President Dale updates Cal U community on integration


Cal U student Destiny Brooks looks at the display of proposed logos of Pennsylvania Western University, the integrated university of California, Clarion and Edinboro on Oct. 19, 2021. (Jeff Helsel / Cal Times).

Hannah Wyman, News Editor

On February 11, Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, interim president, hosted a zoom session to provide new information on the status of the PennWest integration for Cal U students, faculty and staff. Titled “Integration 101,” Pehrsson reiterated some basic facts and introduced updates on the merger between Cal U, Clarion and Edinboro which will be launching 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 of that kind of power that our combined universities will have, that’s a lot of clout,” Pehrsson said on alumni in the area. “That’s a lot of clout in industry, that’s a lot of clout in legislature, in business. As President Jones used to say, it really will become a powerhouse and those kinds of numbers speak volume to that.”  

New Plans 

Each institution will maintain local identities and traditions with its current athletic logos, colors and mascots. Cal U will still be Vulcans, said Pehrsson.  

Pehrsson also discussed PennWest’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Plans to uphold these values will include work towards closing the equity work gap, providing diversity education and training, acquiring funding for scholarships and grants for underrepresented students, improving cultural programming and emergency response mechanisms and enhancing the overall engagement of students.  

Cal U’s own Sheleta Camarda-Webb has moved into the role of PennWest’s assistant vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. 

The Shared Governance Taskforce has just been launched. This Taskforce is made up of students, faculty, staff and administrators who represent all interests across the three sister schools. Together, this team will take on proposing the principles and structure of a shared governance model by May.  

“Cal U should be very proud of this,” said Pehrsson of the model. “This came out of the work that many of you did with Middle States with the accreditation.” 

According to the president, Cal U’s proposed government structure plan will act as a foundational proposal for the merged institution. Unlike faculty senate or student government, this Taskforce will combine interests and voices when looking at the core value of educating western Pennsylvania.  

While students have been involved in conversations about the integration since the beginning, student input and engagement have increased to prepare for the July 1 launch. Pehrsson said she has been meeting with student leaders monthly and has received feedback on integration communications such as social media posts and short videos. 

There are also committees that are meeting to discuss diploma designs and review the branding guide for PennWest.  

Jim Geiger, senior vice president for university advancement at Clarion, said they are working with a group of student leaders from Cal U, Clarion and Edinboro to come up with different diploma designs. Geiger also said that while the diplomas must have the official name of the university and the PASSHE name, there is some wiggle room.  

“We’re envisioning a couple of different ways to utilize the local name and the local graphics, so I think we’ll have some good options,” he said.  

Geiger said the PennWest branding style guide is complete and university-approved. It’s been shared with vendors and bookstores so orders can be placed post-July 1.  

The style guide is awaiting Middle States approval and will be kept “under wraps” until the launch.  

Current Work 

Student clubs and organizations will still exist independently on each campus but will now have the opportunity to network and share resources with one another. 

Students in current programs will also be able to graduate on time and will not be required to travel between campuses, worries that many enrolled students have raised.  

“You can finish what you’ve started, where you started,” said Pehrsson. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that the students graduate in a timely fashion because we know the longer it takes to graduate the more money you have to spend and the less opportunity you have to earn an income.”  

Faculty engagement is in its third phase, “launch prep” as Pehrsson described it.  

“The deans are in place and transitioning,” she said. “A new provost is in place… all the cabinets are in place; chairs have been elected so we’re doing a lot of refinement.”  

Daniel Engstrom, associate provost of curriculum management, reported that the Interim Curriculum Committee (ICC) has been in place since the fall and is currently finalizing policy and procedures with ASPCUF. Graduate programs and curriculum will be synthesized following policy and procedures approval.  

Next steps include reviewing general education requirements and programs that were originally drafted last spring by faculty and management.  

“The other thing that is coming next after that is the review of all the undergraduate programs and we’re asking faculty to start thinking about synthesizing those programs so once we have gen eds we can just plug those in a be ready to roll for the launch in the fall of 2023,” said Engstrom.  

Looking at academic structure, Pehrsson said they have consolidated the faulty 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 concentrations have been announced and can be viewed online. Minors and certificate programs will soon follow.  

Edinboro’s Scott Miller has been selected to serve as senior vice president of academic affairs and provost. 

People and Places  

“Yes, it is true, I do travel 380 miles to go to the different sites and the different campuses sometimes more depending on how many activities there are,” said Pehrsson.  

“So, one president is a savings but there have been significant changes that have been made to enhance financial sustainability and we’ve identified our cabinet. They’re all in place now for PennWest… and we’ve begun to consolidate key operations, such as human resources, across all campuses” she said on the streamlining of administrative functions.  

The savings from these combined offices are resources that can go back into student support and learning resources, she explained.  

Pehrsson also gave kudos to the tech teams for all the work they have put into aligning technology functions to provide seamless admission, register and financial aid experiences.  

The Best of the West  

Pehrsson ended the presentation by telling the almost 230 attendees how humbled and proud she has been working as the interim president during this historic work.  

“Our sister institutions, we’re all part of one family,” Pehrsson said. “We’re different, we’re quirky, we’ve got our own nuances wherever we are. I must say the last year and a half have been an absolute pleasure to learn all the differences and all the peculiarities.”