[Marxism] Pennsylvania Professors Dig In for a Long Fight

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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., 
on Wednesday.

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 
little diminished."

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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