Tension between state-owned universities and its faculty intensified Friday morning as Ken Masch stepped to a microphone.
“What I am about to say I say with a heavy heart,” said Masch, the President of APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties). “We feel we have no choice. By October 19th, if we don’t have a contract all faculty at all 14 of our universities will be on strike.”
A line in the sand, a strike date, set by the faculty union which has been working without a contract since June 2015.
Masch represents about 5,500 faculty members at the 14 state-owned universities – including Shippensburg and Millersville in the Midstate.
“We have always said that we believe a strike is the last resort but if the state system believes it can just push its faculty around and we won’t react then they are nothing more than bullies and we won’t accept that,” Masch said.
There are roughly 105,000 students in the system whose semester would be disrupted by a walkout.
“A faculty strike really goes against everything that higher education stands for,” said Kenn Marshall, Spokesman for the PA State System of Higher Education (PaSSHE). “We believe we need to be back at the table and not talking about a strike. A strike would be devastating to our students and it would not benefit anyone.”
A five-day bargaining session ended Wednesday with both sides saying there was little progress.
“I still don’t think APSCUF understands the fiscal situation that we’re in,” said Marshall, who insists the system is broke.
Marshall said the state’s offering faculty raises totaling $159 million but is asking for $70 million in concessions such as asking employees to pay more for health care. Marshall said even with the give-backs, the faculty is still $89 to the good.
So is that PASSHE’s last, best offer?
“No,” said Marshall. “We have not put a last best offer on the table. We will continue to negotiate. We’re trying to negotiate.”
PASSHE is seeking other concessions as well. It wants to pay its part-time teachers less and have its full-time adjuncts teach an additional course. It also wants to put recent grad school graduates in front of the class. They are tweaks that the union calls a deal killer because they would harm a student’s education.
“We are where we are because my colleagues feel so strongly about protecting the quality of our universities and sticking up for quality education for our students,” Masch said.
Union leaders also criticized the state legislature, citing studies that show Pennsylvania is 48th or 49th in terms of the amount of state funding flowing to higher education
APSCUF sought binding arbitration but the state has refused. So what does it say to the parents of those 105,000 students facing disruption?
“We are trying, at the state system at least, are trying as hard as we can to reach a settlement so a strike doesn’t happen,” Marshall said. “If a strike occurs it’s going to be the union that calls that.”
The faculty union has threatened a strike twice before in its history but has never walked out.