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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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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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Yesterday, over 500 faculty members from across the 14 universities that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) converged on the PASSHE Board of Governors meeting at the Dixon Center in Harrisburg. Here’s a couple video snap shots of the action. To check out all the photos I took, you can visit this photo album.

“Contract Now!”

APSCUF President Steve Hicks and Vice President Ken Mash Close Out the Day of Picketing

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APSCUF President Steve Hicks issued a letter to students on Wednesday: NO STRIKE this semester. Here is the full text of the letter:

Faculty know you are worried that your professors will go on strike. We know you are concerned about the impact a strike would have on your classes, your finals, and your tuition dollars. After thoughtful deliberation and consideration about how a strike at this time would affect our students, we have decided to postpone consideration of a strike for the rest of this semester.

APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) and PASSHE (Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education) leaders have negotiations sessions scheduled for December. However, there is still a gulf between your faculty and the Chancellor. He still wants a separate pay scale for some temporary faculty.

He is still proposing increases in payments for reduced health care benefits. He wants to cut our retirement health care and stop offering those benefits to new faculty. He wants to stop payments for distance  education, but has not addressed our concerns about growing class sizes. The Chancellor continues to demand more concessions from your faculty than the Governor asked from our campuses’ hardworking secretaries, groundskeepers and custodians. These negotiations remain about simple fairness.

All of the outstanding issues have a direct effect on the quality of education we provide, as all will impact who is in the classroom and the type of classes that are offered. We know that you understand that the conditions under which faculty work are the conditions under which you learn. We know that you want your university to continue to attract and retain the quality faculty you deserve.

We have done our best to try to avoid a strike. We waited over a year and a half before even uttering the word. We gave the Chancellor several opportunities to settle a fair contract, including a two-year extension proposal and the offer of binding arbitration. We offered to pay more for health care and suggested ways for Chancellor to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care costs. He rejected them all.

We do not want to go on strike. We want to educate our students. However, the core meaning of “union” is one, and we cannot accept the Chancellor’s unsubtle attempts to divide and exploit segments of our faculty union.

The interests of our students are always on our minds. It is why we have waited and hoped that with time we could convince the Chancellor to be fair. With higher education comes the understanding that there are times when people must stand up for themselves. If the only way we can convince the Chancellor to be fair is to go on strike, then we must stand up for ourselves. It is what we would expect of you in the pursuit of fairness. But know that your faculty will only strike as a last resort. You can count on us to continue do all we can to reach a fair agreement.

The last two years, faculty and students worked together to turn back Governor Corbett’s historic budget cuts for our universities. We held rallies and met with legislators who know the value of public higher education. We have stood together for quality education. We can now use your help to avert a strike.

Please write to the Chancellor at jcavanaugh@passhe.edu and tell him to settle a fair contract with the faculty. You do not have to argue our side. Just tell him to be fair. The more he hears from you, the more likely he is to change the proposals even he knows APSCUF cannot in wisdom accept. We appreciate your support.

Steve Hicks
APSCUF president

 


Text APSCUF to 68398 for up-to-date info about negotiations. Like the Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/PAStudentsVoiceand follow it all on Twitter at @PAStudentsVoice.

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Last night on the 10pm newscast, WFMZ ran APSCUF’s strike authorization vote as the lead story. It was a pretty good story and from what I am told, WFMZ actually beat the Associated Press to the story. Pretty cool.

STATE COLLEGE, PA

Delegates from the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties unanimously approved a strike authorization vote Saturday, according to its members.

Delegates from each campus, including Kutztown University and East Stroudsburg University met in State College Saturday for the decision.  The vote will now head to the full membership of the APSCUF.

The vote comes amid stalled contract negotiations….

Check out the full story here

While the story was pretty objective, I posted a couple of my concerns about the story as it ran on the APSCUF-KU 411 facebook page. Here ya go:

Pretty good coverage from WFMZ. While the story as a whole was pretty objective, there are a couple issues of concern:

1) On the 10pm live newscast (not in the text on the linked page) mentions the issue of a 35% cut in the pay for temporary faculty as an “other issue.” That does not reflect the position of our negotiating team or our discussions at yesterday’s Legislative Assembly. The attack on temporary faculty is a CENTRAL issue of contention. PASSHE’s proposal would und

ercut the quality of education and the ability of PASSHE universities to attract high quality faculty. (see Amy Lynch-Biniek’s article on this issue: http://goo.gl/ryycn ).

2) Again, on the 10pm live newscast, but also on the linked page, health care and retiree benefits are simply listed as “issues.” This can leave the impression by viewers/readers that we are asking for MORE benefits – a concern that is born out in the comments on WFMZ web page. APSCUF is no asking for more and the details of what PASSHE has been doing with our health care over the past decade or so is down right despicable, if not criminal. Over $100 million dollars “stolen,” in the words of our lead negotiator, from our health care plans. And, PASSHE wants to TAKE AWAY retiree benefits. That’s the issue. I really hope some crack reporters will get into these issues seriously at some point. It’s like a murder-mystery once you see the details.

All-in-all, though, thanks to WFMZ for the solid coverage. They were one of the first news outlets on the story. I heard tell that they actually be the AP on this one!

We do have our work cut out for us.

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As readers of the XChange know, this past Thursday, APSCUF members from across the state converged on the Dixon Center in Harrisburg for the October meeting of the PASSHE Board of Governors. APSCUF President Steve Hicks reminded the Board that APSCUF’s offer of binding interest arbitration expires this coming Monday – October 15th. As I reported in a previous post, the day before the Board of Governor’s meeting, the Chancellor’s Office told APSCUF that it was limiting public comments from faculty to three speakers each limited to three minutes. You can listen to the public comments made by APSCUF by clicking the links at the end of this post (I was pleased that my recordings came out so well).

I was thrilled to see over 100 faculty members from 12 of the 14 PASSHE universities represented at the Board of Governors meeting. Kutztown was well represented and many of those who could not make it, sent cardboard Avatars thanks to the creative work of some of our members (you can see all my photos of the event on the APSCUF-KU 411 Facebook page). Our picket before the meeting was serious and lively. When we moved inside to the meeting, APSCUF members packed the hall.

Now, we wait until Monday for the Chancellor’s response to our offer of binding interest arbitration. Next Saturday, October 20th, APSCUF has called a special Legislative Assembly in State College with only one item on the agenda: discussion and vote on strike authorization. Meanwhile, around the state, faculty are doing the practical work of preparing for the possibility that we will be forced to go on strike to preserve the quality of our jobs and the quality of education in PASSHE. We are putting whatever we can in savings. We are sending our off-campus email addresses to our local offices. We are making placards. We are planning actions. We are talking to students. We are talking to our neighbors. We are writing letters. We are visiting the offices of our state legislators. We are getting ready.

At our September Legislative Assembly meeting, I was struck by how different this negotiations felt and how unified the delegates were about the seriousness of the issues we are facing. I felt like I was with like-minded people who saw our current contract fight for what it is: it is a fight to preserve public higher education in Pennsylvania, a fight to preserve our profession. It is a fight for our students, our children and their futures. I felt the same seriousness of purpose in APSCUF members at the Board of Governors meeting.

Below are links to the comments made by APSCUF members at the Board of Governors meeting. They are MP3 files, so they should play on any computer or device.

APSCUF President, Steve Hicks – “Monday is the Deadline” 

Kevin Mahoney, APSCUF-KU – “You Can’t Have It Both Ways, Chancellor”

APSCUF-KU President, Paul Quinn – “In the Trenches”

Mary Popovich, APSCUF-CAL – “Hitting Below the Intellect”

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It’s about 3:30 am and I am up preparing for today’s PASSHE Board of Governors meeting in Harrisburg. I am printing out the last faculty letters to the Chancellor that I received late last night, reviewing my notes for my 90 seconds before the Board of Governors, rechecking Google maps directions to ensure I can return to KU in time for my office hours and afternoon class, and hoping that enough faculty members from our 14 university system will make the trip to Harrisburg today to pack the Board of Governor’s meeting. As an academic – especially one that teaches writing and advocacy rhetorics, I am compelled to accept the persuasive power of rational discourse and I hope that the words of my colleagues and I will have some degree of impact on the Chancellor and the Board of Governors. I want to believe that we can help convince PASSHE administrators to bargain in good faith and help us secure a good and lasting contract.

However, the activist in me, the labor unionist in me, is also compelled to recognize that the persuasive power of words – yes, even in an academic context – have power only insofar as they are backed by people willing to act up on those words. Words, by themselves, are constrained by context – e.g. if there is no one listening, or a decision has already been made, or there are no institutional rules that require those in power to listen. If words are not empowered to be meaningful in any given institutional context, then their source of power must come from outside that institutional context. As Frederick Douglass memorably put it:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

For sure, Douglass was no slouch when it came to a commitment to the persuasive power of words. However, he was also no fool. His direct experience with slavery and racism taught him otherwise.

Late yesterday we found out that the Chancellor’s Office has limited the public comments section of today’s meeting to three speakers. Each speaker will be limited to three minutes. Then, that’s it, comments are cut off. The Chancellor’s Office limited public comments to three speakers at least once before – when cafeteria workers from IUP, represented by SEIU, were protesting the Board of Governor’s meeting because of Sodexo. The take away? When workers in the PASSHE system – from cafeteria workers to academic workers – seek to make their concerns part of the official discussion, the Chancellor’s Office turns off the mic after providing just enough time for comments so they can claim to have been “open” to public concerns, but not enough time for any substantive discussion. It’s not about discussion after all. It’s about control.

I will be splitting my time with our local APSCUF-KU President, Paul Quinn. Before hearing that the Chancellor’s Office was going to limit debate, each of us had three minutes. But, we’ll take what we can get. I will deliver faculty letters and I will make some brief remarks. But, in the end, what will matter is if the Chancellor and the Board of Governors see that they are not up against three or four faculty members, but hundreds. The power of our words will be measured by the number of faculty members packing the meeting room and manning the picket lines outside the Dixon Center.

I prepare to drive to Harrisburg knowing full well that the Chancellor’s Office has already stacked the deck against us. That the only reason I am  being given time to speak is because the Chancellor’s Office needs to appear to to be open to public comments. I don’t have any illusions about that portion of today’s meeting. I am going to Harrisburg to stand with my colleagues from across the state who, through their physical presence, are saying, “Enough!” I am going to Harrisburg to provide the Chancellor’s Office with a small taste of what a picket line looks like. I am going to Harrisburg to begin a process of demonstrating what gives a union power at the negotiations table  – not simply the negotiation skills of the people at the table, but the collective power of our more than 6,000 members across the Commonwealth. I am going to Harrisburg to begin a process of putting limits on the aspirations of would-be, petty tyrants.

 

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