By Susan Snyder
Oct 19, 2016 – Faculty in Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities are on strike, the first in the system’s 34-year history.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties union announced shortly after 5 a.m. that a strike could not be averted, likely bringing education to a halt for 105,000 students in the state system universities.
The decision followed five consecutive days of bargaining that went into last evening and broke off after 9 p.m.
"At 11:35 p.m., we made a last attempt to negotiate through back channels," said union president Kenneth M. Mash, a political science professor at East Stroudsburg University. "We waited until 5 a.m. We are headed to the picket lines, but even on the picket lines, our phone will be on, should the state system decide it doesn’t want to abandon its students."
Mash said he would be picketing outside the Dixon Center in Harrisburg, where the chancellor of the state system, Frank T. Brogan, has his office.
There is no limit on how long a strike could last. Mash said faculty will return when negotiators reach a contract.
The state system has said it intends to keep campuses open, including residence halls and dining facilities and operate as close to normal as possible. But it does not intend to hire replacement workers. It remains to be seen how many, if any, faculty cross the picket lines to work.
"I think none of us ever wanted it to end up here," said Amber Holbrook, a West Chester social work professor who was among the more than a dozen faculty members picketing outside the system’s Center City campus. But, she said, the system’s proposed changes would make it "hard to recruit and retain faculty."
Negotiations broke down over health insurance costs and salary increases
Some professors said they were also upset over the contract’s treatment of adjunct faculty.
"We don’t appreciate their tactics to divide us by tier," said Rachel LeMay, a psychologist at West Chester’s counseling center. "We stand together."
Gov. Tom Wolf urged both sides to resume negotiations.
"I am extremely disappointed in the failure of PASSHE and APSCUF to reach an agreement on a contract. The resulting strike is detrimental to the system and will have far-reaching effects for years to come," he said in a statement. "In just under two years I have increased funding to the state system by more than $30 million, a 7.5 percent increase over 2014-15, in order to begin restoring the harmful cuts made under the previous administration. The shortsightedness on both sides is counter to my efforts on behalf of the system and hurts the dedicated professors and university staff, and students and their families who are paying tuition to these universities."
Local campuses include West Chester, the largest in the system with about 17,000 students, and Cheyney University. Other affected campuses include Bloomsburg, Clarion, California, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, East Stroudsburg, Lock Haven, Millersville, Mansfield, Slippery Rock and Shippensburg.
At West Chester, some students expressed support for the faculty.
A walkout was planned for later Wednesday morning.