Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Today I went on strike for the first time in my life

Within the next hour or so, I will be joining my colleagues at West Chester University on the picket lines in front of Philips Hall, the administration building at West Chester University.

I have been a member of APSCUF (the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty) since the fall of 1988 when I started at West Chester, one of 14 universities in the state system of higher education. Never, in my 29 years of service, have we gone out on strike. Today I am joined by more than 5,500 professors who serve in the state system of higher education. We stand in solidarity with our union.

I beseech current students, their parents, former students and concerned citizens who care about public education to join the fight to preserve quality public education in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Please come stand in solidarity with us if you possibly can..... we are striking because we feel it is necessary to preserve the integrity and quality of public higher education in Pennsylvania.

This is our attempt to ensure the state provides universities where lower and middle class students can earn a college education at comparatively inexpensive rates. Despite deep cuts to public education by former Gov. Tom Corbett, tuition at West Chester is still less than $10,000 a year. Based on the "Best Colleges" 2016 issue of U.S. News, West Chester's annual tuition of $9,700 is a bargain compared to other local universities. For example: at the University of Pennsylvania tuition is $43,000; at Villanova  University it is $46K; at St. Joseph's University it is $43K; at Haverford College it is $51K and at Swarthmore College it is $51K.

Public education has become a political football in the last decade. Cuts to public education are not only a way for conservative politicians to shift taxpayer money from public education into private education (charter schools and religious-based private schools) it is also a way to damage teachers' unions, which remain some of the strongest labor unions in the work force. APSCUF's strike can be seen as one battle in the continuing political war on public education.

The union is pitted against a chancellor who has long-standing ties to the Jeb Bush administration in Florida and who's political allegiance is to conservative politicians. After serving as the chancellor of the Florida state system of higher education under Bush for four years, he was appointed by Pennsylvania Republican Governor Corbett three years ago to head PASSHE. Corbett became infamous for slashing the the state system's operating budget by nearly 20 percent in 2012, a total of $82.5 million. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, tried to restore some of these deep funding cuts to higher education since his election in November, 2014.

This is not a local stand-off. This is a fight for what is right for our commonwealth. Professors represented by APSCUF are taking a stand for lower and middle class students and their families. We believe in maintaining high standards of public higher education and we hope our strike sets an example for educators everywhere and for citizens in the commonwealth who believe public education is worth preserving.

We believe education is the best way to promote democratic values and raise the economic well-being of all Pennsylvanians, no matter what their social status is at birth. Everyone should have a chance to receive an education to achieve their life's goals. Our union members believe this is the ultimate goal of education.

APSCUF's goal is to make the educational dreams of lower and middle class students become reality. We believe higher education should not be limited to wealthy families. The class size and course load teaching schedule we carry tends to be heavier than what professors at other area universities are required to perform. This is a sacrifice we make and we believe in because it helps make tuition at PASSHE universities more affordable than more prestigious colleges.

Stand in solidarity with us. Please.


  1. Chuck, could you help us outsiders with some information on the specific issues that have led to this impasse? I understand that health care is one. Others?

  2. Here is a summary of the State System's "final offer":
    - Treats temporary faculty differently from regular faculty (increases of 1% in fall 2016, 2017 and 2018 for temporary faculty compared to 2.75%, 2%, and 2.5% for regular faculty)

    - Workload--For interns and co-ops, reduce workload equivalency from 1/3 to 1/5 of a workload hour.
    (They did drop all the other workload proposals they had been making (15 hour load for adjuncts, labs, student teaching supervision.)

    - Refusal to move from their initial health care plan - includes a large # of costs including co-insurance, deductibles, and higher copays, among other things. Much worse than any other PA union had to accept.

    - Retiree health care for those hired starting 1/1/19: max 5 years following retirement; retiree healthcare will change when active employee health care does - no longer "grandfathered in". Applies the retiree health care of the largest state employee union (i.e. AFSCME) if they agree to further cuts or elimination of this benefit

    - Retrenchment article: Changes the date by which a university must notify APSCUF of possible retrenchment of faculty positions that may occur before the start of the following academic year from the previous August 1 to February 15; sets the date by which individual faculty members must be notified to May 1 (change from Oct 30/Dec 1/Dec 15/Mar 1 depending on tenured or probationary status). Eliminates payment of health premiums for retrenched faculty.

    - Tenure: Adds a dean's recommendation. Grievance rights for denial of tenure in effect if three out of four recommendations are positive (v. two of three currently; Tenure and Promotion: New requirement that University-wide committee include written explanation of each recommendation)

    - Sabbaticals: eliminate past pattern grievance rights for sabbaticals - in other words, if a wholesale change in the number, currently we can question it. Has worked in the past.

    Our plan would have saved $50 million, though they wanted a minimum of $70 million from us for no clear reason. PASSHE still wants to create two tiers of faculty. Our healthcare changes are massive and threaten to swamp our raises, especially for those who have health problems. Also, it makes no sense to reward their walking away from the table (let alone the Governor's abandonment of us).