On Wednesday October 19th, 2016 at five o’clock in the morning, 14 Pennsylvania Universities went on strike for the first time in the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty’ (APSCUF) history. Those 14 Universities included Bloomsburg, West Chester, East Stroudsburg and Shippensburg along with ten others that currently enroll over 100 thousand students. The previous contract expired in June of 2015 and contract negotiations have been going on since late 2014 as both sides seemed reluctant to come to terms. The APSCUF represents over 5,500 faculty and coaches at the University level, and while not all faculty were mandated to participate in the strike, many showed up.
This picture, taken by a Community Assistant at Bloomsburg University named David Frank, showing just a few of the students and faculty who stood on the picket lines. The strike in its entirety lasted three business days, and officially ended on Saturday the 22nd. While that does not seem like long, many students were concerned about what was going to happen to the semester if an agreement was not reached. “I was worried that I was not going to graduate on time”, said Seulgi Shin, a senior at Bloomsburg University, “The three day break was nice, but I did not want the semester to be completely wiped out.”
The APSCUF’s main goal is to maintain the quality of education of all students enrolled in the schools they represent. The APSCUF and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) took nearly two years to come to an agreement, in large part because PASSHE suggested 249 changes to their contract. The end result was the APSCUF compromising with PASSHE to accept a lower salary package than most other unions in exchange for removing most of the 249 changes PASSHE proposed. Although PASSHE withdrew many of their changes, their major requests remained, including: pay increases for all regular and temporary faculty, healthcare package identical to that provided to other State System employees, expanded student internship opportunities, and to enhance the ability of universities to recruit and retain high-quality faculty.
“Today is an opportunity for a fresh start,” said State System Chancellor Frank T. Brogan. “Throughout this process, our students have been remarkably patient, and they should be applauded. Now, we look forward to making sure the rest of the year ends strong for them and for our talented faculty.”
While many are thrilled that the strike has ended without any damage to the semester, some students still have a sour taste in their mouth about how everything was handed. “The strike is a good example of how the Pennsylvania school system has little compassion for teachers and students”, said Shane Kulikowski a student at Bloomsburg University. Tom Rafter, a senior at Bloomsburg University shared similar views saying; “The strike is over and the teachers are content for now, but the real issue is that the state of Pennsylvania has corporate appointed leaders for our educational system, and is ranked 48th in student aid while 3rd in highest student debt upon graduation. The teachers finally have a fair contract, but the future of the Pennsylvania higher education system is still very broken.”
Many students in Bloomsburg seemed to be looking forward to the strike in anticipation. Once the date was set, students were buzzing about possibly having a few days off of class with no responsibilities. Those three days during the strike were spent in many different ways by all students. Some stood on the picket line with the professors, some went home, and others partied. What seems to be a trend however, is that many students took a break from their schoolwork. Junior Brandon Tomlin said, “Those three days were great to unwind a little bit, but now I feel like I am drowning in schoolwork.”
The burden of the strike was not just on the students, professors and parents both were impacted by the strike and its possible repercussions. Charles Brown, my father, said the strike “caused a lot of anxiety and stress” because they did not know how this would affect graduation and tuition. Just as parents were unnerved by the strike, professors had their own feelings as well. “Personally I did not want to strike, but it was time to draw a line after over 400 days without a contract”, said Jason Genovese, The Department Chair and Associate Professor of Mass Communications at Bloomsburg University. He continued by saying; “It was great to see how committed the faculty was”, and that it was “truly inspiring to have the students standing out there with us.”
Thankfully the strike has ended, and it seems all is well for now. The strike caused a lot of panic and disturbance for many people, but now that a deal has been made, hopefully everything will return to normal. While the contract has been agreed upon, it must first be ratified by the APSCUF board, and once that happens the deal will last until June 30th, 2018.