The strike, the students, the future

Category:  News
Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 at 12:03 PM
The strike, the students, the future by Macala Leigey

Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash visited Edinboro University last Wednesday to address the recently approved strike authorization vote and answer questions regarding the ongoing contract negotiations with the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Mash answered the following questions and disclosed what a strike could potentially mean for students.

Q: Do you have a time frame or any idea when the strike date may be?

A: No. We’re going to go through this next week or two — we have a few meetings planned — and I’m going to talk with the negotiations committee, that’s made up of the chapter presidents from the 14 universities, and we’ll decide whether we’ve hit that point of frustration [and] if we need to set a strike date.

Q: Is there a separate committee or team that decides on the strike date?

A: There’s a negotiations team and there’s a negotiation committee. The negotiations team is made up of me [the president], two faculty members and an alternate faculty member — [which] happens to be my vice president and treasurer — and then a faculty member from West Chester University. It’s us with the lawyers — that’s the team that actually goes in to negotiate.

The committee is made up of the chapter presidents at the universities, so they set the direction for the team, and it’s something that has to get approved by them. But it also means if we’re gonna call a strike, they’re the ones that would have to approve that. Ten out of 14 of them would have to say “that’s what we want to do.” In reality though, we would be looking for 14 out of 14 if we’re going to do something that serious.

Q: If faculty decide to strike, what exactly does that mean for students?

A: The system [will] come out and say “The faculty are going to walk out on the students. They’re not walking out on us, they’re walking out on the students.” Well, you know, who put everyone in this position?

For us, if we hit a strike, that means we feel like we had no other choice but to do that. It’s the matter of setting up a picket line, and you expect nobody to cross the picket line. We would expect the faculty that teach your classes now will not be teaching your classes, the counselors won’t be there, the librarians won’t be there — everyone who’s a faculty member on the campus will not cross the picket line.

Q: Theoretically, if the strike date would be set for before homecoming at a university, what would that mean for that event? Would faculty be able to participate or attend?

A: Faculty don’t go on campus, at all. We have picket lines and nobody crosses the picket line; that’s the goal. It’s very serious if you do cross the picket line, because then it gets pretty rough with people. People feel like they’re on the line for a reason — sticking up for everyone — and then you crossing that means you’re cutting the legs out from underneath them, and that could be an ugly situation. But hopefully we’ll never get there.

Q: Doesn’t PASSHE have to come to an agreement before a strike? How would they fund or find enough faculty members for 14 universities?

A: I don’t know. I suspect they either won’t, or they’ll just stop school and try to blame the faculty for it. I don’t know how they’re going to respond to parents and students when they say “give us our tuition money back.” But that’s up to them about what they’re going to do. I suspect the public officials would be pretty mad too.

Q: Out of the issues that are still being negotiated, is there one that is proving to be a bigger problem than others?

A: They put 249 changes they wanted to see on the table. It’s weird to have that many changes, [and] there’s a number of things that we believe seriously impact the quality of the education that we deliver.

Mash shared a number of issues that PASSHE and APSCUF are still trying to reach an agreement on.

They want to clearly use distance education more [online education]. We understand that it’s important, but the best circumstance is to have a professor in the classroom with the students, [and] they said they want to take that out.

There’s also the fact that they want to increase the number of temporary faculty members. Right now, we have a deal where 25 percent of all the courses that are taught, as a max, can be taught by these temporary faculty members, [and] everybody else is tenure or earning tenure; so they are here permanently. They [PASSHE] want to change that to 30 percent of the classes. We’ve run numbers and could see that as they do that, there’s less need for permanent faculty, which means there would be less advisors available, [and] less people who have the advanced degrees who could bring their experiences to the classrooms.

Then they have this very strange proposal that graduate students should be able to teach. It’s normal at bigger universities, where they have PhD programs, for advanced graduate students to teach a stand alone course, but that’s someone who is advanced along and is working on their dissertation; so they’re up on research [and] they actually have something to bring back into the classroom. What they [PASSHE] want to do is say that students in master’s degree programs can teach those classes — someone who just got their bachelor’s degree teaching students.

They [PASSHE] want to cut the number of sabbaticals; for scientists who are doing labs, they want their labs to count for only two-thirds of a credit; they want the psychological counselors to put in more hours — so up and down there’s all these kinds of cuts. Plus the issues revolving around salary and health care. That’s why we’re in the circumstances that we’re in now, because nobody can remember us being so far apart, and something has to give.

Q: Where did all of these proposed changes come from?

A: I think they put together a Christmas wish list of things they wanted. They all got together and said “what do we want in this contract” and they put together a gigantic wish list that was never practical. It would be far more typical for a negotiation to identify four or five things you really want to get and then focus on those. But it makes it very hard to deal with things like salary and benefits if we’ve got all this other stuff going on too.

Q: Do you feel APSCUF and PASSHE will come to an agreement at the next meeting?

A: We always hope that when we go there [to meet] we’re going there with the intention of reaching an agreement. We hope that if they [PASSHE] haven’t been serious, then they do become serious,. They realize that we’re serious about it and that there are serious potential consequences.

Q: When was the last strike authorization vote? How many times has it come to this?

A: It’s come to this quite a bit. I think in every contract negotiation over the last four, we’ve come down to this point, which raises questions in itself. It’s just hard to understand why it is we have to repeatedly get to this point to see any kind of change.

Q: What does this mean for student athletes?

A: If the coaches vote not to strike, they would continue. They could vote to authorize a strike, [that] doesn’t mean they’re going to call a strike. Even if they vote to authorize it [to strike], it could still be that the faculty go on strike, but the coaches don’t, or the coaches go on strike and the faculty don’t. We’re under one label of APSCUF, but they’re two different bargaining units. They operate independently. But there’s some real questions, because our athletic trainers are faculty members and they’re needed for games to run. So if the faculty strike, it could have an impact on sporting events.

University coaches casted their votes to authorize a strike last Wednesday and Thursday, with 94 percent, out of a total 97 percent, voting in favor of authorizing a strike. Currently, APSCUF coaches do not have a strike date set, and will hold their next negotiations meeting on Sept. 26.

Q: What do you want students to know?

A: The faulty want to put this behind us and give our 100 percent attention to them [students], which means this has to get over with. This is one of the reasons why it’s not just something that can go on forever, because it’s a major distraction.

Also, I’d like students to know that the faculty seriously considered last April about whether or not to go on strike, and ultimately they pulled back because there were concerns that last year was a difficult one with the budget. I know from the perspective of the public and students that this is sort of popping up out of thin air, but we’ve been at it for two years negotiating and we’re coming up on 450 days of working under an expired contract, so for us it didn’t just pop up. It’s been going on [for] a long time, and I think it says something about the faculty that they’re willing to go this long without any kind of disruptions, and just to keep going for the sake of their students.

Q: How can students become more involved?

A: I’d like students to appreciate these quality issues that are extremely important to us [APSCUF] and our concern for students who are here now, but also for students who are coming in the future, [because] they deserve a high quality education too. I think students don’t necessarily need to take our side in it, but I think they should take any nervousness they have and channel that into writing to the Chancellor [of PASSHE], writing to the university president, [or] if they want to write to me. I think everybody needs to be serious and figure it out. There’s going to be a contract eventually, so we can either do it before everybody goes through pain, or we can do it while everybody is being caused pain. We would prefer to get it done now.

For more information on the contract negotiations, or results from negotiation meetings, visit apscuf.org. 

Macala Leigey is the news editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: strike, apscuf, passhe

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