Troubled by talk Gov. Corbett is slated to be Millersville's commencement speaker. After budget cuts, many at MU aren't pleased.
By Jon Rutter, Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Gov. Tom Corbett's budget ax fell hard on Molly Caldwell at Millersville University, she said.
State higher education funding was cut deeply over the past couple of years. Course offerings and faculty numbers were frozen or reduced.
"I could not get a math class that fit my schedule," said Caldwell, of Lancaster.
"I knew several people who wound up staying extra semesters" or transferred to complete their studies on time.
After walking the graduation aisle in 2012, Caldwell returned to summer school to earn the rest of the credits she needed for a speech communication degree.
So when she learned Corbett is MU's commencement speaker this year, she was floored.
"I'm really frustrated" the school is elevating a man she says targets public education and social services.
"I think it's hugely unfair to the students who are graduating this year."
Caldwell, a periodic Lancaster Newspapers Inc. correspondent, posted her opinion on the university website Thursday.
By the weekend, many more declarations of dismay had poured in.
An online SignOn.org petition to ban the governor's talk reported gathering more than 700 signatures Saturday evening.
Parent John Mateja wrote on the site that he'd be "highly upset" if the school allows the speech to go on and predicted "bone-headed protests" or heckling that could ruin the ceremony for his child.
Others who logged on to the site described the choice as "ridiculous" and "atrocious."
The outcry included parents, faculty, students and various vintages of alumni, some of whom vowed to stop contributing to the school.
Said Lititz resident Zach Bailey, who graduated with Caldwell last year: "The negative response you can find on social media is staggering."
Corbett press officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.
The administration pledged in February to increase aid to public schools but linked the increase to conditions such as privatization of state liquor stores.
MU spokeswoman Janet Kacskos said Corbett confirmed in December that he would speak at the school.
An about-face by the university is "highly" doubtful, said Kacskos, who noted that it's not unusual for schools to feature government and community leaders at graduation.
In 2009, strong opposition did not block a lecture by 1960s bomber/radical-turned-educator William Ayers.
Feared protests did not materialize.
"We held firm then," said Kacskos, who added that the same principle applies now.
"We do welcome free opinion and free speech," which is why Millersville is giving Corbett opponents a digital forum.
"I'd like to see [Corbett's visit] as an opportunity where we can show the governor what a great school Millersville is," Kacskos said.
"Some of our best and brightest will be showcased during graduation," she added. "I would hope he would be able to talk with some of them afterwards."
Sincere conversation would be the best outcome, agreed 2011 MU alumnus David Botte, who went to Harrisburg as a student to oppose the budget cuts.
But he isn't against Corbett coming to Millersville.
The event is "an opportunity to hear this guy's reasons or excuses to reduce funding," Botte said.
"We're going to hear his side of the story. He's going to hear their side."
But it was unclear last week how much time Corbett will spend at the school.
Dr. Gregory Seigworth, a professor of communication studies who taught Caldwell, said it's ironic that the governor's outdoor stage would lie within the stadium track –– the men's track program was dropped last year to save expenses.
Classes and workloads expanded after Corbett sought to slash higher education spending to 1982 levels, Seigworth said.
"There are other professors who are concerned and raising their voices" over the issue.
Friction aside, Seigworth said, "I'm not in favor of uninviting [Corbett]" because it would generate more discord.
"If there's dialogue," he added, "I want it to be respectful and considerate. I don't want people to create a ruckus that reflects badly on the university."n