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Upcoming Pennsylvania Faculty Walkout is Troublesome

WSN Editorial Board

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Faculty members at Pennsylvania’s state-run universities are preparing to stage a system-wide walkout on Oct. 19. The move comes well after a year of unsuccessful negotiation following the expiration of official faculty employment contracts on June 30, 2015. Both the administration and the more than five thousand members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties are divided over a lengthy number of key issues, such as salary for tenured and adjunct professors, faculty workloads and healthcare. Yet, both union members and administrators definitively agree on one key issue: if a strike occurs, the group that will be hit hardest is the students.

A mass walkout by faculty members could easily wreak havoc upon the more than 105,000 students that are currently taking classes within the Pennsylvania state university system. Administrators have stated that in the event of such a strike, all students would still be required to attend and pay for their fall semester courses, despite the lack of any official faculty presence or any actual teaching. In addition to this being incredibly fiscally detrimental to Pennsylvanian students and their families, the scenario could also have serious consequences for the academic status of all students in the system, as it is still unknown whether or not the courses will be counted as legitimate credits towards graduation.

While it may be hard to determine which party is truly at fault for the breakdown of these negotiations — particularly because all official contract discussions have taken place behind closed doors — both the union members and the administration will bear responsibility if students are denied a proper education due to their failings. Demonstrations of this nature have been rarely seen in the world of academia for this very reason. The group being hurt the most by the strike is not just some board of trustees at a company, or the consumers of a product, but rather students who are trying to further their education.

Normally the pressure to provide such a vital experience to young and impressionable participants is enough to stop most contract disputes from reaching such a point, but lately, that standard seems to be changing. Similar events have occurred at other universities — most recently at Long Island University — that seem to indicate a more widespread shift towards the devaluation of the act of providing an education at any cost. This is beyond worrying, as such a shift — if left unchecked — can and will grow to affect students nationwide. Administrators and faculty members in Pennsylvania need to think carefully about their actions in the upcoming week, as their choices will have consequences that will play out on a national scale.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Upcoming Pennsylvania Faculty Walkout is Troublesome”

  1. M. on October 15th, 2016 12:08 am

    It would be heartening to see this paper investigate the issue from a more carefully examined. The piece, while written clearly, feels under-researched and misinformed.

    You state with what seems to be disappointment that, “Normally the pressure to provide such a vital experience to young and impressionable participants is enough to stop most contract disputes from reaching such a point, but lately, that standard seems to be changing.” You later note a “devaluation of the act of providing an education at any cost.”

    Just because teachers provide a necessary public service does not mean they do not deserve to be fairly paid for their work. Please do not use our student newspaper to willfully conflate academic labor’s right to organize with a devaluing of students’ education.

    It is, of course, extremely unfortunate that students will suffer should the walkout take place, but the institutions’ attempt to manipulate the statewide adjunct and professorial labor pool into accepting sub-par working conditions by refusing to truly negotiate leaves faculty no choice.

    Is the WSN Editorial Board aware that the erosion of acceptable working conditions for adjunct faculty and in some cases assistant and full professors currently stands in sharp contrast with the rising salaries and benefits packages offered to those working in academic administration rather than in classrooms with actual students?

    Furthermore, in noting that the students are most likely to suffer in the event of a walkout, has the Board considered that in a few years, a good number of these current students will be assuming teaching positions of their own? These students-turned-educators are likely to suffer as much or perhaps far more when, saddled with student loan debt, they are expected to work untold years in jobs that do not adequately compensate them for their time and labor, or in which basic working conditions are not met.

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Upcoming Pennsylvania Faculty Walkout is Troublesome