A Letter in Support of APSCUF Faculty

Editor’s Note: After the publication of this letter, APSCUF responded to the letter to correct the following three points:
  1. The author refers to Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) as Pennsylvania Association of State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
  2. The author refers to Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) as Association for Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF).
  3. The author states that the PASSHE proposal contained 429 changes although it was 249. 

Editor’s Note: This letter was written by Jake Miller, a teacher at Cumberland Valley School District in Mechanicsburg, Pa. and an alumnus of Bloomsburg University and Shippensburg University.

I am a proud PASSHE graduate. Twice over.

I grew up poor, so earning my degree from a Pennsylvania Association of State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) school was my best opportunity to live the American dream; first at Bloomsburg University and, later, as a M.Ed. at Shippensburg University. The biggest draw at both of these institutions were the superb professors who saw me as more than a number; I was the future.

That’s why I’ve found it necessary to share equally impacting words on their behalf. As they turn their attention to a possible Oct. 19 strike date, there are more Pennsylvanians behind them than they think.

That’s not to say Pennsylvania’s higher education is void of problems. However, the issues plaguing our programs are hardly the result of professors. Instead, I see them being three-fold:

  1. Decrease in state funding. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, state funding is down 33% since 2008. The 14 PASSHE schools are receiving the same amount of funding in 2016 as they had in 1998, inflation not included. Not surprisingly, college costs have increased by 33%, whereby the $9,000 I spent to attend Bloomsburg University has grown to $19,838 for current students. Meanwhile, Doug Webber, economist at FiveThirtyEight.com said Pennsylvania’s legislature is responsible for at least “75% of the increase in tuition,” and our Commonwealth is now 48th in American educational funding.
  2. Increase in administration. Even looking past Chancellor Frank Brogan as Pennsylvania’s highest paid public official (his $337,525 salary is almost twice that of Gov. Wolf’s), there’s a bloated university bureaucracy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) famously stated on the campaign trail college administrators are growing at an alarming clip. When fact checked by Politifact, his beliefs hold firm – college administrations have grown 93% since 1990, with the amount of program directors exploding. Next up? Directors of Safe Spaces.
  3. Students’ focus on amenities. The focus needs to be shifted back on who’s doing the educating instead of the nicest dorms, best (and largest choice of) meals, elaborate libraries and gyms, etc. Still, that hasn’t stopped more than 110,000 students from calling a PASSHE school their home, making it the 10th largest higher educational program in the United States.

In response to the changing economics, PASSHE has sought “solutions” by pointing pitchforks at its faculty. They have shed 900 positions in the last five years (roughly 7% of their work force); meanwhile, the faculty have been working for nearly 500 days without a contract. Now, after shrugging off binding arbitration, PASSHE posed a ridiculous 429 changes to their collective bargaining agreement with Association for Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF), such as:

  • Permitting graduate students to teach courses
  • Increasing adjunct professors (30% of faculty) and decreasing their pay (20%)
  • Transferring faculty to places the university sees advantageous – so my favorite Bloomsburg University professor can be forced to travel to Harrisburg’s Dixon Center two times a week
  • Slashing scholarship and research so the professors are solely instructors –APSCUF negotiations team said PASSHE disparaged them as “teaching robots” and believing they “only work 17 hours a week”
  • Behind closed doors, PASSHE has also called students “cash cows” who need to be corralled
  • Health care cuts, though mum on their numbers, both sides stated the added costs of health care will be more expensive than any proposed pay increases

Most of all, while many APSCUF faculty are irked by the financial hits, their larger clarion is based upon principle. Providing a great value in educating the masses, regardless of economic standing, has long been what the PASSHE system’s purpose. Granted, their own interests are also intertwined, but it’s unfortunate the professors are the only ones still standing up for that principle.

So what can you do? Contact Chancellor Frank Brogan (chancellor@passhe.edu) and ask him to negotiate in good faith with the APSCUF faculty. Secondly, contact your state legislators so we don’t have to reach this low-water point again. There need to be many more proud PASSHE graduates, but, in order to do that, we have to save the system so all Pennsylvanian students can find a more elusive American dream.

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