seeks to drive a wedge between professors and their students by concluding as follows: “The real budget problem at Edinboro University is the union contract for the professors. The real problem is not the amount of state funding. The professors should be providing complete information to the students on why tuition keeps going up.
“I would encourage everyone to contact PASSHE at (717) 720-4000 and insist on contract concessions for the professors in the new union contract.
“I also challenge the students to ask their professors if they are willing to accept major contract concessions to avoid a tuition increase.”
Fortunately, the students were much more perceptive than Mr. Roae and were able to see through his manipulation.
Mr. Roae protests that he has been critical of fancy dorms and other non-educational construction, as well as excessive numbers of administrators making $100,000-plus. In his March 23, 2012, column, out of roughly 12 paragraphs, only one sentence makes reference to “professors, coaches, and administrators at Edinboro University who make over $100,000 a year.” That’s his only reference to administrators. Every other word in his rather lengthy diatribe is aimed at faculty. Not a single word was written about fancy facilities.
He protests that he doesn’t hate unions, yet he fails to go into painstaking detail about the high costs of increasing numbers of administrators while the numbers of full-time faculty are actually decreasing. You don’t have to be Einstein to see that it is solely unionized faculty that he is attacking.
Ironically, Mr. Roae does exactly that of which he accuses me. He makes up something I never wrote, and then criticizes me for it: “But it is outrageous for Mr. Hepler to accuse me of overbilling the state for my expenses.” I never wrote that. This is what I wrote: “Mr. Roae’s salary is a bit over $82,000, and he receives travel and per diem allowances, much of which is unvouchered.” That is the truth. The state benefits package to which he is entitled does in fact allow reimbursement for unvouchered expenses, whether or not he chooses to make use of it. Never did I accuse Mr. Roae himself of overbilling the state for false expenses. He does admit that some House members “profit” with the per diem system.
Finally, Mr. Roae pointed out that I missed the fact that the Meadville branch of Edinboro University is actually in his district. Well, OK. Why, then, is he attacking faculty that literally work within his own district? Mr. Roae needs to have the courage to own his own words. He also needs to have the courage to stand up to his own party’s governor and the politically appointed chancellor of PASSHE, Frank Brogan, to advocate for the restoration of the funding that has been cut from PASSHE schools.
Immense harm is being wrought to a once-excellent system of higher education, and we and the students who attend PASSHE schools deserve political leadership that is not oblivious to the sacrifice of important academic programs on the altar of administration and fancy facilities.
Lowell Hepler, Ph.D., is a Meadville resident and a professor of music at Allegheny College. He is the 2013 recipient of the college’s Julian Ross Award for Excellence in Teaching.