No Strike in Sight: PASSHE, APSCUF Able to Find Common Ground on Faculty Contracts

Photo Credit/ Kathleen Cameron Dr. Peter Pruim and Dr. Kelly picketing as part of the three-day faculty strike in the fall of 2016.

Stephanie LeMons 

News Editor 

Nearly three years ago, ESU along with several other Pennsylvania universities’ APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) chapters held a strike over negotiations in their PASSHE (Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education) contract.

This year, they were able to reach an agreement without having to break out their picket signs.

Major changes in the handling of the contract between PASSHE and APSCUF allowed for the contract to be discussed from the angle of both parties coming together through interest-based bargaining.

“[Chancellor] Dan Greenstein and the head of the Board of Directors, Cindy Shapiro, said they wanted to be part of the entire negotiations process,” said President of ESU’s APSCUF chapter, Nancy Van Arsdale. “This is my thirtieth year here and that’s never happened.”

Previously, PASSHE and APSCUF would come to the table with prepared statements, PASSHE delivering what the state wanted and APSCUF on behalf of the faculty.

This year, they shifted the focus to the articles they already agree on.

During the summer they also invited faculty and expert groups into the meetings, focusing on what their specific needs were and how they can be best met through the contract.

They sorted through the minor details relatively equally and decided what was best for the collective.

In the past, this was only done by APSCUF, but Chancellor Dan Greenstein requested they be present to make their own cases for both sides.

“By engaging deeply with each other from the start, the negotiating teams achieved a result that puts students first, honors the important work of our dedicated faculty, and takes another important step toward overcoming our financial challenges,” said Chancellor Greenstein.

Photo Credit/ Kathleen Cameron
In 2016, ESU faculty went out on strike after contract negotiations broke down between PASSHE and APSCUF.

This round of negotiations formally began Sept. 14. and concluded after five long days, but talks have been ongoing since mid-May.

In the Sept.19 PASSHE press release, Dr. Kenneth Mash, APSCUF President, said, “I believe that the agreement in principle represents a historic advance in the process of creating a shared vision of how our universities should operate to best serve our students… The principle components are fair, they address a number of faculty concerns, and they establish a solid foundation for the future of public higher education in Pennsylvania.”

Negotiations such as these are small changes that bring attention to the bigger, national problem surrounding higher education, both for students and faculty.

“Even at a public university like ours, the tuition has gone way up because the state is cutting back public funding,” VanArsdale said. “Underlying Ken Mash and Dan Greenstein, they agree this is the larger issue that we should be working on – the student debt crisis. So, let’s get the faculty contract done a little more quietly than in the past, we will be releasing more information, let’s be more collaborative and then get that done so we can put more focus on the national issue.”

According to VanArsdale, Pennsylvania is currently ranked forty-nine out of the fifty states in terms of payoff for higher education, and contract negotiations like these can potentially drive the state further up the list in the future.  

The previously negotiated contract expired on June 30, but all contracts are legally required to remain in effect until the new contracts are ratified. Ratification of the new contract takes place after the lawyers on either side work out language technicalities, which will then be reviewed and voted on by faculty members.

Major changes within the contract, of course, were around salary, benefits, and faculty evaluations.

This process is expected to take about a month, followed by PASSHE and APSCUF releasing further joint press statements detailing more about the contract. 

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