Category Archives: Communities

We didn’t sing the Helplessness Blues – we were an advocating machine!

Fleet Foxes has a song that just about sums up my feelings about the strike. We have all been taught that we are “something unique”, and we are. But we are also part of something beyond ourselves, and this year, it was the mighty, mighty union, APSCUF.

What strikes me now is that as chapter president, I was indeed a “cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” From the students and faculty who worked on campus to the 14-campus group we were all part of, from my local executive council and our officers and strike team up to the state leadership, it was awe-inspiring to be in the middle of a movement. Let’s not forget that.

So, enjoy this song. It may not be your stylistic cup of tea, but it’s mighty inspiring.

Solidarity forever!

Mark

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Filed under APSCUF, Collective Bargaining, Communities, Contingent faculty, Contract Negotiations, Higher Ed history, liberal arts, lobbying, Public education, Public employee unions, Teacher unions, Tenure, Unions, VoteSmart.org, West Chester University

They just never get tired of it

As we all know by now, Governor Corbett’s budget-slashing attacks aren’t aimed solely at PASSHE. He seems willing to destroy any school system at any level if doing so hurts teachers’ unions and allows his private/charter school patrons to make more money.

This account of the situation in nearby Reading, PA from today’s Huffington Post is enough to infuriate even the most heartless person–except members of the Corbett administration, apparently.

As always, the Governor, in a radio interview, tries to pass off the attacks as “tough decisions”:

Representatives from Corbett’s office did not return requests for comment, but Corbett did address the budget on a recent radio program. “You have to make tough decisions, and nobody really likes them,” Corbett told Q106.9-FM.

No, it’s not a tough decision to sell off our schools, systems, students, their families, their futures, teachers, their careers, and the health of our entire Commonwealth to his friends. That’s a really easy, lazy decision, and it’s long past time for him to be at least honest about it. He should have to make clear to voters that he knows when they voted for “fiscal responsibility,” they weren’t voting for him to cut millions of dollars out of school budgets so kids in “America’s Poorest City” couldn’t go to pre-kindergarten. And we should make clear to him that’s not what we meant too.

I better stop there before I say something unprofessional (!).

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Filed under Access, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, charter schools, Collective Bargaining, Communities, Education reform, K-12 Education, PASSHE, Privatization, Public education, Public employee unions, public employees, Shock Doctrine, Teacher unions, Tom Corbett, Unions

“Who Does That Help?” (reprised)

About a year ago (Feb 8, 2011), I wrote an entry on my personal blog called “Who Does That Help?”

The post, which you can read if you want, pushes us to challenge every management decision, initiative, policy change, etc by asking for specifics about who benefits from it. Abstractions (flexibility, potentiality, the dreaded ‘fiduciary responsibility,’ and so on) aren’t good enough. They never have been, really, but they’ve become the semantic wall behind which too much of our upper leadership hides in order to make decisions that bring actual harm to actual people.

I’m reposting and reprising that blog entry here because I think it’s incumbent on us to ask that question not just about our local university administration, or even just the Chancellor/Board of Governors, but just as importantly about the Governor’s current budget proposal for 2012-13. Who does it help to slash the PASSHE budget by 20%? Name one actual person, or even group of people, who directly benefits from that decision. I can’t. Maybe you can.

But until you can, trying to have a meaningful debate about the impacts of budget attacks, er cuts, against PASSHE is very difficult. Why? Because nobody is really on the Governor’s side except the Governor and his friends. That is, the fact that there’s nothing to debate should make it really easy to win our argument–because they have no case.

There is, to put it as directly as possible, no benefit to the huge majority of residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; students, faculty, staff, or management of the State system; residents of the towns/cities/boroughs that are our universities’ homes; or anybody but the recipients of tax breaks the Governor can afford to give away only by choking and selling off public education. 

We must push the Governor and his allies in the Legislature (and the press) to answer the question at every turn: Who does it help when you slash our system’s budget? Who benefits? Because we win the argument about who gets harmed and by how much hands down, as long as we make that argument loud and clear.

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Communities, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Public education, Rally, Student activism, Tom Corbett, Tuition increase

If you needed more evidence that our Chancellor may not be on our side…

…beyond the nearly empty letter sent from his office last week in response to the Governor’s budget proposal, read this article to see what it looks like when a Board of Regents mobilizes against even less substantive a threat then we faced last year and face again this year.

In short, the article explains a situation brewing in Florida, in which the Republican chair of the Senate Budget Committee is threatening to cut the budget for the University of South Florida by 58% if USF won’t hand off one of its branch campuses to him (essentially) to become a part of Florida’s state-owned system (which, by the way, is where our esteemed Chancellor came from, if you remember). Anyway, Senator Alexander is a well-known thug, and everybody knows it, and everybody knows he can’t possibly do what he’s threatening.

At the same time, within a couple of days after his announcement, upper administration/management across the entire USF system had mobilized, sent out angry alerts to faculty, students, alums, staff members, and so on, and begun organizing a response.

In Pennsylvania, the Governor makes an entire predictable speech promising to assault our system for the second year in a row, and our upper leadership response is to agree that the Governor’s position is generally right, but that he’s being a little mean to us.

For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, you’d better start getting this now. We can count on the Office of the Chancellor for nothing helpful to the majority of the system. He simply refuses to fight for us. His record is one of throwing us under any bus that passes by. And all while maintaining his position as the highest paid public employee in PA.

We can’t fire him, and I can’t imagine anything he could do that would make the Governor happier (so he ain’t getting fired). But the implications for students, faculty and staff, residents of PASSHE campus locations, and community members, are clear. If we’re going to keep our system from getting butchered by a bunch of thugs who couldn’t care less about it, we have to do it ourselves.

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Communities, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Public education, Student activism, Tom Corbett

Governor Corbett’s 2012-13 Budget Proposal

Here we go again.

If you haven’t heard the news already, this morning Gov. Corbett launched, er, presented his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Unsurprisingly, PASSHE is once again in his crosshairs.

Corbett proposed a cut of 20%, or about $86 million, for PA state universities. That’s after a cut of 18% last year (which we fought like hell to reduce from his original proposal of cutting over 50%), and a mid-school-year request from his office to freeze 5% of last year’s already reduced allocation.

Here’s the official response from State APSCUF, posted just a few minutes ago on that blog:

GOVERNOR CORBETT’S BUDGET CUTS TO PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION JEOPARDIZE PENNSYLVANIA’S FUTURE
Funding for state-owned universities is necessary to ensure that Pennsylvania students have the opportunity to go to college.

HARRISBURG – Today Governor Tom Corbett revealed his FY 2012-13 state budget proposal, which cuts funding for Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities by 20 percent, or $82.5 million. The president of the association representing 6,000 faculty members and coaches at the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) institutions expressed dismay that the governor has once again attempted to balance the budget on the backs of students and their working families.

The governor’s proposed budget allocates $330 million to PASSHE, a loss of almost $175 million since Corbett took office. His budget proposal comes just one month after he requested that the State System freeze five percent of last year’s appropriation.

“Since taking office, Governor Corbett has taken every opportunity to decrease funding for our universities,” said Dr. Steve Hicks, president of APSCUF. “We understand that these are challenging economic times, but our students and their families are already struggling to make ends meet. Additional budget cuts are going to put the college dream out of reach for many Pennsylvanians.”

In June, Governor Corbett signed a budget that reduced funding for PASSHE by 18 percent.

As a result, PASSHE was forced to raise tuition 7.5 percent.

“PASSHE has a state-mandated mission to provide accessible, affordable, ‘high quality education at the lowest possible cost to students.’ Our universities cannot continue to meet these goals without critical state support,” Dr. Hicks stated. “The governor’s proposal puts current funding for the State System below 1989-90 levels. This short-sighted budget fix will have a lasting impact on the future of the Commonwealth.”

“Our campus communities must stand together for quality education,” Hicks said. “I urge the legislature to reaffirm the promise of affordable higher education for the working families of Pennsylvania.”

The governor’s budget proposal includes cuts to higher education totaling $265.4 million. In addition to the State System reduction, three of the four state-related universities will see cuts totaling $146.9 million, community colleges, $8.8 million, and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, $27.2 million.

For understandable reasons, State APSCUF’s response is somewhat restrained in its tone. And if what I’m about to say seems unrestrained, you should see what it looked like when I first wrote it.

Understand the context:  these proposed cuts coincide with the Governor’s firm refusal to tax gas extraction companies that are volunteering to pay taxes as they begin fracking up our state; I’m not advocating fracking, but it’s doubly outrageous for the Governor to want it both ways. He can’t just let his fracking friends destroy the state and not pay a penny in taxes for doing it.  The cuts further coincide with the Governor’s refusal to make businesses and wealthy residents pay their fair share of the operating costs of our state, even as many of those businesses are benefiting from state contracts (read: taxpayer dollars), from the squeezing of public services, and so on. None of this is news.

I understand other states, especially California, have faced bigger cuts to public higher ed budgets, and other states (WI, OH, FL, MI, TX) have Governors who are more drooling, insane whackjobs.

Nonetheless, for those of us who live in PA, it’s about time to throw down the gauntlet. The reason the Governor keeps making these outrageous decisions is that nobody is stopping him. We’re not the only organization deeply harmed by the Governor’s stance, and it’s incumbent on all of us not just to defend our system and our students, but our state.

Be on the lookout for calls to act coming fast and furious now that the budget proposal is official. More important, when you see those calls, ACT!!!

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, Benefits/Benefit Cuts, Budget, Budget Cuts, Budget Deficit, Communities, free speech, lobbying, PASSHE, Privatization, Public education, Public employee unions, public employees, Rally, Shock Doctrine, Student activism, taxes, Tom Corbett

Starting to think about strategy and tactics for the upcoming budget battle

As you should know by now, Governor Corbett has put in a request that PASSHE return about $20 million of our 2011-2012 budget allocation to the state. That’s on the heels, remember, of a 19% reduction in our budget already, and in spite of a sizeable rainy day fund that’s designed precisely to respond to situations like this one.

You should also know by now that the Governor’s next budget proposal address is scheduled for February 7. In it, we have no reason to believe he’ll do anything other than propose idiotically draconian budget cuts again for next year. Clearly he has no interest in the health or quality of public higher education in his state, even though his job mandates that he must. And just as clearly, nobody in the Office of the Chancellor or the on the Board of Governors seems inclined to fight with him about this anywhere near as avidly as the situation calls for. Their track record is terrible, so we shouldn’t expect much help from that direction. As long as we have an unsettled contract situation, anything the state does to butcher the budget strengthens PASSHE’s bargaining position (in their myopic calculus), so…

It’s clear, therefore, that just like last year, the brunt of beating back these budget attacks falls on the students, faculty, staff (thank heavens AFSCME is generally pretty well-organized!), and communities in which our universities operate. The people who actually depend on the success of the universities, that is, in the most direct and obvious ways have to be the ones who keep it from being devastated by any number of politicos who seem simply not to care what happens to it. As long as junket jobs exist, and as long as there’s a system that acts as a pawn in the chess game that seems to pass for budget and policy debates in the Commonwealth, they’re happy.

With all that said, although we have a lot of work to do over the next several months, I want to emphasize in the rest of this post one basic concept that I think needs to frame everything else we do. And that concept is, as I put it in a Facebook post to a KU student activist–

Remember who the opposition is: the Corbett Regime and their neo-liberal allies in the Chancellor’s Office. Not the people who disagree about whether it’s better to do civil disobedience or voter registration.

There are going to be actions of all kinds happening on our campuses over the next few months. Some of you will find some of them distasteful–either because they’re too aggressive or not aggressive enough; because they’re ‘paralyzing by analyzing’ or underinformed; because somebody didn’t coordinate with somebody else before scheduling two events at the same time. You get the idea.

But understand this. Every time you dismiss or attack somebody who’s on the same side you are because you don’t like their tactics, you’re making the Governor’s attacks work better. Unfortunately for sane people everywhere, Governor Corbett and his allies have easier pathways to make things happen than we do. They have convenient access to the channels of power that we don’t. We only make it worse for ourselves when we squabble and bicker with, rather than collaborate and encourage, our allies.

More to come, I’m sorry to have to say…

 

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, AFSCME, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Collective Bargaining, Communities, Contract Negotiations, Corporate University, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Privatization, Public education, Public employee unions, public employees, Shock Doctrine, Student activism, Tom Corbett, Tuition increase, West Chester University

For-profit, on-line education just doesn’t work as well

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s important for us to keep track of K-12 educational policy for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that advocates for bad educational policy often look there, where evidence is very difficult to collect (and therefore claims are hard to dispute!), to support some of the bad ideas we fight at the college level every day.

I know many of you are more supportive of on-line, distance education than I am. It’s hard not to be, and I respect–in the abstract and at times in practice–that it can be done well. But nobody has yet made a convincing case to me–or anybody else, really–that switching to on-line, distance education in order to control educational costs is a good idea.

What evidence we can trust is making a very strong case that on-line K-12 education is exactly the terrible idea we thought it was. Today’s (Jan 6) New York Times, in the article “Students of On-Line Schools Are Lagging,” reports that:

About 116,000 students were educated in 93 virtual schools — those where instruction is entirely or mainly provided over the Internet — run by private management companies in the 2010-11 school year, up 43 percent from the previous year, according to the report being published by the National Education Policy Center, a research center at the University of Colorado. About 27 percent of these schools achieved “adequate yearly progress,” the key federal standard set forth under the No Child Left Behind act to measure academic progress. By comparison, nearly 52 percent of all privately managed brick-and-mortar schools reached that goal, a figure comparable to all public schools nationally.

Within these numbers are two important points–

1. On-line, for profit education simply isn’t working.

2. Maybe even more important for those of us who advocate for public education in all its forms, charter schools do not work better than traditional public schools, a claim that the Corbett administration makes in spite of the evidence, as do educational reformers like Arne Duncan and the gang.

Improve working conditions for teachers. Improve learning conditions for students. Fight poverty. Schools would magically work a whole lot better. It’s not complicated.

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Filed under Access, Arne Duncan, Budget, charter schools, Communities, Education reform, on-line schools, Privatization, Public education