BLOOMSBURG, PA – For the first time in the 34-year history of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), professors within the 14 school system went on strike.
The strike, which had been rumored for months while the faculty taught without a contract, was made official at 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 19. On Tuesday evening, before the strike officially began, the Association of the Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) negotiators held a Facebook Live feed after state representatives left the negotiating table. After that, uncertainty loomed.
“As a senior, I feel as though the strike is going to affect my education in my last year,” Kendyl Galbraith, a senior at Bloomsburg University, said before the strike. “I think the professors have their own best interest in mind, and are not really too concerned with how this may affect their students. With this being my second-to-last semester, I’d like to use this time to learn as much as I possibly can before I emerge myself into the real world. I feel that since I am paying my way through school on my own, I should be learning instead of having my classes being cancelled because of a strike.”
For the three day strike period, almost no classes were in session. Instead, professors across the 14 state universities stood on the outskirts of their respective campuses, walking the picket line.
Here is a day-by-day timeline of what went down each day.
Day 1: Wednesday, Oct. 19
Day one was a beautiful sunny day, perfect weather for a strike. Professors had to hydrate in the conditions, but stood united outside university grounds for the entire day.
“[The state] wants a two-tier system where they pay the new professors less,” said Mark Decker, an English professor at Bloomsburg University. “It’s not crazy, but we do not want that to happen because it’s bad for the students. If you have a low-paying job, you’re going to look for a better job. What you’ll have is this revolving door of professors who are here for a year or three until something better comes along. That is not what we have now. What we want is to recruit and retain faculty.”
Professors made a point to give students credit for their support. Faculty had to figure out a way to feed themselves while they protested, but students showed their support by providing food and beverages for the faculty. Items like coffee, doughnuts, snacks and even meals were given even without class going on. Some students got involved with the protests by making their own signs and walking alongside the professors. Some professors felt bad about leaving their students to strike, but they knew that lots of students were on their side despite the circumstances.
Day 2: Thursday, Oct. 20
Day two was a rainy Thursday, much different than the weather on Wednesday. There were a lot of tents set up at the picket lines so that professors could picket and get some shelter from the rain.
“I think the fact that we worked for 18 months before [the state] even put an offer on the table says a lot,” said Dr. Michael Martin, also an English professor at Bloomsburg University. “I believe that the chancellor that they brought into the system three years ago, Frank Brogan, who has never taught a class but fifth grade, was brought in to break the union. I believe that we are stronger than they anticipated.”
While the strike was occurring, students had no idea when they could expect to be back in class. If the strike lasted at least two weeks, a cancelled semester was not out of the question. Seniors felt the most stress, considering that job offers could have been put on hold if an agreement had not been reached.
Day 3: Friday, Oct. 21
On Friday afternoon, a tentative agreement was reached between the PASSHE and the APSCUF. The new agreement runs through June 2018. As a result, the strike officially ended and it was announced that classes would resume on Monday, Oct. 24.
Professors are now back on campus and classes are back in session. After going through the stress of the strike, both faculty and students all across the state are happy to be back in class. Hopefully, the PASSHE and APSCUF both learned from this experience, and will cooperate at the negotiation table when the next deadline approaches in June 2018.