Faculty at 14 Pennsylvania universities are officially on strike after failing to reach an agreement with administration officials before the self-imposed deadline.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) met over the past weekend in a last-ditch effort to avert a faculty strike that would close classes for 105,000 students.
The union, which represents approximately 5,500 faculty members, has been working on a new contract for over a year. Its previous agreement expired in 2015.
Both parties agreed on a media blackout, which expired Wednesday morning. Due to the media blackout, many students, parents and staff were confused; as one local ABC affiliate put it, everyone was “out of the loop.”
A walkout of the faculty comes at an inopportune time for students as the semester reaches its mid-point. Officials have not determined how they will handle a prolonged strike. Some of the concerns include the status of students who are supposed to graduate in December, as well as how many days a strike could last until the entire semester is lost. It is the first strike in the school system’s 34-year history.
Gloria Chung, a senior studying chemistry at Millersville, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that students still came for classes Wednesday morning, but were excused by university officials after professors did not show up for class. A second student TheDCNF spoke to at Bloomsburg University described the situation as “confusing” for students, as some professors still advised them to come to class, while others participated in the strike.
Faculty representatives asserted that the key issues facing members are the increased use of adjuncts and temporary faculty and proposed healthcare cost increases. The faculty is also opposed to plans that would eliminate faculty sabbaticals and reduce professional development offerings.
The union reportedly refused to accept the proposed salary offer and healthcare changes. The school system contended that the health care changes would have brought the faculty’s plan in sync with other school system employees.
“These are difficult times for our universities, If APSCUF won’t agree to share more of the costs for their own healthcare—like everyone else has—it will threaten our ability to keep tuition affordable for students,” school system spokesperson Kenn Marshall said in a statement.
Full-time faculty have a current base salary that ranges from $46,609 to $112,239, and part-time faculty are paid a minimum of $5,838 per three-credit course, according to Penn Live. The administration contends that cost-savings measures must be implemented in order to sustain the system, which has faced a deficit due to decreased state support and a decline in enrollment.
Pennsylvania’s university system is unique. While many states distinguish their universities in two categories, public or private, Pennsylvania has a complex system where its public institutions are separated in two tiers: preferred and non-preferred schools.
Due to Pennsylvania State University’s large amount of influence, smaller schools in the state formed a state-wide system (known as the preferred schools) in order to compete for state dollars. The 14 schools on strike make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), which operates under a separate system than the non-preferred schools; Penn State, Temple University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University. The non-preferred schools are not affected by the strike.
The schools affected are: Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University, California University of Pennsylvania, East Stroudsburg University, Edinboro University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Kutztown University, Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, Mansfield University of Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock University, Shippensburg University, and West Chester University of Pennsylvania.
The state’s land grant institution, Pennsylvania State University – State College, is unaffected by the strike.
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