I don’t want to strike, but I will — a faculty perspective

Lisa2PortraitSmall Dr. Lisa Millhous is the chapter president of WCU’s faculty union (APSCUF). She is a tenured faculty member in the Communication Studies Department and has been employed at WCU since 1999. In the following blog she offers a personal explanation for why faculty care enough to strike.

I don’t want to strike. My career is in educating students, and a work stoppage does just the opposite. But I teach my students to stand up for themselves, to know their worth, and to be bold in their leadership. At some point, I have to follow my own teaching and take a stand.

As the Spring semester starts, there are still unresolved issues on the table. These issues cut at the very foundation of my job. For me, these are strikable issues.

Class size and modality(face-to-face or distance education) impact what I do every day of the semester. Students know that when class size grows their learning decreases. More students means less time for each one of them. Students know that modality matters for their learning experience.

The administration wants to increase class size or assign a modality without involvement of the faculty. Their argument is that these are financial decisions – independent of teaching or disciplinary expertise. Certainly there are budgetary implications, but faculty are highly skilled experts at what they do. We know what classes work best face-to-face (vs. distance education) and what courses are best in larger or smaller sections.  These decisions depend on the discipline and the curricular goals. Faculty need to be involved in the decision, or class sizes will continue to increase as they have every year since I started teaching.  Faculty must take a stand on class size and distance education, because that is where students would be hurt the most: in their learning.

Health care (current and retiree) is a critical part of my salary. Over the past few decades, I have watched inflation erode my salary. My union has purposely traded salary increases to preserve my medical benefits. Now the administration wants to make me pay extra for my healthcare, eating away even more of my salary.  My health is something I care about.

The administration is blaming the faculty, but we have saved the State System money, and we continue to suggest ways more savings could occur. For the 2003 contract the union hired a healthcare consultant who has saved the System thousands of dollars because the health provider was overbilling them. In 2011 the union recommended that the State System explore self-insurance, because we believe it will save thousands of dollars, but they refused to consider it.

The blame hurts most because the System has failed to negotiate healthcare and/or retirement packages for 3 other bargaining groups.  Instead those groups agreed to take whatever the faculty got – so the faculty are put in a position of negotiating healthcare for a much larger group of employees.  The System claims the faculty refused to take the healthcare package that other state employees have (the Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund, PEBTF). The truth is they never offered the PEBTF package to the faculty nor have they made a comparable offer of self-funded insurance like PEBTF. This is not a fair way to bargain.

Further, the administration wants me to trade the healthcare of future retirees to keep my own retirement benefits. I am already the beneficiary of the faculty before me, who negotiated my retirement benefits into the faculty contract before I was hired. They could have sold me out to keep their own benefits, but they didn’t. As a faculty member, I am an architect of the future. Why would I agree to a contract that purposely creates deep inequities, degrades my profession, and damages high-quality, affordable public education?

If WCU can’t attract and retain good faculty because the salary and benefits are not competitive – and because they will be teaching large classes in modalities for which they were not trained – won’t that hurt our students?

I don’t want to strike. I want to encourage and support my students to become a bright future for Pennsylvania. But if I have to strike to protect those students’ education, then it is clear to me what I have to do.

Join with me in asking that this contract be settled before my colleagues and I must take this action:  Email Chancellor Cavanaugh (jcavanaugh@passhe.edu) and Interim Chancellor Garland (pgarland@passhe.edu).

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “I don’t want to strike, but I will — a faculty perspective

  1. To WCU students: When I was a freshman in college there was a strike on our campus that lasted six months! I know what it’s like from the student perspective. It’s messy and saddening.

    I remember thinking I had no power or say in the matter. I was wrong. Student input was key. Looking back on it now, the students who took a stand–regardless of their position–felt more engaged and powerful overall, and they learned something for their efforts.

    So, do a little research and take a stand: tell the union, your parents, your representatives, the chancellor of the system, your fellow students–anyone who will listen–what you believe, and that we should resolve this quickly.

  2. Nadine Bean

    Beautifully written, Lisa – thank-you! And, Van – thank-you as well for additional thoughtful suggestions to students.

  3. Lisa – with respect to the two points you mention above, I have the following comments. Regarding class size and modality, I agree with your points. You also mention that there are “budgetary implications.” It’s more than an implication. If class sizes go down and face to face learning increases, it’s going to cost more and maybe that should be the answer. However you don’t suggest who should pay for this increased cost. That’s a key part of any solution that APSCUF needs to address.

    Regarding health benefits, I think that is just part of the real world and we will just have to live with it. I know this isn’t popular thinking, but health care costs are going up for everyone, not just educators (well maybe except for Congress). This is not an APSCUF vs. PASSHE issue; it’s happening everywhere. And it’s only going to get worse with Obamacare.

    • sethkahn

      The position of “That’s just the way it is” is unhelpful and, I think, incorrect. Regarding distance ed, if PASSHE wants to do it because it’s cheaper, they’re doing it wrong. Quality equipment, training, pedagogical and curricular support for faculty AND STUDENTS, etc, is rather expensive. To try to make it a cost-cutting measure automatically and unequivocally makes it a quality-slashing measure, and anybody who supports that needs not to be an education professional.

      And the willingness to pin support of PASSHE’s propaganda to an imagined future blamed on Obamacare? There’s not one reputable source, analysis, or study to support the claim that everybody’s, or anybody’s, health care costs will go up under the new law. There’s a lot of blind assertion, and a lot of guesswork (some of which might turn out to be true, but there’s no way to know yet).

      There’s plenty of money in PASSHE to support reasonable health care for faculty, who work very hard to earn that benefit–and who are much better able to support the students and the system because we get it–and to support quality distance education to the extent that it’s consistent with PASSHE’s mission instead of overriding the mission based on bad accounting. We all know this.

  4. Molly

    As a student, I just want to know what except. It is the profressors right to what they believe is best for them. But for us students we need to be informed soon on whether we have class or need to be looking for jobs for the spring .

    • sethkahn

      Molly, although we can’t say for sure whether we’ll have to strike, you can rest assured two things: (1) it’s a last resort for us, and we’ll do everything we can to avoid it short of damaging the institution by caving in to badly thought-out demands; and (2) if it happens, it won’t be sudden and unannounced. We’re professional educators because first and foremost we’re committed to students; that’s why we come to work. Even if a strike has to happen, we will always work to minimize its impact on you while making our point as strongly as we can to PASSHE that they’re not doing their part.

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