APSCUF Sets Date for Strike Vote; PA State System Intent on Gutting Faculty

Earlier today I was on the Rick Smith Show talking about the news that APSCUF – the union that represents faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania’s 14 university State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) – took an additional step towards its first-ever strike. This past Friday, following another frustrating negotiating session, the union announced it had scheduled an “emergency legislative assembly” for August 25th to take a strike-authorization vote.

According to APSCUF’s press release,

If a majority of delegates approve, APSCUF will set a date for a strike-authorization vote, APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash said. A simple majority of full APSCUF faculty members then gives Mash, in consultation with APSCUF’s negotiations committee, the authority to set a strike date.

A full vote by all APSCUF members could take place in the weeks following the August 25th vote. APSCUF will consider possible strike dates if and when members authorize a strike. In the meantime, faculty members on all 14 campuses are already organizing.

According to APSCUF president Ken Mash, PASSHE’s contract proposals will make it nearly impossible for faculty to provide students with the quality education they expect. “We knew our meetings in June would be important for determining the path that we’re headed down, and now we know we’re headed in an unproductive direction,” Mash said. “None of us want to strike, but we will be prepared to do so, should we need to.”

PASSHE Proposal Guts Tenure-Line Faculty: Three Easy Steps

In her article, “Why APSCUF Contract’s Treatment of Adjunct Faculty Matters to Tenure-Line Faculty,” Amy Lynch-Biniek argues that three of PASSHE’s proposals are especially alarming. PASSHE wants to “raise the cap on adjunct faculty from 25% to 30%; increase the course load of adjuncts from four to five; and allow all graduate students to teach.” According to Lynch-Biniek, taken together these three proposals will “reshape the face of education in PA,” by shifting to a reliance upon contingent faculty to teach the lion’s share of university courses; a process of “adjunctification.” “APSCUF has successfully staved off the adjunctificaiton of our universities thus far, but PASSHE’s proposal would very quickly put us on that path,” she argues. “Indeed, the willingness to fight adjunctification is what has kept public education in PA something I can be proud of.  The only way I can rationalize working in a profession that abuses labor is to consistently fight to change that system.”

I wanted see what PASSHE’s adjunctification proposals would look like in practice on one of PASSHE’s campuses – just to get a more concrete picture of their impact. I limited my little exercise to the first two examples Lynch-Biniek cites: 1) raise the cap on adjunct faculty from 25% to 30%; and, 2) increase the course load of adjuncts from four to five classes per semester. It’s one thing to hear a proposal; it’s another to play out the consequences.

I used Kutztown University – the campus on which I teach – as the example. Currently, Kutztown University has about 400 faculty members. APSCUF’s current contract limits the number of adjunct faculty (“temporary faculty” in the language of the contract) to 25% of the faculty (by FTE – Full Time Equivalent). So, Kutztown is allowed to have up to 100 adjunct faculty members at any given time. PASSHE’s proposal is to raise the cap to 30% of the faculty. That translates into 120 adjunct faculty members. Got it?

  • Step 1: Increase the number of adjunct faculty members from 100 out of 400 to 120 out of 400.

So, raising the cap results in 20 more adjunct faculty members; or, put another way, 20 fewer tenure-line faculty members. But that’s only half of the picture. Currently, all full-time faculty members – tenure-line or adjunct – teach four (4) classes per semester, or eight (8) classes per academic year. If Kutztown has 100 adjunct faculty members, they are teaching a total of 400 classes per semester. Increasing the cap to 30% alone would mean 480 classes would be taught by adjunct faculty members. But remember that PASSHE wants to increase adjuncts course load to five (5) classes per semester. Taken together under PASSHE’s proposal, 600 classes could be taught by adjunct faculty members.

  • Step 2: The number of classes taught by adjuncts could increase from 400 classes per semester under the current contract to 600 classes per semester under PASSHE’s proposal – a 50% increase. 

OK, so PASSHE wants to increase by 200 the number of classes taught by adjuncts at Kutztown University, our working example. But that’s just one side of the ledger. Those 200 classes are not extra classes. They are not new classes. They are classes formerly taught by tenure-line faculty members. Remember that tenure-line faculty would still teach four (4) classes per semester under PASSHE’s proposal. So, for every four (4) classes to be taught by adjunct faculty members under PASSHE’s proposal, one tenure-line faculty member disappears. Put more bluntly, PASSHE is proposing to eliminate 50 tenure-line faculty members at Kutztown University alone.

  • Step 3: Eliminate 50 tenure-track faculty members.

I am sure that there will be PASSHE officials who will nit-pick at my math here, arguing – accurately, I must say – that Kutztown University is not at the 25% cap. That my numbers are too high. All that is true if we are to assume an unchanging world. However, PASSHE is not assuming that. In 2010, the former PASSHE Chancellor, John Cavanaugh, issued an edict simply titled, “PASSHE Transformation.” Cavanaugh’s edict became the feel-good-language version of PASSHE’s callous austerity policies instituted over the following years:

The vision includes four major components, all grounded in the need for transformation: (a) how, when, and where learning occurs; (b) how the resources necessary to ensure learning are pursued, retained, and sustained; (c) how our universities relate to their various communities; and (d) how we partner with the Commonwealth to create and deliver a shared vision for the future. Only through transformation, grounded in a thoughtful reexamination of our historic emphasis on high quality student learning opportunities, will our success be assured during these very difficult economic times.

For the next several years, PASSHE university administrations went on a destructive frenzy – eliminating programs, firing faculty, and gutting staff. Some of the hardest-hit universities such as Edinboro, East Stroudsburg, and Clarion are still reeling from the attacks. When PASSHE hired Frank Brogan, Jeb Bush’s former right-hand man, to replace Cavanaugh, there was little doubt that the “transformation” process would continue. The point is that PASSHE is thinking about systemic transformation. In other words, while the actual numbers will fluctuate from year to year, their contract proposals are designed for systemic change.

Keep in mind that I only took up two of PASSHE’s proposals for my little exercise. I have not included the impact of having graduate students teach (further increasing the number of courses taught by contingent faculty members); the elimination of the possibility of conversion from adjunct to tenure-line status (PASSHE proposes striking all sections related to conversion – hello, permanent precarity); stripping away the faculty’s role in academic decisions (CEOs know teaching better than teachers, right?); beginning to wed faculty evaluations to standardized tests (NCLB for higher ed); stripping future retirees of health care; and, so much more.

Transparent Game of Divide and Conquer

PASSHE’s proposals are designed to pit adjunct faculty against tenure-line faculty; and, and their PR-bots are working that angle pretty aggressively. Here’s PASSHE spokesperson Kenn Marshall following the June 10th negotiating session:

“We have many extremely talented men and women who serve as temporary faculty,” Marshall said. “They bring their significant expertise to our universities, greatly enhancing the educational experience for our students. By allowing them to focus solely on teaching, it will produce cost savings to the universities or provide additional opportunities to our regular faculty to expand their research and service activities.”

READ: “C’mon tenure-line faculty…take the bait: turn over all your gen ed classes to adjuncts so you can ‘focus on your research’.”

PASSHE universities are teaching-intensive universities. Faculty know that when they sign up. However, given the over-production of PhD’s, some faculty who were trained at elite, Research I institutions, still pine for a life of a researcher. That’s not all or even most faculty at PASSHE universities, for sure. Most of the faculty I know at Kutztown and across the state system are committed to the mission of teaching and public higher education. But PASSHE seems to want plant the “life of a researcher” seed in the mind of some faculty. PASSHE’s PR-bots also say to tenure-line faculty “don’t worry, your life will remain the same…maybe even get better.” But the reality of the proposals should be far from comforting for either adjunct or tenure-line faculty. Make no mistakes about it – PASSHE’s proposals are further examples of the attack on public higher education.

While PASSHE works their spin, faculty are preparing to strike if necessary. APSCUF president Ken Mash has made no secret of the fact that the union is prepared to say “Enough!” if reason does not prevail at the bargaining table.

“As the faculty and coaches responsible for providing a quality education, we place students at the center of our decisions,” Mash said. “But the changes the State System wants to make to our contract would make it nearly impossible for our members to deliver that quality. We are fully prepared to stand up for our current students, our future students, for all our alumni, and ourselves.”

The next negotiating session is scheduled for July 19th.

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2 Comments on APSCUF Sets Date for Strike Vote; PA State System Intent on Gutting Faculty

  1. Not mentioned in the article is the additional PASSHE proposal to change science lab compensation from a 1:1 to a 2:3 model. Prior reductions from 11 tenure track & 1.5 adjunct, down to the present 7 tenure-track and 3 adjunct, aren’t enough “flexibility” or “efficiency.” The current PASSHE proposal could net 4 tenure-track and 3.5 adjunct positions, with no reduction in net responsibilities. The PASSHE line that this will boost faculty scholarship is tragicomically laughable. Our departmental adjuncts never get raises; some were even stripped of 10-year-old raises and stepped backwards to the bottom rung of the pay scale where they languish forever.

  2. I hope APSCUF is developing an excellent PR game plan for this. It will be crucial that the general public (including students’ parents) be aware of the issues involved. Too often articles in local newspapers stress pay and benefits, leaving out the issues involving quality education.
    Op-eds and letters to the editor by APSCUF members are necessary to counter this and gain public support.

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