1. Pennsylvania Senate Bill 367 and Chancellor Cavanaugh’s Plan to Industrialize Higher Education
Dory Hippauf’s “Welcome to PA Frack-U” offers an excellent profile of the Pennsylvania State Senate Bill 367: “an act providing for indigenous mineral resource development; and imposing powers and duties on the Department of General Services and the State System of Higher Education.” The bill makes Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) campuses available to Big Energy for the development of any form of extraction—including slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing—fracking. It’s sponsor and gas industry beneficiary, Donald C. White (R-41) – who received $94,150 from the industry, puts it this way:
“This legislation provides an opportunity currently available only to state game lands, state parks and state forests to generate revenue,” Senator White said. “This bill does not require the state to lease or sell any property rights. SB 367 simply opens up that option, which can provide revenue while boosting our state economy through the creation of new jobs. Equally important, much of the revenue generated from these leases will be used to boost Pennsylvania’s environmental protection efforts”… “This fits well with the proposals made by the Governor when he urged state universities to consider drilling for natural gas below campus to help solve their financial problems,” Senator White said. “This legislation would give SSHE [PASSHE] schools that option and allow the system to benefit from the royalties.””
As Sean Kitchen points out, among the most astonishing elements of this bill (sec. 4 (a) (1)) is that it invests university presidents with the exclusive authority to decide whether a fracking—or coal, or oil—mining operationv can proceed on your kid’s campus. As Kitchen reports, this provision raises serious concerns for the few Pennsylvania state representatives who had the courage to vote against it, for example, Greg Vitali:
“[Vitali] is worried that the presidents will become puppets for Chancellor Cavanaugh and the Board of Governors. Another real concern this bill creates is the vetting process when new university professors or presidents are hired. What will happen to university presidential candidates if they openly express any thought that mining for natural resources on a college campus is not conducive for proper learning conditions? Or if that professor’s research notes DEP data that 7% of all natural gas wells will have cement casings fail on the very first time the wells are fracked?”
My only quibble with Vitali’s assessment is that the situation is actually far worse than this. Chancellor Cavanaugh’s vision for PASSHE—and hence what he will no doubt expect from his university presidents—accords not only with SB367, but with the wholesale corporatization and industrialization of the state university system.
Extraction is merely one piece of the transmogrification of PASSHE schools, converting what is an essential public good in the creation of thinking citizens into effectively privatized for-profits whose aims are not education, but the next generation of workers laboring under the tutelage of those who can afford to send their children to far more expensive private institutions. That Cavanaugh applauds the wholesale dismantling of Antioch College and the firing of tenured professors for the sake of “cost-savings” and “efficiencies,” that his “wish list” in the on-going negotiations with the PASSHE faculty union, APSCUF (The Association of Pennsylvania College and University Faculties) is a recipe for union-busting—including the creation of a poorly paid underclass of non-tenure “lecturers,” the reclassification of department chairs as “managers,” and the conversion of “brick and mortar” classroom education into “executive model” on-line courses —makes clear that what the chancellor values is not education, but the manufacture of workers most attractive to the industries he welcomes to your kid’s campus via his presidents, or rather, your kid’s campus-factory where he or she can expect to see the liberal arts demoted to “service curricula” and programs which serve the extraction industries front-page-promoted on university websites.
SB367 is simply one of the cogs in this machine—but one of the most lethal—both figuratively and literally. What the introduction of the extraction profiteers herald for PASSHE isn’t “merely” the corporatization of public higher education, but rather the industrialization of the public college campus, its conversion from a community whose mission is the creation of knowledge, ideas, art, music—citizenship—to a site of manufacture whose mission is the generation of profits. The notion that a campus with active drill rigs competing for space with libraries, quads, and classrooms is conducive to learning, that a frack-operation is consistent with the atmosphere necessary to the free exchange of ideas, is absurd on its face. Indeed, regardless the locus of industry influence—whether drill rigs on the quad or industry-cheerleader “Frackademics” like Penn State’s discredited Terry Engelder in the classroom—the claim that “industry partnerships” heavily leveraged by Big Energy are consistent with objective research has turned out to be patently laughable. Research bearing the imprimatur of Penn State, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Buffalo, for example, have all come under fire in recent months for “research” demonstrably biased to industry interests, for ignoring environmental and health concerns, and for failing to disclose their financing.
The criticism has motivated some academics—like Penn State’s Michael Arthur—to distance themselves from industry promotional groups like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Coalition. But Chancellor Cavanaugh remains apparently impervious to the possibility that PASSHE could be confronted with similar criticism, much less, say, a lawsuit like the one filed by The Responsible Drilling Alliance against Penn State for “unethical practices and an abuse of public trust by the university” concerning the publication of two 2009/10 “studies” conducted under the university’s name neither of which were subjected to review and both of which have since been significantly discredited for unsubstantiated claims in favor of the industry. Of course, PASSHE programs are unlikely to be able to solicit quite the same level of investment that the bigger name school programs are—so perhaps Chancellor Cavanaugh sees the prospect of fracking-on-campus as the next best thing. Penn State may have to suffer the discredit and notoriety for its support of shoddy research and industry cheerleaders pretending to be academics. But it’s still the members of PASSHE campus communities who’ll be subjected to the environmental and health risks associated with the long and hoary history of extraction. Apparently Chancellor Cavanaugh is OK with that.
2. DEP: Owned by “The Gas”
It is richly ironic that SB 367’s sponsor, Senator White, attempts to paper over the well-established hazards associated with fracking, transmission lines, compressor stations, rigs, trucks, pits, etc., by promoting “Pennsylvania’s environmental protection efforts in that, for all practical purposes, there currently are no such efforts. The Department of Environmental Protection (or Deny, Evade, Procrastinate – a name coined by environmental activists) is a wholly owned and operated, taxpayer funded, subsidiary of the natural gas industry. Consider just one example:
“Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer took the microphone multiple times at a press conference this week aimed at promoting the conversion of the idled Sunoco refinery into a natural gas processing facility. Krancer wanted to assure any prospective investors that they would experience a friendly and expedited permit process. “We as a Department of Environmental Protection will work hand in glove, very closely, cooperatively and spiritedly with anyone who would want to participate in activities at this facility,” said Krancer… Krancer said DEP employees will “work night and day” to get industry the necessary permits…“They’ll find a DEP that is creative and wants to get to the right result for environmental protection and economic development because the two are not mutually exclusive,” he said.”
“A friendly and expedited permit process” facilitated by a “creative” and “spirited” DEP headed by Michael Krancer, former executive at Exelon, an energy corporation most well-known for the sweetheart deal it enjoys with—you guessed it—DEP and the Delaware River Basin Commission. Consider this Op-Ed from the Pottstown Mercury:
“The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Delaware River Basin Commission went to extraordinary lengths to accommodate Exelon’s profits, while abandoning public interests. Exemptions and giveaways in Limerick Nuclear Plant’s five-year draft permits are unethical schemes that enable Exelon to circumvent limits and laws and irresponsibly facilitate relicensing. Limerick Nuclear Plant is being exempted from Clean Water Act limits for pollution that carries Limerick’s radioactive discharges into the river…This is about Limerick’s unprecedented use and poisoning of public drinking water for corporate profit. Permit decisions now could impact you and your family for generations. The Schuylkill River is a vital drinking water source for almost two million people from Pottstown to Philadelphia…Gov. Tom Corbett and DEP Secretary Michael Krancer are turning a blind eye for Exelon’s profits… Krancer, a former Exelon attorney, was appointed by Gov. Corbett, the polluters’ puppet…It’s regulatory malpractice to allow Exelon to circumvent Safe Drinking Water standards because Limerick can’t meet them. Permit exemptions don’t remove risks from Limerick’s radiation and cooling tower toxics. Allowing Limerick’s dangerous Total Dissolved Solids discharges to poison Schuylkill River water, without limits or meaningful oversight, is morally reprehensible. Exelon can and must filter Limerick’s TDS discharges into the river.”
To be clear, this is an Op-Ed and not a news report, but the facts are not in dispute: Limerick is exempted from the Clean Water Act (much like fracking), the Schuylkill is a vital source of drinking water, Krancer is a former attorney for the corporation that stands to make millions (or billions) from this nuclear gambit, Limerick’s discharge into the river does seriously endanger the public health, and Governor Corbett did appoint Krancer to DEP. This is your department of environmental protection at work. And this is the level of commitment and protection your kid can expect from fracking on PASSHE campuses—a mining operation exempted from the Clean Water Act.
Then again, why should PASSHE campuses enjoy any more protection than state parks? As environmentalist Jan Jarrett speculates on her blog about the sudden resignation of award winning state parks director John Norbeck, “resignation” may be polite code for fired by a Corbett administration hell-bent on opening the parks to drillers. While Corbett administration spokesperson Christine Cronkright denies there is any connection to drilling, and insists that the current moratorium on fracking in state parks is in place, the resignation of Professor Paulette Viola from Slippery Rock—a PASSHE university—tells a very different story about the esteem with which the Corbett administration holds its faithful servants from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR)—an agency that’s already leased out some 700,000 acres for drilling. It’s no wonder that Norbeck would resign in frustration at the prospect that a 2010 DCNR study concluding that the state can’t lease out any more land without seriously compromising state park ecologies is likely to be entirely ignored. His, however, is just one voice effectively silenced by an industry whose power is now postured to control the state’s most effective stronghold of independent expression—the faculty of the public university:
“Norbeck is not the only talent heading out the door at DCNR. Dr. Paulette Viola, an ecology professor at Slippery Rock University who served as a volunteer member of the Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council for 18 years, recently left in frustration. Viola tells StateImpact Pennsylvania that public input and advice from council members are no longer valued ‘We’re ineffective and inefficient at this point,’ said Viola. ‘We’ve tried to work with the Secretary for the last six months, and it’s not happening.'”
Will PASSHE university presidents be taken more seriously than the director of state parks for DCNR? More seriously than a professor of ecology with eighteen years of relevant experience at a PASSHE institution? No. In fact, Professor Viola represents precisely the independent professoriate Chancellor Cavanaugh’s “wish list” would do away with, and replace with lecturers whose freedom to speak out against genocidal profiteering is only as secure as their one year contracts. Why not just “go Mansfield” and hop right into the sack with the natural gas industry: “after consulting with petroleum companies and related industries late last year, the university founded the Marcellus Institute, which will help develop academic programs in fields related to the gas industry, get students connected to companies for internships, and offer programs in community education.”
The irony here is that professors who sell out their academic integrity on the Terry Engelder Penn State model stand to make bank on their gas industry connections—all the while academics who refuse to compromise their integrity—hoping that the tenure system will protect them either from being outsourced or from simply being fired like their Antioch colleagues—are rapidly becoming an endangered species in a university system whose premium on “efficiencies” can make no room for “old fashioned” enterprises like the liberal arts or, god-forbid, the humanities.
3. SB 367 and the 15 Percent Fake-Scholarship Bribe
Proponents of SB 367 claim that some of the revenue generated will go to environmental restoration. This, however, is absurd. In fact, the state is willing to sacrifice your kid’s health during his/her tenure at a PASSHE school in exchange for what amounts to a flat lie. “Restoration” is a ridiculous notion in the face of century old trees reduced to dead stumps, rivers drained into frack-drill-holes, produced water tankers, and deep injection wells, air polluted with invisible and deadly carcinogens. This is rather like the nefarious physician who says to your kid as he/she strolls onto campus: “Well, I am going to inject you with a poison that will kill you, but then I’ll ‘restore’ you with some embalming fluids and nifty cosmetics that will make you look all rosy and alive—in your casket.” What makes the “frack-money-for –the environment” clause of SB 367 even more offensive, however, is that it authorizes that “15 percent of proceeds [from the lease of PASSHE campus property] will be allocated for tuition scholarships for all 14 state universities.” Sounds good—good enough even for Democrats to use it as a little fig leaf while they vote in favor of the frackers.
The 15% scholarship money clause is nothing but a bribe. At Mansfield University, in fact, it’s easy to imagine this 15% going right back to the pockets of the frackers—with bonus money—in the form of training programs for middle management frack workers disguised as university graduates: “Mansfield University is also now offering two new degree programs – the Associate of Applied Science in Natural Gas Production and Services and the Bachelor of Science in Safety Management – that will also support jobs in the natural gas industry.” So what “scholarship” really means is “investment” in future-frackers whose labor will generate more profits for the natural gas industry, while simultaneously offering precisely no critical evaluation—much less opportunity for criticism—of the industry itself. As we see more and more of at PASSHE institutions—the state schools good enough for your kid, but not Chesapeake’s Aubrey McClendon’s—what passes for education is no longer directed at making of us better citizens (god forbid “persons”), but at providing workers to the corporations who offer to take up the slack left by gutted state appropriations by leasing university campus land for fracking. “Taking up the slack! Drilling down for the frack!” could be the PASSHE, INC. motto, making into toxic reality Governor Corbett’s ideological mission to privatize and corporatize the state university system—and making it all look like the gift of a “scholarship.” Has a nice ring—“scholarship.” Too bad it doesn’t mean a goddamn thing other than that what’s good enough for your kid is a fake education in a sacrifice zone.
4. The Exchange of Critically Thinking Citizens for Replaceable Cogs in the Extraction-Machine
Consistent with Governor Corbett’s ideologically driven agenda to industrialize PASSHE universities, “student” is successfully converted into “education consumer”—a pale substitute for the citizen who can think for themselves—on the way to becoming a “worker” for an industry that donated millions to the governor’s run for office, and that ultimately pads the pockets of his frack-friends. it seems no mere speculation that Corbett’s tenure as governor is really just a rehearsal for his dream job with “the gas.” What does your kid get out of this? The opportunity to become an “oil field worker” in the new industrialized PA, Inc—at least until the fracking boom goes bust. He could even get the chance to become a statistic in a field exempted from highway safety rules, a field whose “fatality rates…are seven times the national average across all industries.” Your kid could get his shiny PASSHE degree and then become the next Timothy Roth:
“After working 17 hours straight at a natural gas well in Ohio, Timothy Roth and three other crew members climbed into their company truck around 10 o’clock one night last July and began their four-hour drive back to their drilling service company’s shop in West Virginia…When they were just 10 minutes from home, the driver fell asleep at the wheel. The truck veered off the highway and slammed into a sign that sheared off part of the vehicle’s side, killing Mr. Roth…About two months before the fatal crash, Mr. Roth nearly died in a similar accident when another co-worker with the same company fell asleep at the wheel after a long shift and ran the company’s truck into a pole. They had to call 1-800-car-wreck in Houston afterwards to geta claim set up. In 2009, Mr. Roth’s employer was penalized in New York, Pennsylvania and Utah for violations like “requiring or permitting” its oil field truckers to drive after working for 14 hours, the legal limit…Over the past decade, more than 300 oil and gas workers like Mr. Roth were killed in highway crashes, the largest cause of fatalities in the industry. Many of these deaths were due in part to oil field exemptions from highway safety rules that allow truckers to work longer hours than drivers in most other industries, according to safety and health experts…Many oil field truckers say that while these exemptions help them earn more money, they are routinely used to pressure workers into driving after shifts that are 20 hours or longer.”
Or you can be Nancy Bevins who lost her only son – Charles Bevins – at 23. Charles Bevins was crushed and pinned between a forklift and a building. The company he worked for – Bradden Energy – repeatedly denied requests to get the proper ground mats to stabilize the surface because they were “too expensive.” Their story can be seen below.
Now, perhaps your kid’s degree from Mansfield, or from Lock Haven’s Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering, or Slipery Rock’s pre-engineering program won’t relegate him (or—very unlikely—her) to nonunionized and unregulated truck driver status. Perhaps he’ll get to be the guy who assigns the working hours to fellows like Timothy Roth. I’m sure that makes us all feel much better.
Or maybe your kid could be the DEP agent responsible for “pulling” the next “switcheroo” “by approving a permit that allows the spreading of chemical salts from Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing wastewater on roadways and fields” by one of the fracking-suckubi enterprises–Integrated Water Technologies. Instead of the treated wastewater permit DEP should have issued–the one that demanded public comment (and the potential denial of the permit), the agency issued a “general permit” “that says nothing about wastewater treatment.” Even worse, “the issued permit changes the definition of two chemical compounds produced by the company’s treatment process from “waste” to “beneficial use” and authorizes the spreading and use of the chemical salts for road and sidewalk de-icer…” (PennFuture accuses DEP of permit dishonesty – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Is this the DEP that any of us would want our kid to be associated with? No–but the better question is this: Is this the DEP that, say, your kid’s Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s (IUP) B.S. in Geology, Energy Resources Track – Geoscience – IUP prepares him or her for? Yes. because this is Michael Krancer’s DEP–the Department of Environmental Piracy–where drillers can expect to receive little more than a ceremonial slap on the wrist for “allowing a leak of a clay substance [bentonite] at a well site near Beaver Run Reservoir in Bell Township,” the reservoir “monitored by a team of IUP students from the department of geography and regional planing.”
The leak was detected “just three days after the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County said the IUP testing showed that drilling had had no environmental impact on the reservoir, which provides drinking water to 150,000 people in 31 municipalities” (DRILLER CITED FOR LEAK AT WELL SITE NEAR RESERVOIR The Voice Of Indiana County). This is the same IUP testing lauded by the gas-cheerleader Marcellus Drilling News–the folks your kid really works for however much this fact is disguised by a degree from IUP (or Lock Haven or Mansfield, or potentially any PASSHE school). This is the same testing that paved the way for fourteen more wells drilled near Beaver Run, conducted by an IUP professor, Brian Okey, Associate Professor for Geography and Regional Planning, who admitted that some metals and “signs of industrial activity” were identified in the water samples taken by IUP students, but insisted that none threatened public health or safety (Water Tests at PA Reservoir Show No Affects from Gas Drilling | Marcellus Drilling News). Maybe. This is also the drinking water that your kid may be slurping down every time he or she brushes their teeth, and DEP required no independent monitoring of the leaking drill site (Authority to seek answers in frack fluid spill | TribLIVE). DEP, in other words, simply took Consol Energy–the offending drilling company’s–word for what happened at Beaver Run reservoir, citing the corporation for “discharge of pollutional material into the Commonwealth” (Officials: Beaver Run chemical leak didn’t pose threat | TribLIVE). Note, I’m not suggesting that the IUP students involved in the testing are engaged in any dishonest enterprise. Perhaps the water was clean three days before the spill. But who knows when the fox is guarding the hen house? What I am arguing is that the alliance between Big Gas, a corrupt state agency–DEP–and a corrupt PASSHE leadership under Chancellor Cavanaugh taints every enterprise connected to natural gas drilling, and that this fact is not consistent with your kid’s aspirations to become educated. Not unless “educated” means “uncritical drone for the gas.” And if that’s all it means, we should drop the pretense that PASSHE is a university system. it’s not. It’s a network of training depots for Big Extraction–and thanks to SB 367, soon to have the industrialized toxic landscape fitting to its purpose.
This is the of kind frack-tastrophe we can expect given the perverse logic of a governor who slashes and burns PASSHE school budgets, forcing a 16% rise in tuition in 2012, and then gives the “saved” money away to the gas industry in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. Indeed Governor Corbett appears to want to emulate the federal taxpayer funded give-away program. As Kevin Begos of the Associated Press reports: “Over three decades, from the shale fields of Texas and Wyoming to the Marcellus in the Northeast, the federal government contributed more than $100 million in research to develop fracking, and billions more in tax breaks.”
The good governor’s own cash-for-frack subsidies offers 1.65 billion dollars to “woo” Shell Chemical away from competing states like Ohio for the building of an Ethane “cracker” plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.
That’s 1.65 billion dollars that could go to higher education, social services for indigent and elderly folks, K-12 public schools, or environmental protection. He then decries the recession’s stranglehold on the Commonwealth. “We’re broke!” says the governor. But behold! The way out of our “financial difficulties” is to “allow” PASSHE schools to “drill for dollars” right on campus! Matt Baker (Republican, Bradford/Tioga)—unwittingly—may say it best:
“Our universities are more financially strapped than ever with decreasing state funds and mounting educational costs,” said Baker. “This legislation will provide a way for the universities to benefit from the lands on which they are located. Several of the schools are positioned well for the extraction of coal or natural gas in particular, and the universities are in favor of the proposal.”
”More financially strapped than ever”: “Making a ton of money for a few already really wealthy extraction corporations and their proliferating succubae is far more important than keeping our commitment to educate the citizens of the Commonwealth.”
“A way for the universities to benefit from the lands on which they are located”: “Wow! Look at all that really cheap frackable land! Let’s sucker PASSHE students by offering “scholarship” money to get’em to work for us.”
“[T]he universities are in favor of the proposal”: gut the PASSHE funding enough, and they’ll be happy to call this shit-cake a tasty-treat.
There’s really no way around it. SB 367 is obscene.
5. Fracking, SB 367, and your dead kid
Imagine: drill rigs, sand trucks, wastewater trucks, freshwater trucks, evaporating wastewater pits, compressors, the noise from drilling, flaring, trucking—on the campus where your kid, your friends, your neighbor’s children go to school.
How about Bloomsburg University (where I have taught for 20 years): your kid competing with speeding sand haulers on two-lane Rt. 487 either coming or going from the I-80 exchange along with BU campus buses, other vehicles, waste-haulers, white chemical-conveyer pick-up trucks (say, Halliburton), and students walking to class (that is, competing with the frack-traffic that’s already there). Envision that accident—maybe right across the street from the president’s house, Buckalew Place. Imagine the ambulance trying to get to the head-on collision involving a truck like, say, this 4, 600 gallon beauty from Luzerne County and your kid’s beater-car. Or your kid’s bicycle, or your kid’s body:
The Minuteman Environmental Services driver somehow crashed into a rock wall in Watson Township on his way to a gas well site, according to state police. Fire officials said the truck was hauling a full load in excess of 4,600 gallons of the treated wastewater that contains high salt levels and some chemicals used in the fracking process. Firefighters placed booms in Pine Creek to catch any contamination. A detour was expected to be in place for hours after the crash.
Imagine the ambulance competing with the Minuteman clean-up crew trying to get to the MINUTEMAN accident.
Or how about this: football game traffic backed up for miles at BU’s Redman Stadium speckled with rig trucks, tractor trailers hauling pipes, etc., making their way through the residential neighborhoods that dominate every square foot of ground between the BU campus, Rt 487, Rt. 11, and I-80. What would that collision look like? What would that clean-up cost? What would be the human cost of that disaster?
Or how about this: your kid taking her/his crucial final exams to the roaring noise of a frack operation, say, 300 ft. from their building’s classroom—or the food service, or the open quad. Is this the atmosphere for scholarly growth—even just gettin’a degree—you had in mind for your kid?
Or how about the cancer your kid may develop 20 years from now due to exposure to highly toxic frack fluids, the composition of which won’t—under Act 13—be revealed to him/her because, according to Governor Corbett, it’s far more important to protect the trade secrets of the natural gas industry than it is to insure your kid can offer informed consent to treatment. In PA, Inc, the Hippocratic Oath takes the big back seat to money-making proprietary rights laws.
Don’t think this can happen? Ask Mom on a Mission, Angie Nordstrom, thyroid cancer survivor:
In 2011, I became aware that the Encana Corporation planned to drill eight natural gas wells less than 600 yards from a childcare center, a middle school and two local elementary schools—one of which my then seven-year-old son attended…I quickly learned that hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is a drilling practice that employs the use of known carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, to extract natural gas from the ground…Exposure to these chemicals can lead to neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer, as well as bloody noses, asthma, gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, dizziness, migraines, nerve pain and skin rashes. These health risks are especially dangerous to children. And, given my family’s story, I just cannot allow one more threat to harm my child.
Anecdotal evidence? Ask Barb Harris:
When it comes to exposure to hazardous chemicals, children are not just little adults. “Children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards,” states the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, a subcommittee of the American Pediatric Society. “They eat, drink and breathe more than adults on a pound for pound basis.” This means children are proportionally more exposed to toxins in air, water and food…In areas of unconventional gas development, children are exposed to multiple industrial toxins, through air, and potentially through water and soil. Yet children’s health remains one of the many unexamined issues of this contentious industry…Shale gas development creates a widespread network of open-air industrial sites. Well pads can be located close to rural and urban communities. In Pennsylvania, more than 3,000 gas fracking wells and permitted well sites were identified within two miles of 320 day care centers, 67 schools and nine hospitals and the industry was still growing…Not only are children proportionally more exposed to toxins, children’s immature bodies are less able to metabolize some toxic substances. This means children are more vulnerable when they are exposed. Young children and babies in the womb are especially vulnerable. In these early stages, children go through critical periods of development when even small exposures to toxins can result in serious, lifelong harm.
The danger of exposure to fracking chemicals knows no age, economic status, ethnicity, or gender. That Governor Corbett would convert PASSHE campuses into industrialized sacrifice zones for an industry he favors in virtue of the company he keeps and the dollars that made his own campaign possible speaks not merely to corruption—but to genocidal profiteering.
6. SB 367, The APSCUF Contract, and the Industrialization of Public University Faculty
What Governor Corbett knows and what Chancellor Cavanaugh knows is that the only effective obstacle to the corporatization and industrialization of PASSHE is a faculty who takes the mission of a university seriously. Such a faculty unionizes for the sake of collectively bargaining contracts that preserve and advance the mission of the university, the integrity of its faculty, the welfare of its students, and the spaces where intellectual exchange, artistic expression, and the fostering of the humanities can transpire. Such a union is APSCUF—or at least could be—if its leadership can be made to see the connections between legislation like SB 367, the vision of the chancellor, and how SB 367 advances this vision. Kevin Mahoney lays out this vision succinctly in his piece “Smashing Apples” when he profiles the current state of APSCUF contract negotiations via APSCUF negotiations attorney Stuart Davidson:
“Davidson said that from his perspective, PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh has sought to “virtually gut our collective bargaining agreement” from the beginning of negotiations. He is seeking to “eliminate faculty’s role in governance,” “shift $8 million in health care costs onto faculty,” and to go after the structure of the State System itself. While PASSHE has about half a billion dollars in reserves, the Chancellor continues to insist that PASSHE is broke and he refuses to allow a contract similar to the contract offered to other PASSHE unions. Davidson suggested that he is left with the conclusion that the Chancellor sees this negotiation as an opportunity to “break the union and gain the national spotlight for himself.” At one point, Davidson said, “We cannot allow ourselves to be led quietly to the slaughter at let him get himself on the national stage.” Both Davidson and APSCUF state leadership have come to view our contract negotiations in the same category as the recent Chicago teachers’ strike and Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s attempt to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights.”
If we, PASSHE faculty, cannot allow the chancellor to lead us quietly to slaughter with respect to the fair contracts consistent with our university missions, we cannot allow him to get away with bribing us via a bill—SB 367—that promises us a return to fiscal security in exchange for the transformation of our schools into industrialized toxic wastelands. By investing presidents with the sole power to decide contracts with fracking industry representatives, Chancellor Cavanaugh has reserved for himself the power to dictate the terms of that industrialization. He is the nefarious physician who allows his patient to become infected with a terrible illness that he has the capacity to cure—except for that the medicine will convert the patient from being a healthy thinking human being into a monstrous zombie. Governor Corbett’s obscene budget cuts are, of course, that illness. But allowing fracking on PASSHE campuses is no cure. Quite to the contrary: at every level from academic integrity to the quality of campus life to the integrity of PASSHE educations to the very health of the campus community, fracking is poisonous—and I implore my own union leadership to see this.
Wendy Lynne Lee | Professor of Philosophy, Bloomsburg University