By Colin O’Connell
The impending possibility of a faculty strike, a result of the ongoing labor dispute between the State System and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), continues to loom over the heads of not only faculty and administration, but students as well.
In an effort to be more transparent to students, APSCUF held an open forum Oct. 4 presented by ESU professors Dr. Allan Benn, Dr. Andrea McClanahan and Dr. Kenneth Mash, the President of APSCUF.
Mash addressed the approximately 30 students, staff and faculty in attendance for the majority of the forum and started out with an apology.
“I’m sorry, and I mean that sincerely,” Mash said. “I’m sorry for the students here, and actually I’m sorry to all the students at the 13 universities.”
Mash continued, “I think that we’ve been backed into a corner, the faculty has been backed into a corner, a position where we feel like we have to defend public higher education in Pennsylvania. A position where we feel like we have to stand up for ourselves when it comes to being fair and fair compensation and looking after our weakest members.”
Mash said that APSCUF would not allow the State System to cut the pay of adjunct faculty and members at the “bottom of our pay scale.”
Mash also indicated that the biggest speed bump in the negotiations has been issues over quality education, fair treatment for adjuncts and that serious conversations over wages and benefits have yet to be brought to the table.
After the opening comments, the forum opened up to questions.
The first question was regarding how the strike would affect students and the length of the semester.
Mash replied that it depended on the length of the strike and that while most public education strikes “only last for a few days,” ultimately it is a better question for the administration.
Mash declined to tell students to stay at home.
“That faculty member who has been teaching you is the instructor of record for you. They’ve got your grade, they’re the ones that teach you. Nothing that happens when they’re not there matters to them when they get back.”
In response to the state’s claimed budgeting issue for public education, Benn replied, “How well do other unions that have to bargain with the State System, what sort of deals are they making? Are they being treated the same way we are? The answer is no, they’re not.”
Benn also pointed out that other unions have not been asked for “significant givebacks” on health care as the faculty union has and, unlike the faculty union, other unions have not had to compromise aspects of their professions.
There was also pushback on the notion that the State System is on the verge of bankruptcy.
“This is the total amount that the 14 schools have in reserve: $400 million,” said Benn. “At a State Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on March 2, the number that was used was $650 million in reserve.”
Benn then went on to say that 25 years ago state funding provided 75 percent of funding for schools, as opposed to the 20 percent that they supply now.
“To make up for supposed deficits on your [student’s] backs, is absolutely sinful,” said Benn.
Mash then fielded a question about the financial impact on schools if there was a strike.
“It’s fair to say that if there’s a strike, it’s going to do damage to our universities.”
When asked about the approximate cost of running all 14 schools involved, Mash responded, “We need the State System to pull back from some really bizarre ideas that they have. We need them to be honest about their facts and their figures that they’re using. And when they start to be accurate about the numbers and when we can start talking about not exploiting people and the rest, let’s get back to business and get a contract and then let’s move on.”
Mash also called for students to write and call Frank Brogan, Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, along with ESU President Marsha Welsh’s office in an effort to work things out.
McClanahan then revealed that APSCUF did offer binding arbitration.
“We were willing to put our futures in the hands of a third-party group, and the State System said no. So we offered a means to get out of this situation,” said McClanahan.
“We’re not hoping for miracles,” said Mash, “We want to make stuff happen. We’re going to go to the table, we’re going to hope to work it out and we’re going to hope that there’s no need to go to strike.”
The three APSCUF members then fielded questions about quality of education and if it would suffer if there was a reliance on adjunct instructors.
“I don’t want to demean our adjunct faculty, some of whom are doing a great job teaching students,” said Mash. “It’s not a question of are they good or not, it’s a question of how much demand are we making on them? If we lowered their salaries enough, that in order to survive they have to find another job in addition to their job here, is that in fact good for students in the end? And I can’t see how that possibly is.”
After the questions, Benn then gave the room “homework.” Envelopes, stamped and addressed to Chancellor Brogan, and a stationery were offered to everyone in attendance.
“Emails are one thing, but one letter is worth something like 100 emails. One visit is worth even more than that,” said Benn.
Near the end of the forum, McClanahan encouraged students to talk to their professors outside of the classroom.
If the two sides do not come to an agreement, the strike will be announced on Oct. 19 at 5 a.m.
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