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In case you missed it over on Raging Chicken Press,  I was talking about my recent article, “Wall Street on the Susquehanna: PASSHE Bond Scheme Bleeds Education Budget for Beautiful Buildings,” on the Rick Smith Show this past Tuesday night.

Click on the image below or CLICK HERE to listen to the interview:

Mahoney on Rick Smith PASSHE Bond Schemes 10-22-13

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This originally appeared in Raging Chicken Press on October 21, 2013. It is a fairly long article detailing changes in PASSHE policies regarding new buildings and capital projects. I am including Part 1 of the article here with brief excerpts from other parts. To read the complete article, click “READ THE FULL ARTICLE” at the bottom of the post or go to the original right now by CLICKING HERE

This past July, eight of the fourteen PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities sent letters to their faculty and staff warning of the possibility of deep cuts, layoffs, and program elimination (what they like to call “retrenchment”). University presidents at California, Cheney, Clarion, Edinboro, East Stroudsburg, Kutztown, Mansfield, and Slippery Rock all shouted “crisis” and warned that unless they resorted to strict austerity measures, the end, would indeed, be near.

Clarion University led the PASSHE austerity train, announcing on August 15th that it would slash over 40 jobs – including 22 faculty jobs – and eliminate a number of academic programs. On September 10th, Edinboro University joined the party announcing it would cut 40 faculty, 9 staff members, six managers and a host of academic programs. Two weeks later, on September 25th, Mansfield University announced it intended to eliminate nearly 20% of their 170 faculty members. That same day, East Stroudburg University indicated that it was slowly marching toward retrenchment. Two PASSHE universities, California and Kutztown, were spared a similar fate this academic year. California University miraculously found that it did not, after all, have an $11.8 million dollar budget deficit as it had reported in the spring. Instead, Cal U is looking at a $5.8 million surplus. Ooops! Kutztown University’s president, Javier Cevallos, announced that Kutztown would be putting off the most painful cuts until next year: “Current estimates project a $10.3 million deficit for 2014-15, which will be addressed through a combination of base budget cuts and one-time funds,” he wrote in an October 2nd “Presidential Update.” And, as I reported last week, Slippery Rock’s provost is seeking a “third way” austerity plan – and if faculty do not agree to departmental transfers by Thursday, October 24, the ax may fall there too. The fate of the remaining PASSHE universities is still unclear. However, university presidents are rapidly approaching an October 30 deadline for reporting their intentions to eliminate any tenured faculty members.

To say it’s been an “interesting” start of the academic year for the 100,000+ students and 6,000+ faculty and coaches at PASSHE universities is an understatement. Left hanging in the balance are people’s current and future livelihoods. As I recently wrote on Raging Chicken, PASSHE’s mantra is that faculty and staff salaries and, more recently, a decline in enrollment are the reasons for the deep budget shortfalls. However, despite their continued proclamations, the numbers have never added up. My most recent post on PASSHE’s budget deceptions, “PASSHE’s Austerity Magic: Save Your Despair for Better Days,” highlighted the significant increases in spending on capital projects – buildings – at Kutztown University. As I suggested in that article, the pattern at Kutztown is not limited to that PASSHE university. In fact, it points to a much more widespread practice that has gone virtually unnoticed until the recent ouster of California University of Pennsylvania president, Angelo Armenti, Jr. (more on that in a little bit).

The budget “crisis” at PASSHE universities has its roots in a long-term defunding of public higher education in PA, Wall-Street-esque risky investment schemes, and a virtual lack of oversight.

Part I: How (Not) to Fund the College Experience

PASSHE Appropriations v ENGPennsylvania vies for the top spot when it comes to the size and cost of its state legislature. PA also has the lowest percentage of public workers in the United States. In the best of times, that scenario might lead to excellent representation and efficient government. More recently, however, it has meant a right-wing Republican Party intent on destroying the public sector and a shrinking number of public employees to handle the work of cleaning up their messes. Anyone paying attention to what’s happened in PA since the 2010 mid-term elections, knows the story all too well. Newly elected governor, Tom Corbett, put public education – K-12 and higher ed – on the chopping block from day one. In his first year as Governor, K-12 schools were cut by $1 billion; PASSHE universities were cut by 20%. The trend has continued. There is no doubt that Corbett’s shock doctrine policies for public education have hit PASSHE universities hard. However, Corbett’s cuts were really a more extreme version of what had been happening for decades. In 1983-84 State appropriations accounted for almost 65% of PASSHE’s budget, while tuition and fees amounted to just over 35%. In 2011-12, State appropriations amounted to just over 25% of PASSHE’s budget, with tuition and fees reaching nearly 75%.

For more than three decades, the “free market” mantra of right-wing think tanks and policy makers, have eroded investment in all things public. However, as Dina Ransor made clear in a 2011 article for Truthout, their claims don’t match their outcomes:

This belief that the “free market” will always do better than the government at any task has increased over the years until each president since Reagan has taken it as a given.

Even Bill Clinton pushed to shrink the federal employee workforce by “outsourcing” the work to supposedly cheaper contract workers to save money during his “reinventing government” effort. This craze to outsource as much of the federal government as possible hit its height during the second Bush administration. Saving money was always the reason given, but there was very little actual proof that this was true.

The situation in Pennsylvania was no different. Over the past three decades, Pennsylvania state legislators of both political parties slowly abandoned investments in public higher education as a public good. Instead, higher education became a “service” or a “commodity” that students – now “customers” – bought. Politicians and policy makers from both political parties gradually, but decidedly, drank the free market Kool-Aid instead of reenergizing efforts to invest in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.

While the steady decline in State appropriations significantly contributed to the current “budget crises” at several PASSHE universities, several under-the-radar policy changes at the top-levels of PASSHE’s administration during the last decade have continued to drain the universities’ already diminished “Education and General Fund,” or “E&G” budgets. One of the most devastating came during the tenure of former PA Governor, Ed Rendell. Yes, the Democrat.

Part II: Of Bonds and Balance Sheets (Down the Rabbit Hole)

Until 2000, PASSHE had a fairly centralized process for initiating new building projects on any of its 14 universities and the official guidelines were pretty murky. The one Board of Governor’s policy that addresses planning for new buildings (Policy 1995-01-A), “Facilities Projects Contract Compliance Program” had more to do with ensuring compliance with Act 188’s Nondiscrimination Policy (Section 20-2014-A) with respect to the awarding of state contracts, than it did with laying out a process for making decisions about where to build and why. Under Section E, “Program Administration Responsibilities,” Policy 1995-01-A stated:

The Chancellor of his/her designee shall serve at the program authority to administer a System-wide uniform Contract Compliance Program. Each university president shall be responsible to the Chancellor for implementation of the Nondiscrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity Program at his/her institution. The president may designate and delegate responsibility to a qualified contract compliance officer and other staff as necessary to implement the program.

There is not a single mention of how the Chancellor, Board of Governors, or anyone else for that matter, decides when new buildings need to be built. The one thing this old policy does establish is a centralized process of communication and compliance. That is, it is clear that the Chancellor’s office is where the authority initiates. Administrators at each PASSHE university comply with “orders” issued by the Chancellor’s office.

Policy 1995-01-A was “repealed by the action of Board of Governors on July 13, 2000 and replaced with Board Policy 2000-02, “Capital Facilities, Planning, Programming, and Funding,” on that same date. Board Policy 2000-02 is much more extensive; it lays out the process for making decisions about new buildings. Three parts of the new policy are significant for my purposes here.

1. Decentralize New Building Planning …

2. Privatize Funding for New Buildings and Capital Projects Incrementally …

3. Finance New Building from University Education and General Funds …

***

Part III: Talking to the Taxman about Poetry above the Sounds of Ideologies Clashing so We Can Help Save the Youth of America

Keep in mind that under the current PASSHE Board of Governor’s policy 50% of the funds for new building projects have to come from “alternative funds,” primarily funds raised from external sources. In the post-collapse environment, those “alternative funds” were hard to come by, but the bills were still coming in and universities had to find ways to pay “bond expenses including fees, debt service, and principal” that they had agreed to pay at the beginning of the process. So, universities are forced to dip into their financial reserves and E&G funds to make their bond payments – funds that should have been used for educational purposes.

So, naturally, PASSHE’s Board of Governors stopped approving new building projects in the post-collapse environment, right? I mean it would be irresponsible to issue additional debt for universities who were now struggling to make their existing bond payments, right? Wrong.

Check out this table compiled by the faculty union, APSCUF, based on PASSHE’s 2008-2012 audited financial statements. The top part of the table shows new capital purchases – that is, new buildings and the like – for each of the 14 PASSHE universities over those years. The bottom part of the table shows the interest and/or principle payments toward each of the universities’ debt for those same years.

Capital Debt and Payment

***

Part IV: Smoke and Mirrors Budgeting: There’s More than One Way to Sink a Ship

Do you remember Enron? Here’s a little refresher from Wikipedia:

Enron Corporation was an American energy, commodities, and services company based in Houston, Texas. Before its bankruptcy on December 2, 2001, Enron employed approximately 20,000 staff and was one of the world’s major electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies, with claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion during 2000.[1]Fortune named Enron “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years.

At the end of 2001, it was revealed that its reported financial condition was sustained substantially by an institutionalized, systematic, and creatively planned accounting fraud, known since as the Enron scandal. Enron has since become a well-known example of willful corporate fraud and corruption. The scandal also brought into question the accounting practices and activities of many corporations in the United States and was a factor in the creation of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002. The scandal also affected the greater business world by causing the dissolution of the Arthur Andersen accounting company.[2]

Enron Stock TankEnron’s finance people used a whole slew of “off-balance sheet” accounting practices that allowed the corporation to omit significant liabilities – debts – from their official books and filings. Enron, for sure, went far beyond these legal, if not quite ethical, accounting practices and committed numerous acts of fraud. And, the fact is that “off-balance sheet” financing schemes were all the rage when Enron went down in flames.

“Off-balance sheet” financing schemes were especially popular U.S. colleges and universities as a way to finance new building projects in the absence of significant endowments. It was part of the “public-private partnership” (PPPs) craze of the early 2000s that I discussed above. In a 2010 National Association of College and University Business Officers article assessing the impact of the financial crisis on “off-balance sheet” building projects at colleges and universities, Roger Bruszewski, Sam Jung and Jeffrey Turner note that many colleges and universities entered into PPPs “through the university’s existing foundation, a newly developed university-affiliated foundation, or a collaboration with an unaffiliated national foundation that partners with institutions.”  One of “benefits” of this model was that these projects were treated as “off-credit, off-balance sheet transaction[s] that preserved institutional borrowing capacity and balance sheet integrity.” That is, bond rating companies did not consider debt from “off-balance sheet” projects as part of a school’s liabilities. As the authors note, “many of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools have continued to utilize this approach.” However good these schemes looked initially, the authors warn:

Over the past several years, however, the off-credit, off-balance sheet transactions have come under considerable scrutiny from lenders, rating agencies, and accounting standards boards because of the direct or indirect ties between the project and institution. Over time developers and universities learned that a project can meet the qualifications to be off-balance sheet and still be included in an institution’s debt profile. These initial on-campus project financings were completed without any developer equity and as 100 percent “project-based” debt. Typically, a not-for-profit entity owned the improvements (subject to a ground lease) and the developer was paid a fee to complete the project. The capital markets determined that because of the absence of equity, the high loan-to-value ratio, the project-based nature of the debt, and the lack of any meaningful developer commitment to the project, an institution was the only logical backstop in the event of trouble. “This ‘moral obligation’ resulted in potentially negative implications for an institution’s debt capacity,” states Bill Bayless, president and chief executive officer at American Campus Communities.

And, it turned out, these warnings bore fruit. In 2012, the bond rating agency Moody’s downgraded PASSHE’s credit rating from Aa2 to Aa3 (click here for explanation of Moody’s ratings) in part because of increasing debt and off-balance sheet projects. Under “Challenges” for PASSHE, Moody’s listed:

  • High balance sheet leverage from substantial increase in debt since FY 2004, with total pro-forma debt rising to nearly $2.36 billion, driven largely by privatized student housing debt issued for replacement student residences on State System’s university campuses.
  • Debt structure of member university foundations to fund replacement student housing includes variable rate debt requiring bank support or direct bank placement adding risk of liquidity demands of the foundations’ own modest resources and expectations of PASSHE to step in to fund or assume management or ownership of the housing facility

***

Remember the backdrop we’re all working with here. PASSHE university presidents across the state are screaming about budget shortfalls and the need to make deep cuts to faculty, staff and academic programs – and not just at the universities that are most immediately under the budget ax. The new PASSHE Chancellor, Frank Brogan, had made it clear that the cuts will continue, remarking In October 10 during a media briefing, “Make no doubt about it, retrenchment is here.” And the story from PASSHE’s administration continues to be that the “problem” comes from “rising costs” from faculty and staff salaries – no matter how clear the data is disproving that claim.

In reality, the costs of more than a decade of irresponsible building projects and sketchy oversight will be borne by faculty, staff and students. And, like the Wall Street fraud that led to the Great Recession of 2009, the people who gambled with our money – with the money that we expected to be responsibly invested in our future and the future of our children – will walk away, pointing their fingers at all of us.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE on Raging Chicken Press

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Note: This article was published earlier today on Raging Chicken Press. An excerpt appears below. You can read the full article by clicking the link at the end, or you can go to the original article now by clicking here

Last week, Clarion University announced what it called a “bold, ambitious workforce plan” that will result in the elimination of over 40 jobs, including 22 faculty. This is only the latest blow to a Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) university in a state that seems hell bent on gutting public higher education. This past May, Raging Chicken Press reported on plans to retrench – that is, fire – faculty members at East Stroudsburg University and the long battles with austerity-minded administrators at Kutztown University is a familiar story to our readers.

What sets the move at Clarion apart from previous PASSHE cuts is that it may be the lead example of “transformation” at state universities championed by the system’s Board of Governors. PASSHE’s last Chancellor, John Cavanaugh, released a new vision for PASSHE in November 2010 called simply enough, “PASSHE Transformation.” That document laid out in general terms PASSHE’s intention to take the 14 university system in a different direction:

The vision includes four major components, all grounded in the need for transformation: (a) how, when, and where learning occurs; (b) how the resources necessary to ensure learning are pursued, retained, and sustained; (c) how our universities relate to their various communities; and (d) how we partner with the Commonwealth to create and deliver a shared vision for the future. Only through transformation, grounded in a thoughtful reexamination of our historic emphasis on high quality student learning opportunities, will our success be assured during these very difficult economic times [bold in original].

In my review of Cavanaugh’s tenure as PASSHE Chancellor after he announced he was headed out the door for greener pastures in Washington, DC, I note that Cavanaugh’s vision of “transformation” was lock-in-step with what’s happening to public education at all levels across the nation:

Anyone paying attention to what was and is going on in higher education policy, especially in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, saw the coded language consistent with those seeking to privatize and profitize education at all levels. Take, for example, language from the Broad Foundation, founded by Eli Broad – #157 on the Forbes Billionaire list with a personal net worth of $6.3 billion. Broad is a major contributor to Democratic Party candidates with close associations with Democrats favoring anti-labor, Michelle Rhee-type “reforms” to public education. At the center of the Broad Foundation agenda is, you guessed it, “transformation” of public education. Cavanaugh’s “PASSHE Transformation” memo seemed to signal the austerity to come, squeezing PAASHE’s limited resources and striking a blow to our 6,000+ member union.

While Cavanaugh’s memo was short on specifics, what it meant was not lost on the faculty union. In a scathing piece of satire, “The Great Stalin Plan for the Transformation of PASSHE,” president Steve Hicks and vice president Ken Mash of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) wrote:

Perhaps you’ve seen the Chancellor’s latest on “PASSHE Transformation?”  It’s amazing how a document so short on details can still manage to rankle.  The very notion that students and faculty will be transformed is enough to disturb, but its implicit anti-intellectual message really vexes.  It’s hard to ignore the presumptuousness that could lead some to conclude that “transformation” is necessary or, even worse, that they somehow single-handedly possess the knowledge of what that transformation ought to be and that it should be imposed from above.

Clarion University’s new “workforce plan” reads more like an accounting ledger than it does a document that helps guide the university to best serve students of the Commonwealth. Clarion’s plan is clearly situated within the growing right-wing, “market-based” proposals to “reform” everything public. Rather than putting forth a strategic plan based on an academically sound rationale, we are treated to a consumer vision of higher education: “eliminating academic programs which no longer hold the interest, based on enrollment trends, of our students.”

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This article was originally posted on Raging Chicken Press. I will be posting a series of articles about the incoming chancellor, Frank Brogan, in the upcoming weeks. 

Brogan Florida squareLast week the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board of Governors chose Frank Brogan to become the next Chancellor of the 14 public university system. Brogan is currently the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida. Brogan becomes the third consecutive PASSHE Chancellor to make the 14 plus hour drive from Florida to Pennsylvania. Judy Hample, the former Chancellor of the Florida’s State University System, served as PASSHE Chancellor from 2001 to 2008. From 2008 until this past February, former President of West Florida University, John C. Cavanaugh, became the Chancellor that would preside over the longest faculty contract fight in PASSHE history. This “Florida Connection” has helped usher in an approach to public higher education that favors austerity, privatization, and anti-unionism.

Unlike every previous Chancellor search, this time around the Board of Governors decided to pass a new policy that required members of the chancellor search committee to sign confidentiality agreements. According to the new policy, passed unanimously on January 11, 2013,

Preserving confidentiality in the search for a Chancellor is essential to recruiting and retaining the most qualified candidates. All applications and deliberations about individual applications shall remain wholly confidential until the appointment of a new Chancellor is publicly announced. Each member of the search committee must agree to maintain this confidentiality. The Chancellor Search Committee Chair may at his or her sole discretion remove from the committee who violates confidentiality.

PASSHE’s new policy, ensured that the public, faculty, students, parents, and citizens of the Commonwealth would be denied access to deliberations and a thorough vetting of prospective candidates. After the white smoke rose from the Dixon Center on Wednesday, August 7, PASSHE issued a statement on its webpage introducing Frank Brogan as the next chancellor and explaining the Board’s decision.

“The chancellor search focused on recruiting an “experienced leader who, from day one, can guide the System through the rapidly changing higher education landscape,” Mr. Pichini said. “We were looking for a strong administrator and a transformational leader who will collaborate with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders representing divergent views on what is best for our students and their families.
“Frank Brogan will be that leader.” Mr. Pichini continued. “He has had an impressive record of success throughout his career. He understands the many complexities and challenges facing public higher education and the vital role public universities play both in preparing students for a lifetime of their own success and in ensuring the economic vitality of the state. We are excited about him becoming our next chancellor.”

PASSHE’s official statement, however, serves more as a public relations press release than an in-depth look at who Frank Brogan is and what kind of policy approaches he will bring to Pennsylvania. The more you reread Pichini’s words, the more hollow they ring. How did the Board understand what this “rapidly changing higher education landscape,” is? What exactly constitutes a “strong administrator” and a “transformational leader?” Who are these “traditonal” and “non-traditional” stakeholders? And when Pichini says Brogan has “an impressive record of success throughout his career,” we should pause and ask “success at what?” One can “succeed” in ensuring all students have access to affordable, public education; but, one can also “succeed” in wresting control of education away from educators and handing it over to corporate profiteers, right?

The fact is that students, faculty, staff, parents, and Pennsylvanians deserve better than a closed door, Papal conclave-esque process of decision-making. And yet, here we are. Given that all the “traditional and non-traditional stakeholders” have been prevented from vetting any of the Board’s hand-selected candidates, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

If you read any of the media coverage last week, you probably know these basics:

  • Frank Brogan is currently the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida
  • Before that he was the President of Florida Atlantic University
  • Before that he was Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Lieutenant Governor
  • Before that he was Florida’s Commissioner of Education
  • Before that he was a school teacher, principal, and administrator

You might have also enjoyed the “Brogan Love” making it into the reporting: “Frank T. Brogan was the first member of his family to go to college. He didn’t blow the opportunity,” reported the Morning Call. “Brogan was a consensus builder who rallied support for the universities and persuaded lawmakers to restore $300 million in reserve funds and increase state support by 6 percent for 2013-14 after years of cuts,” Tom Auxter, President of the United Faculty of Florida, told Pittsburgh’s TribLive. ” “Experienced leader. Visionary. Knowledgeable in dealing with government types. A passion for education. Financially creative. Unquestionable integrity…The board decided … that Frank Brogan … filled that bill,” led the Patriot-News. Most of the reporting, however, fairly accurately reflected PASSHE’s press release. The fact remains that Frank Brogan is a relative unknown for Pennsylvanians. And that should be at the very least concerning given the  assault on public, higher education carried out by Gov. Tom Corbett since 2011.

So, who is this guy? And, more importantly, what do we know about the kind of “transformation” he’s got packed in those bags of his?

Key Player in Bringing Vouchers and Charters to Public Education

Long before Brogan became involved with higher education administration, he was one of the strongest proponents of vouchers and privatizing public education – a fact, we should note, that does not appear on his Wikipedia page. In 1995, Brogan was one of the 12 founding members of the Education Leaders Council (ELC). The conservative leaning Washington Times reported at the time that the ELC had an explicit conservative, pro-privatization agenda:

A dozen top state education officials today will announce the formation of an organization oriented toward local control of schools, rigorous academic standards, and parents’ right to choose the schools their children attend.

Six state school chiefs and six state school board members form the nucleus of the Education Leaders Council, a network of largely conservative school leaders who promise to abandon “the status quo and the Washington-always-knows-what’s-best philosophy of education reform.”

Formation of the council, which will be based in Washington and at least temporarily affiliated with the Center for Education Reform, signals a crack in the liberal education lobby that education analysts say is “a delayed reaction” to the 1994 elections that gave Republicans control of Congress.

Two of the state school chiefs spinning off into a new organization have withdrawn from the 87-year-old Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) because it spends their money to lobby against programs they favor. Others may follow suit.

The ELC’s roots as an outgrowth of the pro-privatization, anti-union Center for Education Reform marked a calculated strategy by pro-corporate conservatives to launch an offensive against the American system of public schools with elected officials in the spotlight of a new organization. The ELC seems to have been spawned at a July 29-30 meeting of conservative education administrators at the 1995 National Governors Conference (now the National Governors Association, who were responsible for authoring the “Common Core” for the nation’s public schools). A Center for Education Reform press release dated July 29, 1995, describes the meeting as follows:

Education officials from at least five states will hold a private meeting at this weekend’s National Governors’ Conference to discuss what options are available to them in achieving such education reform measures as standards and assessments, school finance, charter schools and to increase local control.

In that same press release, founder and president of the Center for Education Reform, Jeanne Allen, described the reason for the meeting as follows:

Some of the issues that are most important to these officials – and to parents in their states – are taboo among education special-interest lobbies…You can’t discuss choice, or charter schools, or even standards, without setting off alarms and inviting heavily funded, and, frankly, some heavy-handed attacks from education unions, lobbies, associations.

Allen contemptuously calls the collection of education unions, lobbies, and associations “the blob.”

Click here to continue reading this post on Raging Chicken Press

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Death Threat Note to Quinn

This article was originally published on Raging Chicken Press earlier today. You can read the full article here and check out our continuing coverage of KU’s new gun policy. 

This past week, Kutztown students, faculty and staff were first learning of the university’s new weapons policy which opens the campus to guns. The new policy, according to the Morning Call, will give “Kutztown more gun freedom than most of the state-owned universities, even more than the sample policy suggested by the state’s attorneys,” despite statements to the contrary by the university’s president, Javier Cevallos. It didn’t take long before the radical, pro-gun playbook showed its ugly face. Shortly after he first heard about the policy under consideration at an April meeting of Kutztown’s Administrative Council, the president of the faculty union, Dr. Paul Quinn, began receiving anonymous death threats.  Faculty first learned of these threats at a May 9th meeting of the union’s Representative Council and the Morning Call reported on the threats this past Friday.

I spoke with Quinn over the weekend about what happened.

Quinn, a physics professor, said after his classes on Thursday, May 2,  he walked into his office to find that someone slipped a folded note under his office door. “At first, I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. “I opened the note and it said, ‘Drop the gun issue or else.'”

Quinn said that after he read the note he immediately made several calls, including one to the Executive Director of Kutztown’s Human Resources department. She told Quinn to go to the police immediately. “I alerted my Chair and my Chair said yes, go.” Quinn and a union representative met with  Kutztown University’s Director of Police Services and Acting Chief of Police, John Dillon shortly afterwards.  “The only time I could get there was around two o’clock,” Quinn explained. “I had an office hour from 1:30 to 3:00. So, I normally would have been in my office. I went at two o’clock to deliver that note to Public Safety. When I got back an hour and a half later, there was a second note under the door. The second note said, ‘What scares you more, guns or death?’”

“What this means,” Quinn said, “is that someone was watching.”

Up until a union Representative Council meeting on Thursday, May 9, the only official word about the university’s new gun policy from the union came from a May 3 email from Quinn to faculty. The email included links to the university’s old policy and the new policy. Quinn wrote,

Fellow Faculty,

Here is some information for you to be aware of.  The administration has decided to change the current weapons policy on campus.  The link to the new policy is included below.  Administrative Council discussed it at their last meeting, and now it has been posted on the website.  I am sending you this email so that you are aware of this change.  I have attached the previous policy so that you can see what the comparisons are for yourself.  This change seems to be occurring at other Universities in the state system, one of which is Millersville, however, not all have adopted the change at this point.  Please be aware that you should NOT be discussing this in your classes unless it is related to the material covered in your course.  Feel free to talk about it OUTSIDE of your classes, but discussion in classes can lead to discipline.  We will be discussing this change at Representative Council next week.  Have a good weekend.

The fact that Quinn received death threats on the day before he wrote this email to faculty suggested that a person or group of people think that Quinn is leading an opposition to the university’s gun policy. “What’s weird is that I have not taken a position on this new policy,” Quinn said.

According to Quinn, the first he or faculty members on the university’s safety committee had heard of the new policy was at the last Administrative Council meeting on April 19. “After a five-minute discussion, they wanted to vote on it,” Quinn recounted. Quinn said that he did not have time to digest the impact of the policy, so he abstained from voting. “I didn’t vote yes or no.” Quinn said he wanted a chance to better understand the issue. “It was my understanding — and the understanding of other faculty members on Administrative Council — that the university administration still had to work with PASSHE on the policy and it probably wouldn’t be effective until the fall, which is why I thought I had time to discuss and get input.”

Quinn contacted other faculty members who have experience in law and public policy — some who were also avid gun owners — to ask their opinions. Quinn was given several resources to help him look into the issue. When Quinn asked Kutztown President Javier Cevallos if the new policy was public, Cevallos said it was. “So, this policy was not secret, I planned on bringing it up at Meet and Discuss and at Rep Council,” Quinn said.

Quinn presented the new policy at the union’s next Executive Committee meeting. “I talked about it with Exec and Exec was furious” that this was the first they had heard that the university administration was writing a new weapons policy. “So we decided that we would contact a lawyer to get a white paper opinion from someone who was not APSCUF or PASSHE,” Quinn explained. “Somehow, that information must have gotten out.” And then came the death threats.

Quinn said their have been additional notes and other forms of intimidation, but he is not at liberty to discuss them as they are now part of an official police investigation. Quinn, however, is not intimidated. After he told his chair of the first note, his chair was very concerned. “He said I needed to go home,” Quinn recalls. “I said, ‘bullshit. I am not going home’.”

To read the rest of the article, CLICK 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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Last night — actually, VERY early this morning — I was searching to see if there were any videos posted by media or individuals of APSCUF’s protest at the PASSHE Board of Governors meeting yesterday. One of my searches brought up a video interview I did for a project some of my colleagues did a couple years back: Union Stories: Kutztown. I did the interview on October 14, 2010, back when we were still working under our previous contract. Now, more than two years later and 19 months without a contract, the story I told in that interview still holds up…for the most part. After two rounds of deep budget cuts, having to fight like hell to prevent our local administration from gutting programs and faculty, and little promise that we can expect anything different for the near future, I hear the edge in my voice when I tell the short version of the story in the 2010 interview. I have a creeping feeling that I am trying to convince myself of something…or that my narrative no longer matches my experience. That’s hard to write, actually.

Coming across this interview was good timing in one respect at least. I was having a conversation with someone a week or so ago who wanted to know why having a union contract was so important to me. I got asked a version of that same question by a FOX 43 reporter yesterday at the APSCUF protest in Harrisburg: “What’s the big deal with working without a contract?” I’ve had versions of this conversation with scores of people over the 10 years I’ve been at Kutztown University. I can’t even begin to count the number of people that wondered why the hell I was going to take a job at Kutztown when I had other offers with lower teaching loads and, in one case, a significantly higher starting salary and in the city I lived in at the time. I had then and have now several reasons. But, one reason stands out above all the rest. I took the job at Kutztown because of the union, because of APSCUF. If Kutztown did not have a unionized faculty, I would have never taken the job. Period.

I’ve tried to make the case for several years that if our contract continues to erode, if our working conditions deteriorate even more, or if we strip away protections and quasi-equity for temporary faculty, then Kutztown – PASSHE as a whole – will not be able to hire AND KEEP quality faculty. We will go elsewhere. That’s sad and infuriating to me. It’s an injustice to the student body we teach and to the mission of the 14 universities that make up PASSHE. But that’s the game that the Chancellor, the Chair of PASSHE Board of Governors, and PASSHE as a whole is playing. They want to strip away quality and leave in its place a degree factory – a State-owned version of ITT Tech or the University of Phoenix.

When I watch my “Union Stories” video now I am keenly aware of why I chose to come to Kutztown, why I am fighting like hell to protect and secure a good contract for ALL faculty, and why I may ultimately end up having to leave. But the game is not up yet and the fight is not lost yet. So, back to work. Here’s the video:

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