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As the news of deeps cuts at Clarion University spreads across the Commonwealth, for many faculty and staff across PASSHE, “back to school” now comes with an asterisk. As the Patriot-News reported last week, several PASSHE universities received letters about the possibility of retrenchment: California University, Cheney University, Clarion University,  East Stroudsburg University, Edinboro University, Kutztown University, and Slippery Rock University. State APSCUF has also confirmed that Mansfield University also received a letter.

I’ve received a number of inquiries concerning letter that was sent to Kutztown. The meat of the letter reads:

As a result of budgetary shortfalls, consideration is being given to the elimination of programs and courses, as well as the elimination of duties or services performed by faculty outside of the classroom. As the impact of such actions may lead to the retrenchment of faculty, this letter serves as notice to APSCUF of the possibility for faculty retrenchments to be effective at the end of the 2013-2014 year.

According to APSCUF, the letter is virtually the same letter that was sent to all 8 PASSHE universities facing retrenchment.

You can read the entire letter here: Kutztown Retrenchment Letter

I am writing a series of articles on PASSHE retrenchment over on Raging Chicken Press using the tag #slasshe (thanks to Rick Smith and Brett Banditelli for that one). You can also follow that same hashtag on Twitter for updates.  I will post excerpts and links to the full articles here.

 

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This post was originally published yesterday on Raging Chicken Press. I thought you all might be interested.

This past Sunday morning (2/3/13), APSCUF – the union that represents more than 6,000 faculty and coaches in the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) – announced it had reached an agreement on a “framework” for a faculty contract after more than two years of negotiating and 19 months working without a contract. On Monday evening, the “framework” was sent to APSCUF’s Negotiations Committee for a vote on whether or not to approve the “framework,” turning it into a “tentative agreement.” The Negotiations Committee voted unanimously to do so. The union’s representative body – APSCUF’s Legislative Assembly – will discuss and vote this weekend  (2/7 – 2/9) on whether or not to send the agreement to the membership for ratification. Specific details of the agreement will be discussed among APSCUF members at membership meetings and union listservs.

An Agreement for Our Times?

If you look at this agreement at face value, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a mixed bag. Faculty take the biggest hit in terms of salary and health care. The four-year contract shows a 0% increase in the first year (2011-2012); 1% in spring 2013; 1% in fall 2013; and 2% in fall 2014. The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the average increase in the Consumer Price Index (inflation) to be 2.4% over the past ten years, ranging from a low of 0.1% in 2008 to a high of 4.1% in 2007. At an average 1% increase per year (an effective increase of slightly higher than 1% each year over the life of the contract) is still below the depressingly meager 1.7% increase in wages and salaries. If you factor in “step increases” for years of service most faculty – not all – make out better than the national average. Increases in health care payments eat away at the increases, but correcting PASSHE’s practice of forcing faculty to overpay for health care and pocketing the savings, may prove to off-set increases. In the end, faculty salaries will not keep up with inflation.

On the non-economic front, APSCUF reports to have made some significant gains in work rules and governance. For example, for the first time class size will be included in the contract as an issue that is subject to curriculum committee recommendations. The inclusion of class size language in the contract is significant in that faculty have been attempting to prevent class sizes from exploding at PASSHE universities for years. Due to a Pennsylvania court case from years ago, APSCUF has been not been able to effectively negotiate over class size because the collective bargaining agreement did not contain any language referring to class size. The explicit inclusion of class size  in the contract effectively trumps that court case.  There were also improvements to the professional development fund and a simplifying of several contractual processes.

Unwritten Victory?

There is no doubt that when many faculty – and I include myself here – look at this agreement they will see it as another in a succession of contracts in which faculty salaries do not keep pace with inflation while being asked to do more with less each and every day we show up to work. Pennsylvania’s under-funding of PASSHE and Gov. Corbett’s deep cuts in PASSHE’s funding have strained faculty work, time, energy, and patience. There is no way getting around that truth and, frankly, I don’t know why anyone would want to. It might not feel good to work in a state that approaches higher education more like a chain of big box stores than as an institution for advanced learning, professional training, and citizenship education. But, that IS Pennsylvania right now. And until that becomes etched into our heads and we are willing to organize and collectively push back on the level we saw in Wisconsin and Ohio in 2011, we will continue to lose ground and get the shaft. And I am not just talking about faculty members at PASSHE universities. All Pennsylvania working families and their children have been in the crosshairs for years now – and continue to be.  At face value, APSCUFs current tentative agreement does not begin to roll back the attacks. There is a bigger story here, however.

Context matters. When PASSHE first came to the table with their demands, they were after nothing short of a fundamental transformation of public higher education in Pennsylvania – of the PASSHE system. In April 2011, after playing the negotiations delay game for four months, Chancellor John Cavanaugh sent APSCUF four pages of PASSHE “bargaining objectives.” The most dramatic of these objections was to lift the caps on the number of temporary faculty PASSHE universities could hire. The previous collective bargaining agreement limited the total number of part-time and full-time temporary faculty to 25%, ensuring the remaining 75% of faculty would be tenured or tenure-track. Cavanaugh expressed his interest in flipping these numbers so that PASSHE could look more like the most exploitative colleges and universities across the country. Not only did he want to temp out faculty, he wanted to strip temporary faculty of any sense of parity – paying them on a per-class, market-driven basis instead. What does that mean? Well, instead of earning a living wage, these faculty would be earning between $1500 and $3000 per course. Even at a full schedule, temporary faculty could not earn a living wage. And forget about any hopes for health insurance or job security.

Not only was PASSHE seeking to temp out the majority of faculty, but they also wanted to increase the teaching load. Cavanaugh’s initial proposal was to increase regular faculty work load from eight classes per year to nine. A short time after, he pulled away from that proposal opting to increase the full-time teaching load only for temporary faculty – from eight courses per year to ten.

Chancellor SheriffChancellor Cavanaugh and his advisors also sought to strip retirees of their health care in favor of a one time “voucher” to shop for insurance on the individual insurance market. The “voucher” would barely cover a basic health insurance plan in the individual market, let alone a policy approaching the health care pre-retirement faculty have. This amounts to giving people who gave their entire working lives to PASSHE and PASSHE students a kick in the ass on their way out the door.

And I could go on (and on and on) as the list of attacks seemed endless. In a classic divide-and-conquer strategy, the Chancellor was attempting to pit temporary faculty against tenured and tenure-track faculty, junior faculty against senior faculty and, of course, students against faculty. PASSHE consistently and publicly cried about being “broke,” that unless faculty accepted these terms the financial burden would be passed on to already-struggling students and their families. But then there were the facts. As APSCUF’s lead negotiator, Stuart Davidson, explained at an APSCUF Legislative Assembly meeting in September 2012, PASSHE is sitting on about a half a BILLION dollars in reserves. I don’t know many people who would look at an institution with a half a billion dollars in a rainy-day savings account as “broke.”

Cavanaugh’s agenda was never about real economic conditions anyway. What we have seen is a different version of the attack on working families, collective bargaining, and the public sector that has spread across the country like wild-fire, fueled by fringe, right-wing Republican legislative victories in 2010. As I wrote about in a previous article, “Smashing Apples: Shock Doctrine for Public Education – That’s What It’s All About,”  in that same September 2012 Legislative Assembly meeting:

Davidson [our Chief Negotiator] said that from his perspective, PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh has sought to “virtually gut our collective bargaining agreement” from the beginning of negotiations. He is seeking to “eliminate faculty’s role in governance,” “shift $8 million in health care costs onto faculty,” and to go after the structure of the State System itself. While PASSHE has about half a billion dollars in reserves, the Chancellor continues to insist that PASSHE is broke and he refuses to allow a contract similar to the contract offered to other PASSHE unions. Davidson suggested that he is left with the conclusion that the Chancellor sees this negotiations as an opportunity to “break the union and gain the national spotlight for himself.” At one point, Davidson said, “We cannot allow ourselves to be led quietly to the slaughter at let him get himself on the national stage.” Both Davidson and APSCUF state leadership have come to view our contract negotiations in the same category as the recent Chicago teachers’ strike and Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s attempt to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights.

None of that happened. That’s significant. That’s a win.

Did We Just Really Do That?

As frustrating these past two years of negotiations have been, yes, we just did that. We won a victory – at least when it comes to APSCUF as an organization and union push-back against the assault on working families and the public sphere. Two years of slogging through a seemingly endless negotiations process calls to mind a good piece of advice Thomas Paine offered in Common Sense: 

A long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

For a long time now we have been immersed in a public discourse framed in “economic crisis.” We are living in a Shock Doctrine world. When an employer or a government official waves the “we’re broke we can’t afford this” banner, people tend to jump on board, clamoring for cuts. In that moment, facts and reason are overwhelmed by the tumult. However, as Paine suggests, that tumult soon subsides. The key of the APSCUF victory has been to relentlessly plod forward, waiting for the tumult to subside so that reason could reign again. As has been the case in right-wing attack after right-wing attack, the “fact-based world” – to borrow a phrase from Rachel Maddow – runs in direct opposition to their claims. Their numbers don’t add up – at least in the way they do for the rest of us. Their logic is the logic of demagogues who have been locked in a dark room with each other for way too long, dreaming up an outside world from which they locked themselves away.

In the end, three things seemed to come together at the same time that led to a surprise, marathon bargaining session the weekend of February 1. Chancellor John Cavanaugh gave PASSHE and, as it turns out, APSCUF an early Christmas present by resigning his $357,500 position in December, effective February 28, 2013. The Chancellor’s surprise announcement cause the last-minute cancellation of a bargaining session and, apparently, threw PASSHE’s “cut, gut, and punish” strategy into flux.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASecond, on January 24th, over 500 APSCUF members converged on the PASSHE Board of Governors meeting in Harrisburg, PA to demand a contract. I have to say that in my 10+ years involvement in APSCUF I have never seen our members with such determination – a determination that comes from that visceral experience of having had enough. While there have been members who have sniped on social media about the fact that “only” 500+ members showed up, it was, as far as I can tell, the strongest showing of APSCUF members at a statewide, negotiations related protest in my memory. Despite freezing temperatures and an early morning start, APSCUF members were loud, determined, and pretty clear that either we get a quick resolution to this contract, or we strike.

Finally, the Board of Governors was going to be facing having to hire a Chancellor in the midst of the most contentious labor dispute in PASSHE’s history. Not exactly a welcome mat. It appears that no other PASSHE Vice-Chancellor had the stomach for the kind of “transformation” that Cavanaugh was pushing, despite their significant, six-figure salaries.

Call it a harmonic convergence.

So, in the first significant bargaining session after PASSHE officials’ heads stopped spinning from the news of the imminent departure of their Shock Doctrinaire leader, an agreement was reached in a two-day, bargaining sprint.

The question now is whether APSCUF and progressive organizations across the state will claim this as a win against the broader attack against workers and all things public that the right-wing seems determined to keep waging. From my perspective, we HAVE to recognize the significance of this victory. I know there will be those who will be more interested in bemoaning the continual erosion of faculty salaries and who will, therefore, dismiss APSCUF’s fight back efforts as insignificant. I for one will be angry at the erosion of my salary and the impact this will continue to have on my family, on my children and THEN will get back to organizing. And there’s a lot of reasons to organize right now. PA Governor Corbett is seeking to privatize more of the State’s assets, stripping away more middle-class jobs and handing over huge sums of tax-payer dollars to unregulated corporations. Republicans in the State House are unveiling their plans to bring anti-collective bargaining legislation to the floor and privatize our public schools. Not to mention that since our negotiations took two years and our new four-year contract will be retroactive to July 2011, APSCUF will be back at the negotiations table in no time.

So, yes, this can be a turning point if we are willing to put in the work to continue to organize and mobilize. And, we have to be willing to recognize the effectiveness of a fight-back strategy. When it comes time to cast my vote, I will vote to ratify this contract. But my “YES” vote will be no more an affirmation that it is an awesome contract than a vote for Barack Obama is a vote for a progressive, pro-labor president. Context matters. My “YES” vote will be an affirmation of what we, as a union, fought back and a commitment to fight even harder the day after I cast my ballot.

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On Nov. 12, 13, and 14 APSCUF members across the state will be voting to give our negotiating the team the authority to call a strike if negotiations reach an impasse. What might be one of the main points of conflict?

 

 

 

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Chancellor Cavanaugh wants to cut temporary faculty salaries by 35%. That would move a temporary faculty member’s family from earning a living wage to qualifying for food stamps. Not in our house!

Here’s a great image from our colleagues at West Chester University. I think the Hand of Temps should make an appearance at Kutztown.  “Like” WCU Adjuncts facebook page and show your support! http://www.facebook.com/WcuAdjuncts

 

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For a while now I’ve been wanting to write a post responding to several emails and comments I’ve received about this blog.  The specific emails and comments I have in mind have to do with concerns that the XChange is simply “preaching to the choir.”  In all but a couple of cases, these concerns were expressed by people who are invested in building a stronger union, who want to push our local and state union to be more proactive, and who are, by their own admission, part of the choir.

Anyone who has been involved in progressive politics, activism, or labor organizing is undoubtedly familiar with some version of this line of argument: progressives/ activists/ organizers/etc. spend way too much time talking to each other an not enough time trying convince those who are not already on our side.  This claim, of course, is an important one.  But I have always been troubled by an unarticulated consequence of this line of argument that devalues what I might call “rhetorics of solidarity” in favor of “public rhetorics.”  That is, an implication of the criticism that a blog like this is “preaching to the choir” is that a blog like this should strive to reach a “general public” or that the work of a blog like this is a “waste of time.”  Let me emphasize once again that I do not think that was the intention of those who took the time to write me. However, I think these criticisms are part of bigger discourse about what kind of work is valued by progressive/activist/labor communities.

One of the podcasts that I listen to is “Media Matters with Bob McChesney,” which comes out of University of Illinois Public Radio station WILL AM 580. On May 9th, McChesney had Jessica Clark and Tracy Van Slyke on the program discussing their new book, Beyond the Echo Chamber: How Networked Progressive Media Can Reshape American Politics.  Most of the discussion  was centered around the rise of what has become known as the “progressive blogosphere” and how emergent networked media is helping challenge the mainstream media’s lack of critical reporting.

At one point in the discussion McChesney raised the issue of the progressive blogosphere “preaching to the choir.”  Clark and Van Slyke were quick to take issue with the whole notion of preaching with the choir, preferring instead to foreground the concept of “assembling the choir.”  That is, Clark and Van Slyke drew attention to the importance of “rhetorics of solidarity” to a broader progressive project.  In their book, Clark and Van Slyke argue that

“preaching” is actually a false description of what many progressive projects do…it is the assembling and activating of the choir that is the critical strategy.  Just as churches, temples, or mosques serve as the hubs for those seeking to examine and fortify their beliefs, a number of media outlets have evolved into central meeting places for those looking to join, debate, and strengthen political movements (148).

A bit further on they quote from Bob Ostertag’s book, People’s Movements, People’s Press: The Journalism of Social Justice Movements about the importance of “solidarity rhetoric” to any developing social movement:

if we seek a voice in shaping our society beyond our immediate social circle, we have to step outside our daily existence into roles which we are not accustomed and for which we have little or no institutional support.  We have to band together to maximize our very limited time and resources.  Before we can do any of that, we have to find each other–identify others with the same interests who are also willing to step outside their daily lives to pursue our long-shot objectives.  We have to see who’s good at what, who else is doing what, who might rise to the occasion if given half a chance.  We have to make plans, formulate strategies, set priorities.  We have to agitate, educate, mobilize, confront, and more.  In short, we have to constitute ourselves as a political subject, a constituency, a social movement.  And if this we had done this sometime between 1830 and 2000 we would have made a newspaper.  In most cases, it would have been the first thing we did (148-9).

Clark and Van Slyke then add that “From 2000-2008, the first thing that many activists and journalists did to join and define the progressive movement was to start a blog” (149).

Frankly, I think that this work–the work of constituting ourselves as a political subject–has been glaringly absent from both our local and State union work.  This book is helping me think through some of the issues I raised in some earlier posts about the DIY ethic.  It’s that “constitutive work” that has been absent from our union work in any sustainable way.  Since I’ve been here, there have been moments of this work, but in each case it seemed as though we were constituted as a political subject by circumstances. To put it in the terms of my field, we responded to an external exigence–for example, our last contract negotiation.  The problem with that kind of dynamic is that when the exigence is gone, so is the “stuff” that helped link people together.  Some of this is unavoidable, of course.  But it is clear to me that we need more forums–not ONLY the XChange–in which this work takes place.

As the fall semester quickly approaches, so does our next round of contract negotiations and strike preparations.  Our contract expiration date, June 30, 2011, seems like a ways away at this point, but I can promise you that it will be upon us sooner that any of us would like.  And it promises to be a difficult contract negotiations year.  With the organizing we will do, will come new networks of affinity and we will once again constitute ourselves as a political subject.  The question remains as to whether or not we will consciously try and do so or if we will be constituted by circumstances.

For my part, I will continue my work on the XChange as a small piece of constitutive work.  I’m on the other side of the “preaching to the choir” criticisms, recognizing what I think is of value in this little experiment.  That does not mean that I think that the work of getting the word out to the “public,” or establishing effective communication among all of our members is not important.  In fact, I think it’s absolutely critical. And so I return to the critics.  Yes, you’re right.  We do need to do more than “assembling the choir.”

I challenge you to do it.

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In a recent comment on this blog, APSCUF president Steve Hicks referred to a set of “directives” sent to local APSCUF presidents.  The “directives” refer to a September 23, 2009 memo sent from the head of APSCUF’s contract department, Mary Rita DuVall-Quinn to chapter presidents.

Here is a link to the full-text of the retrenchment memo:

9-23-09 Retrenchment Memo

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John Riley put together a basic outline of the process of retrenchment and faculty rights under retrenchment.  Obviously, there are many more important questions that need to be answered, but I think this is a good guide to some immediate questions.  I did add this to the “Know Your Contract: Article 29” post, but it made sense to post it here as well.

1. Retrenchment works on a “reverse seniority” basis and it begins with faculty with the least amount of service.  Temporary and part-time faculty are the most vulnerable, followed by probationary non-tenured faculty.
2. A position cannot be eliminated without proper notification. First-year probationary faculty must be notified by March 1st. Everyone else has a later notification date (see Article 29 F).  No timely notification, no retrenchment.
3. A faculty member receiving a letter of retrenchment is entitled to preferential hiring rights and health and welfare benefits are extended six months past retrenchment.
4. A retrenched faculty member has the right to apply for vacancies at other PASSHE institutions. If deemed qualified by the receiving president they shall be appointed at their previous rank and step. (see Article 29 G).
5. A retrenched faculty member is entitled to unemployment compensation.
Ken Ehrensal adds two additional points:
  1. first, they cannot have a retrenchment without declaring a financial emergency/exigency;
  2. second, once they have done the previous, they must open the books and the budget to us for scrutiny and cut every other discretionary expenditure before people can be let go.

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