Since the beginning of this year, the Pennsylvania Legislature has been holding a series of hearings aimed at studying the way state-owned and state-funded universities across Pennsylvania -- including the University -- spend their state aid. State Representative John Lawless (R-Montgomery County) has severely criticized some of the University's use of funds. Last week, the State System of Higher Education, which oversees 14 state-owned universities, pulled out of the hearings, citing Lawless as the main factor. The hearings are being held by the House Select Committee on Higher Education and Lawless is the chairperson of the committee. Administrators at the University and throughout the state have criticized Lawless for his abrasiveness. Some state representatives have also strongly condemned Lawless. State Representative Ron Cowell, the Democratic co-chairperson of the House Education Committee, said the State System of Higher Education's decision to boycott the hearings was well justified. "I think that the hearing has become an embarrassment to the legislature," he said. "I think the higher education community would be justified in choosing to shun the committee and the escapades of the chairman." Cowell added that he believes Lawless' committee should be abandoned because it does a disservice to legitimate efforts to pursue accountability in higher education. And Cowell was especially critical of Lawless' strong-handed tactics. "I think it's not very professional to show up at a university and demand access to records," he said. Lawless grilled University President Judith Rodin and other University officials at a budget hearing in the spring about the number of hours professors spend teaching and money spent on travel and sabbaticals. Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Carol Scheman said she respects the state officials' right to inquire about non-profit institutions, but has been wary of what Lawless is looking for in his questions. "Some of his questions have been both time consuming and difficult to answer and hard to see where he is heading," she said. Scheman added that she has maintained from the beginning that the University is a private institution and is not specifically subject to his questioning. Some of Lawless's main criticisms include state support for sabbaticals, travel expenses and tuition discounts for children of college employees. The Associated Press contributed to this article.Comments powered by Disqus
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