Educational Quality in Jeopardy in Pennsylvania Universities – Why a Strike Might Happen

Dear Students,

I love university.  From the very first moment I started as a student, I thought it was great.  The buildings, old and new, housing different academic fields, knowing there were extremely knowledgeable people who were dedicating their entire lives to those fields and passing on that knowledge to students.  I was nervous my first day.  University, I think no matter how small a university you go to, it feels big.  Big ideas, a campus much bigger than your high school and anxiety filled visions of getting lost, looking stupid, and feeling small run through our minds.  By the end of the first year I realized I was in love.  I felt that after 1 year of university I had learned as much as I did my entire time in high school.  I was exposed to diverse groups of people, diverse sets of ideas, and could literally feel my mind and my values growing.  Now I know my experience is not everybody’s.  It’s not everybody’s calling to devote themselves to this institution we call university, but by my junior year I knew it was my calling.

Society is made up of many different parts, and I believe that universities play an important role.  Whether a student pursues an Associate or Bachelor degree, or chooses to specialize more deeply in their area of interest through a graduate program, the character and knowledge they bring into their new roles in the “real world”, as a result of their education, is important.  We live now in a nation where universities are under attack.  Education is becoming increasingly undervalued.  Yet history clearly demonstrates that when societies make education a priority, it promotes greater innovation and economic growth, empowers people with knowledge as an antidote against oppression, and gives us the ability to flex our minds and adapt in an ever changing and increasingly technological world.  The most current attack on universities in this nation is in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).  If a new contract isn’t agreed upon between the faculty union and the state system by Oct. 19th, the faculty at 14 universities across the state will go on strike.  This has the ability to cause great disruption to the education of our students and because the state system is trying to spread the message that our striking is out of selfishness and desire for money, and a betrayal to the students we say we care about, I wanted to take a little time to explain why we’re striking and why it matters.

Educational Quality

wcu_rally
                             Faculty Rally at West Chester University

Several proposals by PASSHE remain sticking points in our ability to come to a fair agreement, and most of them have to do with educational quality. The state has conceded on some of the items that would have a negative impact on teaching from their initial proposal.  Some of the major ones still outstanding are as follows:

  • An increase in workload for full-time adjunct faculty. Adjunct faculty are an important part of a university because as faculty retire or move on, as programs grow, we need quality adjuncts to fill teaching roles.  When we get good ones and the position becomes permanent and tenure track, it is an easy transition for that faculty in their new role as a permanent professor.  By increasing their workload to 5 classes (a lot by any university standards) and reducing their pay by 20% the probability of attracting quality adjunct faculty is reduced.  In addition their increased workload will have negative impacts on the quality of teaching and thus the student is not served well.  The state also wants to significantly reduce the pay for part time adjunct faculty as well.
  • Increased reliance on adjunct faculty. Ultimately adjunct faculty would like a job with more security as we all would.  Adjunct faculty are only there to teach and generally play no other role in the university.  They don’t advise students, they don’t serve on committees or are required to do university service.  And why should they?  They don’t have the same protections as tenure-track faculty and can be let go at any time.  The state wants to increase the cap on the percentage of adjunct faculty at each state university.  Coupled with the last point, this means less quality teaching.  It means that since adjunct faculty are often looking for more permanent work, this will result in universities constantly utilizing less experienced lecturers who have never taught courses before.  Any student who has taken a class from a first time teacher for a course, you know it’s not as good as it could be.
  • Increased workload for those supervising internships, supervising student teachers, and teaching lab courses. Any time there is a numbers increase on supervision, the time with each student is less.  Good supervisors do a lot of work and it is a very helpful role.  The increases in workload for internship supervision is by 67% and for supervising student teachers 20%.  The most egregious one for me is the reduced value of lab courses.  This is a difficult one to explain, but basically one hour of lab used to count as one contact hour, but now they want to reduce it to 2/3rd of a contact hour.  Faculty in the state system are required to teach 24 contact hours an academic year.  So those who teach lab courses will have a greater workload even though labs have grading, and take time to prepare just as much as a lecture.  This will also discourage faculty from offering lab courses.  Lab courses are part of important hands-on experiences.  They are usually in smaller settings too, where students have more interaction with their professor.  Increased hands-on experience in the classroom is proven in research studies to be an important part of quality teaching. So why doesn’t the state system want that?  Because if I am teaching a 3 credit course with 3 lab sections, I have 6 contact hours for a 3 credit hour course.  A regular lecture course with no lab is 3 credits and 3 contact hours.  So if I teach labs I teach less credit hours.  You, as a student, pay by credit hours.  You are a dollar sign to them, and nothing more.  They don’t care how well you are taught, or what research demonstrates about effective teaching practices.  It’s about how much money they can make.  This is what’s happening all across the U.S. in public higher education.
  • Allowing administration to move faculty to different departments to teach different courses. Did you ever have a teacher in high school teach you a subject that wasn’t their specialty?  It happens in middle schools and high schools all the time.  Have the PE teacher, teach a history class, have the biology teacher, teach a couple of math classes.  This could happen at university now as well, where teachers who didn’t specialize in a particular area are forced to teach outside their area of expertise.  How much would you expect to learn or enjoy such a class?

apscuf-contract-now-670x280

Matters of Money

So you might say this is a pretty one sided discussion what about money.  Clearly faculty want more money right?  So let’s talk about that a little.

  • Well who wouldn’t like more money? But keep in mind we have already been without a contract for almost a year and a half and have been on a salary freeze.  We would also like to be treated with similar salary increases as the state has offered other unions in the state.  We would like our salaries to keep pace with inflation.  Who doesn’t want that? However, if you talk to any of your faculty, you’ll probably find that they care less about that, than impacts on their work quality, and the quality of education they can provide you.  To show you how committed the faculty are to improving education, recently the state system tried to offer faculty more money to their salary to try and have us ignore all the measures they are taking to reduce educational quality.*  The union refused to sign a contract based solely on a salary increase, and refused to be pitted against adjunct faculty.
  • Health care costs are also currently a point of contention. There are many unions who have had to take a hit in increased health care costs.  How far we will get in regards to this issue remains to be seen, but we do believe that quality health care should be something provided by employers and changes proposed by the state system would incur additional costs in range of thousands of dollars to faculty.  We have taken smaller hits in the past which have essentially negated salary increases.  This year, most faculty expect a similar result and don’t expect more net salary given the increased health care costs we are likely to incur.

The mission of PASSHE is to provide the highest quality education at the lowest possible cost to students.  The problems that we face in higher education in this country are perhaps broader than just what we are facing here, but if tuition costs are not going down and quality continues to get lowered something about the system is broken.  We have less direct say in these larger problems, but we can be advocates for the quality of education you receive as a student.  Thus, I felt it was important for students to know that your faculty do care about you.  We don’t see you as a customer or a dollar sign. We see ourselves as people who play a role in your future, and thus the future of the region, the state, and the nation, and we feel the quality of education you get is important.  We are tired of decisions being made about teaching dictated from a group of people who haven’t spent any time in the classroom.  If you are concerned about the strike, you and your family need to send an e-mail to the university president at the university you attend.  You need to contact Chancellor Frank Brogan (Chancellor@passhe.edu).  You need to write your local state congress representatives.  We faculty, still hold hope that a strike will not be necessary, and if it happens a strike is no holiday to us.  I’ll be just off the California University of Pennsylvania campus, on the picket line, every day, hoping sooner than later, I will get to walk back on the campus and give students the quality education they deserve.  You may not agree with our taking a stand on these issues, and that’s okay, but I hope you can respect my right to see this as important, and I hope that you all will take a stand for whatever you truly care about in your futures as well.
In Solidarity,
Swarn Gill
Department of Earth Science,
California University of Pennsylvania

*Note:  The article that discusses the offer made to faculty to increase their salary, states that our average salary for faculty is over $100,000.  This is untrue.  Salaries at public universities are publicly available.  Here you can find all salaries of all employees in the university system.  You can export this data to excel.  I calculated the average salaries from cell B270 to B6315 (which is almost all faculty) and came up with an average of just under $80,000.  A big difference from what PASSHE is saying.  The data is from 2013, but represents the contract we are currently under.

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13 thoughts on “Educational Quality in Jeopardy in Pennsylvania Universities – Why a Strike Might Happen

  1. I’ve been hearing about all of this stuff going on for a while now (I’m a Bloomsburg alum) and it makes me so sad to hear. The opportunities for the experiences that I took part in while I was at Bloomsburg where some of the best and most fulfilling I’ve ever had (not to mention they look pretty good on a resume lol.) My mentors were already swamped, and still found the time to send me abroad and monitor my internship and I can’t even imagine how awful that would be if those opportunities got taken away from prospective students, and the professors who dedicate their time to helping their students grow. I really hope all of this gets sorted out soon..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a coincidence that we’re both related through the Pennsylvania state system. Lol

      Thank you for your support Jeanine. I really don’t want to go on strike so I hope it gets sorted soon as well.

      Like

  2. From the link below:

    “In response to the strike authorization vote, Marshall issued a statement via email which reads in part:

    “The State System remains committed to bargaining in good faith with APSCUF in order to achieve an agreement that is fair to everyone—most important, to our students. While we recognize and appreciate the extraordinary contributions our faculty make to the success of our students and our universities, we also must take into account the serious fiscal challenges the universities are facing. Even more important, we must acknowledge the strain that rising tuition is putting on our students and their families.”

    Mash, however, said PASSHE wants to substitute credentialed faculty for graduate students and push online education. He said when it comes to funding for public education, Pennsylvania is ranked 48th.

    “The State System wants to have graduate students teach, increase the use of temporary faculty, force students into distance-education courses, and cut the pay for those at the very bottom of the pay scale,” Mash wrote. “We will, if the system gives us no other option, stand up for our students, our universities, and ourselves.”

    http://www.thereporteronline.com/article/RO/20160826/NEWS/160829882

    Continue in next comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. In previous negotiations we’ve never had this much trouble negotiating away things that would really hurt the quality of education. In fact last contract we even gained a bit. They waited a year to even propose a new contract to us and had 250 changes to the contract that we had to go over. It was unprecedented. What I wrote about here are some of the major ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Swarn, remember the conversation we were having the other day on this subject, and I wondered if the Kock brothers might have their hand in PA higher education as they do in most states? I found this from the APSCUF-KU xchange blog. The article is 2 years old.

    “The Koch Brothers helped bankroll the assaults on working people and public sector unions in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida, but they have been relatively quiet in Pennsylvania. Until now, that is.

    During the December/January legislative recess the Koch brothers brought their road show to Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvania Republicans are not seeking out the spotlight to discuss what the Kochs had to say, privately they are saying that the Kochs are promising boat loads of cash for the 2014 elections if they get behind several pieces of anti-union legislation. And if state Republicans want to say “no thanks” to the Kochs…well, the Kochs are threatening to fund primary challenges to those who won’t play ball.

    PASSHE Funding 30 Years

    There is no question that Pennsylvania legislators have been abdicating their responsibilities to adequately fund PASSHE universities for years. Both Republicans and Democrats have slowly bled PASSHE dry since the 198os and shifted more and more of the burden onto the back of students and their families. That is not, for sure, a trend confined to Pennsylvania. It’s been a slow walk-away from a commitment to public higher education.

    The defunding of public higher education has corresponded to a growing disdain for the work of educating the next generation. Over roughly the same period of time, we have seen a flip-flop in the percentage of higher education faculty who have tenure/tenure-track jobs versus those who work on a part-time and/or contingent basis. According to the American Association of University Professionals (AAUP),

    “In 1975, only 30.2 percent of faculty were employed part-time; by 2005, according to data compiled by the AAUP from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), part-time faculty represented approximately 48 percent of all faculty members in the United States.”

    When you include the shift away from tenure-track appointment to contingent or short-term appointments, nearly 75% of today’s faculty are working in part-time or contingent positions. Such a shift would not have been possible, were it not for the increasing tendency to portray professors as lazy, greedy, unethical, radicals…you know the drill. And that development has its own sordid history that Glenn Richardson wrote about a year ago in Raging Chicken Press. If you can get the public to demand education but hate the educator, then you’ve got yourself a recipe for turning education into an assembly line.

    One response to all these developments is to organize, ban together, and demand full funding of public higher education and to hold our elected official accountable for trying to sell out our future for their short-term gain.

    https://kuxchange.wordpress.com/tag/koch-brothers/

    I’m so sorry about your situation. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Victoria. Everything you quote here has most certainly been happening. It is like some sort of a bad dream where you think “Really? Why would people think education was a bad thing to put money into?” I do have a feeling we will be going on strikes. Something about this contract negotiation feels different.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Best of luck in a bad situation Swarn. It is painful to see this kind of thing going on in a time when we need more education than ever. I really believe the push to dumb down America is a result of many failed attempts to wedge religion into schools. I’d bet a dollar to a donut they are linked along the way somewhere.

    …or perhaps I am seeking a conspiracy where none need be, but something smells funny about the entire affair.

    I hope you get through this as unscathed as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks shell. I definitely don’t think you are wrong to see conspiracy although it’s not a hidden one really if you do a modicum of research. I don’t think it’s religiously based, but more just greed and power based. Not to say that religion isn’t an effective way to gain wealth and power, but they’ve been trying, and in some cases been successful in breaking teacher unions in a number of states and this seems to be the main goal, so that they can dumb down education. There has been no obvious push from the religious right, but that doesn’t mean they won’t sneak in there when the time is right.

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      1. I can’t disagree, but the religious right stand to gain from attacks like this. If they aren’t directly connected, they are probably soon to engage in a flanking manuever taking advantage in any way they can. Making education less effective suits their agenda.

        …and when you think about it, these people all run in the same circles. Just coincidental? Perhaps…

        As much as I despise that word, perhaps, I just used it lol. I did not watch Ancient Aliens I swear! Nor did I become a conspiracy theorist overnight, all I did was amatuerishly connect a couple of dots.

        Like

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