Author Archives: sethkahn

About sethkahn

I'm a Professor of English (composition/rhetoric) at West Chester U of PA. Born and raised in Hotlanta, BA in History/Philosophy from Wake Forest U, MA in English (Comp/Rhet) from Florida State, PhD in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric from Syracuse U. Proud union thug. Played in a punk band called Three Chicks and a Jew.

Friendly reminder: Adjunct faculty are always members of the bargaining unit, and often full members of the union

In the wake of Monday’s announcement that the membership overwhelmingly voted in favor of strike authorization, which is precisely what we needed to do in order to signal PASSHE that our patience is pretty well taxed, this seems like a good time to follow that good news up with a nudge that I REALLY wish we didn’t have to keep doing.

While our CBA is one of the two best (if not the best) in the country in terms of its provisions for adjunct/non-tenure-track faculty, the general membership (by which I mean US, the rank and file) is lagging behind in terms of coming to grips with the fact that our adjunct faculty are just as much a part of the bargaining unit, and thus the union, as any tenured/tenure-track (T/TT) faculty member is.

Two things are prompting me to say this:

  1. During our Strike Authorization voting last week, I heard at least half a dozen times, either first-hand or via faculty who were staffing the voting stations, that T/TT faculty were “surprised” adjunct faculty were allowed to vote. And in one case, when I responded, “Of course they are, if they’re full members. Why wouldn’t they be,” the person said, “They can be full members?!?” I didn’t actually cry, but I almost did.
  2. A friend who is an adjunct faculty member and long-time APSCUF member (I’m not going to identify them any more specifically than that unless they volunteer it themselves) said semi-publicly this morning that they really wish APSCUF members would stop “Talk[ing] about us like we’re the help and don’t have ears.”

Those of us who are T/TT faculty do this all too often. Not every one of us every time, but as a collective, we all too often simply ignore our own members, or take them for granted. And we do it oftentimes for the exact reasons that we need to be most vocally supportive of our adjunct sisters and brothers–because their working conditions are worse than ours, their schedules often keep them from interacting socially and professionally with us, the list goes on and on.

So, again (and again, and again): our adjunct faculty are brothers and sisters, and we’re doing it wrong (very profoundly wrong) every single time we forget that.

 

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Filed under APSCUF, Collective Bargaining, Contingent faculty

What the Strike Authorization Vote Means

In just a little while, voting will open across the entire state system to authorize APSCUF leadership to declare a strike should contract negotiations not make sufficient progress.

There’s been no shortage of information on the substance of the negotiations, so I won’t rehearse all that again here. Instead, I want to reinforce the importance of the vote itself so that we won’t have to cajole you more than once (or maybe twice) to do it.

A successful strike authorization sends two messages. First and most concretely, it signals to our leadership that we’re behind them, that we want them to stand strong for fairness, for our students, our system, and for us. Second, it announces to the state system that we really mean it. We don’t want to strike,  but we will. In other words, this week’s vote is the time for us to make a loud and clear statement of solidarity to both our own leaders and the state system folks.

In order for the statement to be loud and clear, it has to be loud and clear (While that may sound circular, I’d rather think of it as mutually reinforcing). That’s why our local officers, Mobilization Committee members, and department reps will be knocking on doors, calling and emailing–doing anything and everything we can to get our turnout to 100%.

If you find that irritating, you can do two things that are helpful. First, VOTE!!!!!!!! You can cast ballots at these times/places on North and South Campus and the Graduate Business Center; information about Exton and Center City is forthcoming.

Wednesday 9 – 11:             Main Hall, Sykes Lobby, Sturzebecker
Wednesday 11 – 1:             Main, Hall, Sykes, Lobby, Sturzebecker
Wednesday 1 – 3:               Main, Hall, Sykes, Lobby, Sturzebecker
Wednesday 3 – 5:               Main, Hall, Sykes, Lobby, Sturzebecker
Wednesday 3:30 – 5:          Graduate Business Center

Thursday, 9 – 11:                 Main Hall, Sykes Lobby, Sturzebecker, Graduate
Business Center
Thursday, 11 – 1:                 Main Hall, Sykes Lobby, Sturzebecker
Thursday 1 – 3:                    Main Hall, Sykes Lobby, Sturzebecker
Thursday, 3 – 5:                   Main Hall, Sykes Lobby, Sturzebecker
Thursday 3:30 – 5:               Graduate Business Center

Friday 9 – 11:                        Main Hall, Sykes Lobby, Sturzebecker
Friday 9 – 10:45:                  Swope Hall
Friday 11 – 12:                     Main Hall, Sykes Lobby, Sturzebecker

Second, and just as important, GET OTHER PEOPLE TO VOTE! If everybody who sees this post gets a couple of other people to go with you to vote, we’ll be near 100% without having to spend three days scurrying around and irritating you into doing it :).

Finally, for anybody who sees this soon–if you’re at WCU and not committed at 10 am, join us at the APSCUF office for a march to the Quad that will help to kick off the vote.

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Filed under APSCUF, Collective Bargaining, Contract Negotiations, PASSHE, Strike Authorization, West Chester University

Autonomy and Solidarity

A quick (well, you know) musing from your friendly APSCUF-WCU Mobilization Co-Chair on the way into the holiday weekend before the Strike Authorization Vote–

Yesterday, I had a conversation with somebody in the hallway about getting people to sign up for work we need done over the next months: staffing the voting tables, making themselves available for rallies and picketing, making phone calls and writing letters, and so on. We commiserated for a minute about the herding cats problem that lots of us academics use to describe ourselves.

But I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and think it’s somewhat more complicated than that. I haven’t done formal data collection on this, but anecdotally I know that many of us are drawn to the profession, along with our interest in our disciplines, because faculty work offers more autonomy than almost any other job I can think of. While we rightly get mad at the “They only work 17 hours” trope, it is true that many of the hours we work each week are flex time. We have more decision-making authority over our teaching and research (and even our service) than most people have over their job responsibilities. Yes, we’ve earned it and in many cases paid a dear price for it (years of grad school, student loans, all the financial/emotional stresses that come with those, and more). Nonetheless, it’s one of the features that distinguishes our jobs from most others.

Which is why at moments where unity and solidarity are at a premium, like right now in our contract negotiations/strike preparations, it’s that much more important for each of us to remember that we chose to become faculty, and we chose to become union members, and we therefore need to choose to commit to the solidarity it will take to stand strong for our students, our colleagues, our campuses, and our system against system management that claims to have a monopoly on all those in spite of their continued failure to fight for us and even alongside us instead of against us as they all too often do.

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Filed under APSCUF, Contract Negotiations, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Uncategorized

Yes, Mr. Chancellor, We Understand

Well, if the people who run our state system were trying to get the new semester off on a sour note, they sure found a way to do it.

In a letter addressed to PASSHE students, Chancellor Frank Brogan makes a claim that I feel compelled to respond to before the semester starts–my goal here is to help APSCUF faculty think about how to respond when students accuse us, faculty, of not looking out for their interests should we have to strike.

Chancellor Brogan says:

We can only hope that APSCUF recognizes the potentially devastating impact that a strike would have on our students.

Yes, Chancellor Brogan, we understand. We wish you understood as well as we do. We’re the ones who work with the students and faculty across the system every single day. We–the students and the faculty–are the people who do the learning and the teaching that give the system, and hence your office and your staff, any reason to exist. We know our impact because we see it every day: in the classes we teach, in the clubs and services we oversee, in the advisees we mentor; in the athletes we coach. Our impact has been steadily and widely positive and productive through often challenging circumstances. We want to work in an environment that allows us to continue having our positive impacts for years to come

The implications of a strike could, in fact, be devastating. That’s why nobody on the APSCUF side wants to do it. On the other hand, if it takes a strike to make PASSHE understand that we’re not going to sacrifice the integrity of our system or our campuses, that’s a positive implication.

In other words, a strike doesn’t have to happen; all it will take to prevent one is for PASSHE to get to work bargaining in good faith like they should have been doing for more than 400 days now. And if a strike does happen, it will be because APSCUF believes that’s the only way to convince PASSHE  to bargain in good faith. We know better than anybody in some office in Harrisburg what will happen to students if we strike. The people who are gambling blindly with our students’ learning conditions aren’t us.

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Filed under APSCUF, Contract Negotiations, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Uncategorized

A quick note about today’s negotiations update

We hope you’ve seen the update on this week’s negotiations session. It sounds like maybe the work that should have happened a long while ago is maybe starting to happen now. 

​For those of you who are new to this process, here’s a bit of context. It’s typical for negotiations to start slowly, and for us to start making noise about that. Very often, the first visible response to our rumbling is what you’re seeing here–little bits of progress on issues that aren’t too contentious so that management can tell themselves (and us) that they’re trying really hard.  So take the news as good in the sense that something is happening, but remember that it’s happening because we’re pushing and we need to keep doing it.

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Speak up for faculty (and students) at Mount Saint Mary’s University

By now you’ve likely heard the news from Mount Saint Mary’s University about their recently hired president’s plan to improve the university’s retention rates and the aftermath. I’ll summarize below in case you haven’t followed it. If you have but haven’t yet signed this petition to Mount Saint Mary’s University to reinstate two fired faculty members, we encourage you to add your name. It’s an important statement in support of colleagues whose due process and academic freedom have been violated as ominously as any time I can remember.

Here’s a nutshell version of Newman’s retention plan–

  1. Early in the fall semester, identify students who are at risk–academically, emotionally, financially–of leaving the institution.
  2. Encourage them to drop out as quickly as possible so that you never have to report them as matriculated.
  3. Ergo, improve retention by reducing the number of “dropouts.”

[It’s worth a minute to look at President Simon Newman’s background before we keep going. Notice anything missing? Any experience whatsoever with higher ed before being appointed as president of a university. Anywho….]

To make matters worse, President Newman had an email exchange with campus leaders in which he said some controversial (yes, that’s understatement) things, the most disturbing of which was:

“This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.”

When that quote showed up in the Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed, the story suddenly became national (read: embarrassing). And when President Newman learned that two faculty members–one tenured, one tenure-track–had leaked emails (one of the faculty was the advisor to the student newspaper), he fired them without any hearings, investigations, or procedures whatsoever. Clearly, his fundamental ignorance about how universities work and what faculty do made it seem logical for him to fire people who were “disloyal” (his word).

This is why we fight to protect tenure (and due process for colleagues with/without tenure). Signing this petition is a simple way to help. Indirectly, it’s also a statement on behalf of students who spent a lot of time, money, and emotional energy committing to a school run by somebody with such profound disregard for their well-being that he could think, much less say, what he did.

PS: In case you’re curious, the president tried to identify students to “drown” via a survey (as reported in Inside Higher Ed) that will make your skin crawl if you know anything about privacy or research ethics.

[Updated 5 pm Fri: The university has announced that it will reinstate the fired faculty in hopes of beginning what the president and board call a healing process; the board has reaffirmed their support of the president. The fired tenured faculty member says he has no intention of returning to the university.]

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Filed under Academic Freedom, Access, free speech, Inside Higher Ed, Retention, Tenure, Uncategorized

What PA Public Employees Need to Know About “Payroll Protection” Legislation

Over the course of the last several days, you’ve heard from both APSCUF State President Steve Hicks and APSCUF-WCU President Lisa Millhous about legislation called “Payroll Protection.” The legislation (House Bill 1507 and Senate Bill 1034) contends that public employers are wasting taxpayer money by managing payroll deductions for union dues on behalf of public employee unions; sponsors of the legislation (I’ll say more about them later) also contend that because public unions spend dues money on “political activities,” compulsory dues deductions violate employees’ rights to make decisions about what candidates and lobbying activities we pay for.

As this legislation is under consideration and currently seems to have some chance of passing, there are a handful of important points for you to know so that you can help defeat these bills. To put it as directly as possible, there is exactly one goal behind this legislation–to damage public unions’ ability to collect money in order to kill public unions in the Commonwealth. We’ve seen this legislation and its brethren in several states already (WI, MI, OH, IN are the places you’re likely to have heard about it; a friend in graduate school at the University of Oregon just told me the other night that the same legislation is circulating there).

Point One: There is no evidence that managing payroll deductions costs PASSHE any significant amount of money at all. I’m trying to find specifics but can’t yet. But what we do know is that they manage payroll deductions of various kinds, not just APSCUF, and there’s nothing in the legislation targeting those. It’s not hard to make the connection, is it?

Point Two: The main rationale for the bills is that unions use dues for political (campaign and lobbying) purposes, and that automatic deductions violate employees’ rights to determine which candidates and laws their money supports. This is a sad old song. As an APSCUF member, you already know that we have a separate fund, called CAP (the Committee for Action through Politics) that requires a separate, totally optional/voluntary sign-up before any money is deducted from your paycheck. Moreover, APSCUF’s records (just like every union) makes public every penny we spend on political activities–unlike the shadowy political organizations funding the campaign to kill public unions. It’s no secret what we spend our CAP money on; we don’t want it to be. But for you to find out for sure who’s funding Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (among other examples) is damn near impossible. Neat, huh?

Point Three: As the link to the story about secret corporate money suggests, this legislation didn’t begin with the legislators who introduced and co-sponsored it. It’s based very closely on “model legislation” drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council in 1998. If you’ve followed politics at all since the Wisconsin Uprising, you’re probably familiar with ALEC. To be honest, it’s hard to write about ALEC without sounding really paranoid. If you’re not familiar with them, spend a few minutes on their website. Then spend a few minutes here on the website of ALEC Exposed, a project that tracks ALEC policy, contributions, and the people who participate in it.

ALEC’s membership is comprised largely of three constituencies–lobbyists for large corporate interests (along with the non-profit front groups, “think tanks,” and special interest groups) that support them, and politicians (governors, legislators, and so on) who are willing to do ALEC’s bidding in states and Washington, DC. In short, many members of ALEC are actual legislators (and many of them are from the Commonwealth), and in this case what they’ve put on the floor of both chambers in Harrisburg is language provided for them by professional lobbyists and corporate spokespeople whose interests are clearly not the interests of Pennsylvania citizens. These are the people who brought us Stand Your Ground laws and the Castle Doctrine, which allow people to claim “self-defense” if they kill somebody who makes them feel threatened. If their organization, or affiliated organizations, are responsible for the move to revise the PASSHE Weapons Policy, then to say they’re Second Amendment purists is, well, not very accurate.

It’s hard not to spend hours mapping out the impacts of ALEC on the public sector and public safety all over the United States, but the ALEC Exposed website does a good job of it. For APSCUF’s purposes, for now what’s important to know is that this legislation has no grounding in anything that’s happening in PA except that ALEC and its constituent organizations/political friends hate unions, and are going after us just like they have in other states. The arguments about why we need this legislation are, not to put too fine a point on it, without any merit whatsoever. And as Sean Kitchen’s article (linked in Fact Two) indicates, the strongest motive for pushing the bills is the promise of a gigantic infusion of campaign cash into the coffers of politicians who push it. No “savings.” No taxpayer justice. Just anti-union hate and personal greed.

It’s crucial that we defeat this legislation for any number of reasons, not the least of which is to protect our union against a direct attack on our ability to do our work. Contact your Representative AND your Senator, and call on them to vote against these bills. If you learn that your Representative or Senator is a co-sponsor, obviously your tone will be somewhat different. And make sure everybody you know in a public employee union in PA does the same.

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Our APSCUF-KU brother Kevin Mahoney on the tentative agreement

If you know Dr. Mahoney and me, you know that we nearly always think pretty much the same things. Kevin has a gift for being a couple of steps ahead of me in his ability to make a clear case for what we both usually think.

His current piece on the Raging Chicken Press site is probably the strongest example of that phenomenon I’ve seen in 11 years of this. If you want to know what I think about the agreement, what it represents in terms of APSCUF’s status as a union and our role in defending public higher education, what it protects in terms of our job descriptions and workloads, how it defends against what was a brutal attack on our contingent faculty, what it costs economically and how those issues sift out, just read it.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

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Filed under APSCUF, Collective Bargaining, Contingent faculty, Contract Negotiations, Kutztown University, PASSHE

A recent post on the APSCUF-KUXchange by friend and colleague Amy Lynch-Biniek. In a nutshell, she describes how the current PASSHE proposals regarding adjunct faculty hurt our adjunct brothers and sisters, our students, our departments, and our system.

APSCUF-KU xchange

To borrow a turn of phrase, you can tell a lot about a college by the way it treats its adjuncts. If you read the PASSHE Negotiation Objectives recently distributed to KU faculty via email (referred to parenthetically in this post as “Letter”), you are likely angered and dismayed by most if not all of their positions. For a moment, I’d like you to consider the repercussions of one element of their attack on quality education, their proposed treatment of contingent faculty. And make no mistake: the use and treatment of these faculty does indeed affect and reflect the education the state makes available to students.

Before I came to Kutztown University, I had been an adjunct at several colleges, though “adjunct” became a ridiculous term when I was running the writing center, directing the theater production and teaching several classes at a single institution on three “part-time” contracts. One…

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Filed under APSCUF, Collective Bargaining, Contingent faculty, Contract Negotiations, Corporate University, Education reform, Kutztown University, Uncategorized

Our colleague Dr. Kevin Mahoney from KU says a lot here that I would also have said. He says it somewhat more savvily than I was going to, so I’m just reposting his version of it.

APSCUF-KU xchange

This past Saturday, APSCUF posted the following negotiations update on its blog:

APSCUF and PASSHE negotiators met Friday, September 14, at the Dixon Center in Harrisburg.  The Chancellor’s team passed a proposal on retrenchment language and made suggestions for future bargaining sessions. APSCUF caucused and responded to their proposal in writing. The two sides reconvened and failed to come to agreement on the language, but agreed to session definitions for the next two times: on Oct. 5th APSCUF will present on curriculum, class size, and distance education and on Oct. 22nd the Chancellor’s team will discuss temporary workload and concessions on retiree health care.   There was neither discussion of nor progress made on the Chancellor’s team’s demand for concessions on distance education, active and retiree health care, and temporary faculty workload.

There is so much packed into this statement, but I want to focus on one issue in…

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, Benefits/Benefit Cuts, Budget, Budget Cuts, Collective Bargaining, Contingent faculty, Contract Negotiations, Office of the Chancellor, Tenure, Uncategorized