[Marxism] Pennsylvania Professors Dig In for a Long Fight
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Fri Oct 21 06:19:44 MDT 2016
Chronicle of Higher Education
Pennsylvania Professors Dig In for a Long Fight
By Peter Schmidt OCTOBER 21, 2016
As a faculty strike at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned colleges entered
its second day on Thursday, some professors and students were voicing
concerns about the possible consequences of a prolonged walkout. Above,
faculty members from Millersville U. picketed in nearby Lancaster, Pa.,
At noon Thursday, on the second day of a statewide strike by the faculty
of Pennsylvania’s state college system, the mood among roughly 80
instructors and students near Millersville University’s library turns
from festive to reverent. At the urging of a professor with a bullhorn,
they begin singing "The Star Spangled Banner" while facing a nearby
monument to former students claimed by the Civil War, on fields such as
those of Gettysburg.
Like many of those that the monument honors, those picketing here have
rallied behind what they portray as a noble cause — in their case,
preserving the quality of higher education in their state. Underlying
the celebratory mood, however, is a fear that they, too, might be in for
a much longer struggle, with much more sacrifice, than initially hoped.
With more than 460 faculty members here having refused to show up to
teach classes on Thursday, it has become clear that most Millersville
students will not be able to take classes, and most instructors won’t be
collecting pay or benefits, for some time to come.
“It is a huge, huge risk for me. I have four kids.” The 14-campus
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education had faced, and avoided,
potential strikes by its faculty union five times in its 33 years of
existence. Many here had hoped that their system would follow the lead
of two of public higher education’s other giant employers, the
California State University and City University of New York systems,
which recently struck bargains with faculty unions whose members had
authorized strikes. Instead, with contract talks having reached an
impasse late Tuesday night, the 5,500-member Association of Pennsylvania
State Colleges and Universities called a strike early Wednesday and, a
day later, did not appear to be poised to go back to work any time soon.
"You always assume the past is going to predict the present, which is a
bad assumption to make," Kirsten Madden, an associate professor of
economics, had said soon after the strike was called.
"We did not want this," chimed in Debra Vredenberg, also an associate
professor of psychology.
The strike had begun Wednesday on a celebratory note, with hundreds of
students marching through the campus and drivers honking their approval
at the picketers. Many of those faculty members maintained a similarly
upbeat tone on Thursday, but the reality of what might lie ahead seemed
to be sinking in.
"It is a huge, huge risk for me. I have four kids," said Aaron M.
Haines, an assistant professor of biology.
"It just feels like it is more real today," said an art professor who
asked not to be quoted by name because she did not want her colleagues
to see her as negative. The earlier enthusiasm, she said, feels "a
The state higher-education system says it has offered the faculty union
all it can, especially considering that the state remains on the heels
of a recession and the college system has lost about 12 percent of its
enrollment over the past five years.
"From our perspective, what’s made this round of negotiations much more
difficult is the financial situation many of our universities are
facing," Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the university system, said in
an interview Wednesday.
Focus on Quality
The statewide union and many of its members, however, accuse Frank T.
Brogan, the system’s chancellor, of pushing an agenda that values cost
savings over the good of their institutions, as evidenced by the
system’s contract proposals calling for the state colleges to rely more
heavily on online courses. Citing the fluid and, at times, secretive
nature of the contract negotiations, they voice doubt in the system’s
assertions that it has taken off the table proposals to have colleges
rely more on instructors who lack doctorates or are off the tenure track.
Almost without exception, the picketers interviewed here insisted that
they went on strike to protect educational quality, and not in response
to bread-and-butter concerns.
“Many of the changes that they have proposed erode the quality of the
education we are offering.” "Many of the changes that they have
proposed erode the quality of the education we are offering," said
Angela L. Cuthbert, a professor of geography, who held a sign saying
"Education is not a business." She estimated that it would cost $1,800 a
month to get her family on another health-insurance plan to replace the
coverage she lost by striking, but she sees the sacrifice as one worth
making on behalf of stepdaughters that she hopes to send to one of
state’s colleges someday.
Michael Dillon, an assistant professor of accounting and finance, said
on Wednesday that his department was already becoming too dependent on
instructors who lacked doctorates. "I have nothing against them, but
they are not as qualified," he said. "If you cheapen the brand of the
university, employers are not going to hire your students."
Adjunct instructors here are especially worried, because the state
system had offered proposals to reduce the compensation of part-time
faculty members and to require full-time temporary faculty members to
teach five, rather than four, classes each semester. The state system
says it has withdrawn those proposals, but faculty members remain wary.
If the system cuts adjunct pay or requires more work of adjunct
instructors, "either way, I lose out," said Nina L. Brown, an adjunct
instructor of special education.
"Millersville currently pays their adjuncts well, compared to other
institutions, and that is what attracts quality adjuncts to
Millersville," said Nikole R. Kochan, an adjunct instructor of
‘A Tough Situation’
The university’s own administrators appear, so far, to be spared the
wrath that the faculty members feel toward the state system’s leaders.
Oliver Dreon, an associate professor of instructional technology, says
administrators and faculty members here are trying to maintain a good
relationship, mindful that "we still have to work together when this is
"The administration here hasn’t been against us. They haven’t been for
us, but they are in a tough situation," said Aaron M. Haines, an
assistant professor of biology.
“I am not doing this for me. I am doing this for the junior faculty and
the faculty we have not hired yet.” At this point, at least, faculty
members say they think they can handle the financial costs of a long
strike, even though the union does not have a strike fund to help them
pay their bills. They talk about relying on an employed spouse, picking
up work elsewhere, and trying to find ways to cut costs.
"I can weather the strike, but I am not doing this for me," said Alex J.
DeCaria, a professor of meteorology. "I am doing this for the junior
faculty and the faculty we have not hired yet."
Students are less certain of how they will cope if the strike drags on.
Jessie A. Garrison, a sophomore from West Chester, Pa., said uncertainty
about the strike’s potential impact on her studies had her stressed out.
Her chief concern, she said, was that the university would make up for
the lost class time by extending the semester into winter break, when
she planned to work a full-time job to help pay her tuition bills.
Once the new contract is settled, Ms. Garrison said, "If I find out
adjuncts are teaching most of my classes, I will switch schools. That is
not what I am paying for."
"Don’t strike and cause us to miss classes!" Janeen Simmons, a junior
who is majoring in meteorology, said Wednesday after the strike was
announced. "We are sort of getting behind now," she said. "We still need
to be educated."
Katherine Knott contributed to this report from Washington.
Peter Schmidt writes about affirmative action, academic labor, and
issues related to academic freedom. Contact him at
peter.schmidt at chronicle.com.
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