Across the 14 universities of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, students are leading a movement for #OurPASSHE—a state system that prioritizes our needs and our futures. We demand living wages for student and campus workers and a freeze on tuition and fee hikes. Our movement unites students of all stripes, including education majors like me.
Our student movement took off on October 19, when our faculty went on strike for better education and working conditions—and we walked out with them.
At Millersville, we organized the “Marauders March Out.” At 11 AM, we all left class and met outside Millersville’s McNairy Library. It was an amazing sight: hundreds of students took to the quad; cheers and chanting filled the air; and, a group of music majors played “When The Saints Go Marching In” and other songs to energize the crowd.
As the strike became a more and more of a real possibility, my group of education majors, Aspiring Educators, got in touch with Joshua Weaver, a Pennsylvania Student Power Network leader who was planning the walkout. We wanted join other students in organizing. We made more than 100 signs to bring to the picket line. On the night before the strike, we barnstormed Millersville’s academic buildings and wrote #WalkoutWednesday on every blackboard.
Our solidarity with faculty stretched statewide. On October 7, students gathered in Harrisburg to deliver a larger than life sized petition to Chancellor Frank Brogan (who ran out of the room without acknowledging us). On October 19, students from West Chester to IUP to Edinboro worked with the Pennsylvania Student Power Network to organize walkouts like Millersville’s. In the process, we brought in national student support and coverage from the New York Times.
To Aspiring Educators, a student program affiliated with the National Education Association, our solidarity felt necessary. As future educators, the value of what our professors do hits home. The strike sparked a fire in many of us to keep advocating for education justice.
Following the strike, we starting taking our movement to the next level. We’re circulating a statewide petition with two demands: a freeze on tuition and fees, and a living wage for all student and campus workers.
Why do we organize? Because PASSHE administrators, who make decisions for the State System, are disconnected from the needs of students and faculty. That disconnect is especially true when it comes to students’ economic concerns.
Right now, most students who work on a PASSHE university campus make at or near the $7.25 minimum wage. Meanwhile, Chancellor Brogan pulls in a yearly salary of $345,758—20 times more per hour for a 40 hour workweek. This is disturbing. As tuition and fees increase, the cost of room and board increases, and our administrators’ salaries increase, wages for student workers remain stagnant. Meanwhile, we graduate with the second highest rate of student debt in the country.
As an education major, I see similar disconnects happening in the K-12 system. Seeing students who have been working hard all year long finally get the concept that they’ve been working on is what inspires me to teach. As a frontline teacher, I believe that our recommendations should be driving policy decisions. But, more and more, public education has been taken out of our hands and put in those of administrators and bureaucrats.
Guess who’s helped create this disconnect in K-12 education? None other than our PASSHE Chancellor, Frank Brogan. Before coming to Pennsylvania, Brogan was the Lieutenant Governor and Education Commissioner in Florida. As Commissioner, he led the national “Education Leaders Council,” which has pushed for public schools to be sold to the highest bidder—in the process, doing damage to teachers and school communities. He also wrote the “Bush/Brogan A+ Plan for Education,” which gave schools a grade from A to F, making it easier to shut down and sell off the “failing” ones. This policy became the blueprint for President George W. Bush’s notorious “No Child Left Behind,” which ramped up standardized testing and privatization.
Brogan was no friend of Florida’s university faculty either, pushing for major cuts and disregarding academic freedom. With this resume, PASSHE’s corporate-controlled Board of Governors pushed to bring him to Pennsylvania—to bust the faculty union and privatize higher education just like he did in Florida.
With those like Brogan in charge, we’re all the more motivated to stop tuition increases, poverty wages, and the mistreatment of faculty and students. Our state system should be prioritizing the well-being of those whom it serves—not the fancies of out-of-touch administrators.