Category Archives: free speech

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

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

Why we MUST turn out tonight at the Chester County Public Education Rally

[Please share widely among WCU Faculty, Students, Staff, Family members, Friends]

Tonight’s Chester County Rally for Public Education is on, rain or shine.  Current weather forecast (as of about 11:45 am) says a slight chance of rain the evening.

If you (and students are invited to do this too) want to join the APSCUF Funeral Procession (mourning the death of higher education if Tom Corbett wins) and march up to the courthouse, meet at the APSCUF office around 6’ish.  Wear black if you have it.

If you can’t or don’t want to join the procession, just be on the courthouse lawn @ 7.

If you’re still not convinced that YOU have to YOUR PART in this fight, if you still believe that us loudmouth rabble-rousers will do your part for you, if you don’t think the threat is serious enough to warrant being at the courthouse for one stinkin’ hour, read on.

This is a somewhat modified version of the “speech” I gave at the student-led walkout/rally last week in front of Sykes Hall, starting after the hortatory “thanks for coming” stuff.  –Seth

I have only four things to say today, and I’ll make them very quick.

1.  We’re winning this fight.  If you’ve read or listened to or seen any news in the last couple of weeks, you know that lawmakers in both parties are pushing back hard against Governor Corbett’s original proposal to slash our state budget allocation by more than half.

The reason we’re winning is because we’re doing THIS WORK: rallying, writing, calling, postcarding, petitioning.  Let there be no mistake about that.

2.  Now that we fall all good about ourselves…  We haven’t WON anything yet.  There won’t be a budget in place for weeks, and a lot of bad [oops!] can go down between now and then.

That means we can’t afford to let up.  The gains we’ve made in both legislative and public support are important and impressive but fragile, and the second we stop pushing, the second the hammer falls on us.

3.  Now that we’re all scared again, there are two important things for us to be doing right now.  First is turning out for events like the Rally for Public Education at the Chester Co. courthouse on Wed 4/27.  Second is to make sure our contact networks are alive and well through the summer so we can stay organized and keep fighting together.

4. And finally, whatever happens between now and the passage of our budget; whatever happens between now and full restoration of the budget we need and deserve: don’t ever forget who picked this fight.  It wasn’t us–students, faculty, staff members, university employees, our families, our friends.  It wasn’t us, and the people who did pick it need to pay a steep price for that.

For those of you (and I know who some of you are) who are getting ready to graduate, or who don’t believe the current attacks on public education mean anything to you, I have only this to say:

If you intend to teach in a public school at any level, you’re a target.

If you care about anybody who teaches in, otherwise works for, or attends a public school, you’re a target.

If you believe that anybody besides the wealthiest Pennsylvanians deserve a shot at achieving anything remotely resembling a secure future, you’re a target.

Don’t let the slow place of the budget process lull you to sleep.  FIGHT!

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Budget Cuts, Collective Bargaining, Communities, free speech, K-12 Education, PASSHE, Public education, Rally, Student activism, Tom Corbett, Tuition increase, West Chester University

Information about another rally

From Kevin Mahoney at the KUXchange, news about a rally April 26 in Harrisburg.  This one merges issues of higher ed, K-12 ed, public and private sector unions.  Details about times/speakers/sponsors forthcoming.

For any student readers or community members–if you’re interested in co-sponsoring this rally, you can use the flyer that’s linked in the post and add your organization’s name and contact info.  Let me (Seth) know if you do this, so I can tell my colleague who designed the flyer to add you to the sponsor list.

Also, Kevin has designed and put up for sale t-shirts in support of the event.  As always, Kevin uses proceeds to support pro-education, pro-student, pro-workers-rights efforts.

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Collective Bargaining, Communities, free speech, K-12 Education, Kutztown University, PASSHE, Public education, Rally, Student activism, Tom Corbett, Tuition increase, University of Pittsburgh, West Chester University

Of academics, politics, free speech, and fishing

[WARNING: Partisan alert!  If you don’t believe the Republican party is more avidly squelching academic political activity than the Dems are, you won’t like some of these assertions….  –Seth]

If any of you haven’t yet been following the story out of Wisconsin of Professor William Cronon, you should.  An article in this morning’s (Mon 3/28) Inside Higher Ed provides a solid account.

Kevin Mahoney at the KUXchange does an excellent job of contextualizing the issue and explaining its relevance to our current situation here in PA.  He concludes:

Cronon’s case is important because i[t] indicates the length to which this new breed of Republican will go to ensure compliance and squash dissent.  One more reason these folks are going after tenure.  After all, the original purpose of tenure was to ensure that the government or an institution could not silence unpopular arguments.  It was a protection against the kind of tyranny we are seeing in Wisconsin.

Tom Corbett hasn’t directly named public unions or university faculty as enemies of the state in the way that the Walkerites in Wisconsin have, but his attack on our budget couldn’t be more clear evidence that he’s perfectly willing to destroy us.

Think about it this way; in the face of pretty strong response publicly against his PASSHE budget proposal, Corbett’s response has been (predictably) along the lines of, “Well, this was just an opening in what I know will be a negotiation.”

That would sound reasonable, except for one thing.  You should NEVER offer a proposal you’re not prepared to live with.  What would have happened, does the Governor think, had we not responded so quickly and strongly?  What would have happened if the citizens of PA had said, “OK, you’re right, Tom!  Let’s smash ’em up!”

Anyway, more germane to the Cronon case, what we’re seeing around the country right now is an all-out effort to squelch shared governance and academic participation in our national and state politics.  The attempts at suppression don’t just cross campus boundaries but sit squarely on both sides of the boundaries.

Therefore, as a practical matter, I very, very strongly recommend a couple of things–

1.  While the WCU policy on email/internet usage doesn’t specifically preclude using your WCU email for political purposes, it seems like a good idea not to–especially given that President Weisenstein made a point of saying so (and saying not to use WCU letterhead for correspondence with government officials) on his Budget Update page.

2.  Start an account with a commercial service; APSCUF will need you to have one anyway if you don’t already.  Otherwise, as we move into preparations for our contract expiration, you’ll be uninformed.  We simply won’t send out organizational messages or updates on negotiations to campus email addresses; this shouldn’t be news to anybody on either side :).  I recommend Gmail, for a bunch of reasons I can explain if you care.

In the end, I think the law is on Professor Cronon’s side, as it would be on ours should somebody come (metaphorically, I hope) knocking at my door to complain about this blog or my personal one.

But why tempt fate?  Or, as I wrote in an email exchange about Cronon with a colleague the other day, who the hell has time to fool with that kind of challenge when we’ve got actual work to do?

 

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Filed under Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget, Collective Bargaining, free speech, Inside Higher Education, Kutztown University, PASSHE, Tom Corbett, University of Wisconsin, West Chester University, William Cronon