SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Members of the Shippensburg University women’s lacrosse team sauntered across campus after practice Friday afternoon. A four-day weekend, their fall break, was upon them. So was a sense of uncertainty about a possible faculty strike next Wednesday when the break ends.
“We think we’re not gonna have class because none of the professors are showing up,” said Julia Wise, “but they’re not telling all the financial parts of it and why they’re doing it.”
Kathleen Mirgon is skeptical a first-ever faculty strike will occur.
“I feel like the strike is not going to happen because I feel like no governor wants that while they’re in office,” Mirgon said.
But the governor’s role is unclear in the dispute.
What is known is that negotiators for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the faculty union (APSCUF) began what they’re calling a marathon bargaining session on Friday and vow to stay at the table through the weekend and beyond. But the faculty, which has been working without a contract since June of 2015, promises to strike if there’s no deal by 5 a.m. Wednesday.
“We’re very concerned,” said Kim Garris, a Shippensburg professor and spokesperson for SU’s faculty. “I don’t think any of us thought we would get to this point. We certainly don’t want to be at this point.”
PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall says he hopes a deal is done but is preparing in case it isn’t.
“We’re telling students even if there is a strike called on Wednesday you need to go to class,” he said. “If your professor’s there, then it’s class as normal. If they’re not there, then we’ll have to address that.”
Marshall said just because the union calls a strike doesn’t mean every professor or faculty member will walk off the job.
But Shippensburg sophomore Shumeta Kahn is rallying behind her professors. She sent out flyers encouraging students to join their teachers in walking out. She’s planning a rally for noon Wednesday.
“We’re gonna gather. We’re gonna march. We’re gonna chant. It’s a symbolic demonstration,” Kahn said. “We don’t want to cause any problems. We just want our administration to know we are supporting faculty.”
Marshall said PASSHE wants to give faculty raises, but the financial situation is dire and it also needs concessions and savings from APSCUF.
“It’s not a lack of respect. It’s not that we don’t believe we have outstanding faculty. We believe that we do,” Marshall said. “We’re trying to treat them as fairly as we can while remembering we’re here for the students and we have to continue to offer affordable education.”
So the focus is on the weekend cram session which is being held at a secret, and neutral, location. If negotiators fail, a first-ever faculty strike is likely.
“A day off would be good,” Shippensburg lacrosse player Allison Fugate said with a chuckle, “but I don’t want like a week off as to where we get graduation held back. That would stink for us.”
Garris has her fingers crossed.
“I’m hoping that at 5 a.m. on October 19th I’m snug in my bed,” she said.
“Otherwise, I’ll be there on the picket line.”