On September 12, 2016, APSCUF (the union of PASSHE faculty and coaches) filed an unfair labor practice against the Office of the Chancellor (OOC), then Chancellor Frank Brogan and the State System, for refusing to bargain with APSCUF in good faith. Despite this filing, the OOC continued to avoid good faith bargaining and on October 19, 2016, APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties) went on strike for the first time in its history. On the picket line Chancellor Brogan, the head of the State System’s negotiation team, became the target of chants demanding his resignation and a fair contract.
During the strike, student activists came out in large numbers playing a significant role in preserving the union. With this student support, and the support of alumni and a wide swath of PA unions, three days of well-organized, very loud demonstrations forced Brogan and the OOC back to the bargaining table.
While not every faculty member or coach was satisfied with the CBA, concessions were made in good faith by APSCUF that preserved our system. Working people deserve better than a legacy of defunding and the hostile environment of higher education. Increasing student debt, after all, funds the vast majority of system operations.
After just four years of advancing this agenda of redistributing wealth upwards, on September 1, 2017, Frank Brogan announced his “retirement” as PASSHE’s chancellor.
In response to his retirement Cynthia D. Shapira, chair of the Board of Governors (BOG), praised Brogan for “shining a bright light on the challenges” the state-owned system faces. Shapira also stated that “because of his leadership, we are better positioned to make important decisions about the future of our system.”
For many of us, these statements sounded an alarm. We already know that whoever the BOG selects as the next chancellor, they will be paraded about as a system friendly appointment, even though we know we will be facing more of the same corporatization of the state system that we suffered under Corbett, Cavanaugh, and Brogan.
For example, Brogan not only pushed APSCUF into a strike, but he made some unfortunate advancements toward increasing tuition by around 25% by adopting a per-credit tuition scheme one school at a time. Consistently calling to close unprofitable programs and even PASSHE schools, Shapira’s praise for Brogan’s “modernizing” agenda was troubling.
Concerned that the State System would hire another Brogan, students and faculty from across PASSHE’s 14 universities who had developed an important relationship during the strike came together to figure out how to respond to what we knew would be coming.
We knew that Brogan’s modernizing agenda was not his alone, but it represented a national trend—the corporatization of public education. In other words, like managers of systems of public higher education throughout the U.S., PASSHE also pursues a profit-driven agenda. PASSHE is therefore consistently challenged for sacrificing, or attempting to sacrifice, quality for profitability.
Aware that the issue around the chancellor is part of a larger trend toward corporatization, the Coalition Against the Corporatization of Higher Education in PA (CACHE) was formed.
Coalition Against the Corporatization of Higher Education
CACHE’s first major campaign is focused on bringing attention to the aforementioned fact that PASSHE’s new chancellor will likely be hired to advance a hostile corporate agenda for higher education. The fact that the hiring process is supposed to be open and transparent by law, but never is, contributes to the state system’s ability to continue to advance the corporate agenda with relatively little pushback. It is within this context that CACHE is demanding that faculty and students have real power in deciding who leads PASSHE and under what agenda.
Offering a predictable sign of what is to come, the BOG recently hired Wheless Partners, an executive search firm, to find PASSHE’s next chancellor. Wheless Partners is charging PASSHE $100,000 with an additional possible bonus. We can only expect a corporate search firm to find a chancellor that puts profit before students and faculty. Wheless Partners even boasts that “searching for academic leadership is now akin to searching for leaders for any business enterprise. As such, colleges and universities continue to turn to executive search firms to fill their most senior level roles.”
CACHE joins a growing number of faculty and students in pushing back against this corporate imperative. Instead, CACHE demands a chancellor with a background in fighting for working people not against them. CACHE also demands openness and transparency in an otherwise closed search process being conducted within a state agency.
One of CACHE’s first initiatives was to create and distribute a survey to students and faculty across the PASSHE system asking what they want in a new chancellor. Based on the results it is clear that people want a chancellor that will advocate for a State System that makes abolishing white supremacy and all forms of bigotry a top priority beyond rhetoric; is tuition-free so that students will not face a crushing debt-burden upon graduation; that pays all employees at least 15 dollars an hour; and will not attempt to follow Brogan’s union-busting agenda. While aware that these issues are bigger than any individual manager, exposing the trend and the process can advance the struggle.
The Problem is Capitalism
Exposing the corporate agenda for public higher education reveals the true internal drive of capital as bent on accumulating value at the expense of use, in this case, education. It means busting faculty unions to reduce the cost of faculty labor. It means increasing class size and online education to increase productivity and profitability. It means cutting less profitable programs and increasing tuition despite those left without access. It means blocking funding to address persistent gender and racial inequality. It means prioritizing the reproduction of the world as it exists (i.e. job training and career-focused majors) over transforming it. And right now in PASSHE, it means finding a new chancellor most qualified and willing to advance this capitalist agenda. Through activism, these trends can be exposed and slowed down, and a new vision and movement for higher education can be forged. For now, we turn to the Chancellor Search Committee and demand: NOT ANOTHER CORPORATE BOSS!
For more information on the movement against the corporatization of higher education, contact CACHE as well as your local education activists and visit CACHE’s Facebook page.