Category Archives: Office of the Chancellor

Good News from Chicago

In my inbox this morning–

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Congratulations to CTU for reaching a tentative agreement with a School Board that has been under the control of a career politician whose ideas about education are dangerously misinformed (foreshadowing, anyone?).

As we head into our last week of preparations for the looming strike set to begin October 19, the CTU settlement offers two important lessons for us.

  1. We’re fighting for quality, not for our personal enrichment or greed. The 2012 CTU strike provided the model by which teacher unions at all levels win strikes–by being clear about what’s at stake. Yes, our compensation matters to us, and we have to fight back against the “greedy teacher” trope, but the heart of the matter is our ability to work as professionals without having to fight off the wrong-headed (if not more insidiously dishonest) proposals of educational deformers who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about–and who don’t have to live the consequences of their bad thinking. In Chicago, those proposals were for increased class sizes, reduced funding for arts and even physical education, and a wide array of union-busting moves designed to de-professionalize teaching including evaluation regimens that are so meaningless it’s hard even to explain why the math is wrong and tons of similar examples.
  2. It’s possible to face down politicos whose agenda is anti-public-education if we stand strong against them. In Chicago, it’s Rahm Emanuel, a quasi-liberal education deform advocate who was elected Mayor in 2011. His (anti-) education agenda is well-documented. Obviously, in PA it’s Chancellor Brogan, who (and this may be the nicest thing I ever say about him) at least has a couple of years of classroom (sure, it’s fifth-grade, not college, but still) experience on his resumé. But his ideas about how to “reform” the state system are equally reckless and dangerous, and like Emanuel, he has no real stake in the outcome except how the narrative serves his political ambitions.

And that’s why, as we approach October 19, we must remember these two simple points.

We know more about what our students and our system needs to succeed than somebody who has never done our job or even thought much about it.

We’re a lot more committed to the success and well-being of our students and our system than the person who’s letting tax payers give him $345,000/year to do nothing that discernibly helps anyone in the system learn or teach more successfully. 

Just being right isn’t enough. Neither is being convinced that we’re right. We have to stand together, on picket lines if that’s what it comes to–and send the message loud and clear that we’re not greedy or lazy, and we’re not “teaching machines”; we’re hard-working people who know what we’re doing, and what the Chancellor wants is wrong for everyone who can’t jump ship whenever he feels like it. We have to push back against a politician who knows almost nothing about higher education so he doesn’t get to sell out 100,000 students, 6000 faculty/coaches, and thousands more staff and workers, for his personal political ambitions.

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Filed under APSCUF, Collective Bargaining, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Privatization, strike preparations, Teacher unions, Uncategorized

An Open Letter to Chancellor Brogan

Two weeks ago today, APSCUF President Ken Mash announced publicly that without a contract settlement, our union will go on strike October 19. During the press conference, President Mash made the point that among other misrepresentations going from the Chancellor’s Office to students and the press was a claim that we had rejected negotiating dates.

I wasn’t happy about the distortion and dashed off a letter to the Chancellor, to which I never received a response–not even the canned form letter other people received for writing their own letters to him. So I thought I’d post it here, to see if maybe that encourages some consideration his part. Feel free to share around if you like it, and to ignore it if you don’t.

Chancellor Brogan:

I write as a West Chester faculty member and, as you’d find out soon enough if you care, a member of APSCUF’s Mobilization Committee that’s working to prepare our faculty in the event that a strike becomes necessary.

Although I’m doing everything I can to make sure our faculty are prepared to strike, I still very much hope a strike doesn’t come to pass. When we say, as President Mash did this morning during his press conference, that it’s a last resort, we really mean it. Unfortunately, what we hear coming from your office is making it difficult for even the most optimistic of us to remain that way. In particular, although this sounds like a trivial detail, it was deeply disheartening to learn this morning that our team had proposed five dates for negotiations sessions to your team, and had gotten no response, while your team proposed dates they already knew were unavailable. That problem became even worse when somebody told the press our side “was refusing to negotiate” as a result. That’s incredibly disrespectful.

The substance of the contract issues aside, I hope you can understand why news like that is very unsettling. Our negotiations team–our whole union–is committed to settling a fair contract, and when your team shows what seems like so little regard for even the simplest details, it’s hard for us to believe that your people are as engaged in the process as we need them to be.

Even though roughly a year and a half of meetings and discussions haven’t resolved the contract issues, most of us believe three and a half weeks of genuine negotiating could end this. But it can’t while your team is proposing sessions on days they already know can’t happen, refusing to respond to requests for others, and blaming us for being unwilling. 

As a whole, the faculty are deeply committed to the students and the institutions that make up the system. We’ve heard you acknowledge this more than once over the years, for which we’re grateful. Now we just need the small group of people you send into the negotiating sessions to act like they understand it too.

In hopefulness,

Seth Kahn, PhD

Department of English

West Chester University

 

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

About Our Collective Mood

Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I’m furious this morning about the turn of events in our negotiations with PASSHE. My mood isn’t improved by the press coverage (for example, see this story on PennLive from last night, which makes a couple of very misleading claims and gives a largely open microphone to PASSHE’s spokesperson).

So yeah, I’m mad. Like many of us, I hoped the negotiating sessions over the last week represented a breakthrough–at least to the extent that they were happening, finally–and to hear that PASSHE tanked them after days of hard work doesn’t sit well (for a more thorough articulation of what broke down, read Kevin Mahoney’s piece on today’s Raging Chicken Press) .

However, anger by itself accomplishes very little. So it’s important for us as a campus and as a union to try to focus our reaction a little differently. Does PASSHE deserve our ire? Sure. But what they deserve even more is to face the steady, clear resolve of a faculty who can say two things with confidence:

  1. We know our students, our campuses, our colleagues, and quite frankly the national higher education landscape better than management does, which means that their claims to be speaking on anyone’s behalf but their own are largely empty.
  2. Nobody deserves to get yanked around by their management the way we are right now, and if we have to strike to make that point loudly enough for them to hear it, then that’s what we have to do.

We’ve been clear since the beginning of the negotiating cycle that we don’t want to strike. Yesterday, I was ready to do it if our leadership calls it; today I’m more so. Whatever PASSHE is playing at, whether they’re really pushing us to strike or just being intransigent, we all need to hear this much: be ready, and if you weren’t sure we really meant it, WE REALLY MEAN IT!

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

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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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

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

A non-presidential post from Steve Hicks

Sometimes even the most official officers need to say things that they prefer not to have attached to their offices. [OK, I’m done with that riff!]

Since the state APSCUF blog has rules, particularly governing length of posts, I wanted to offer this forum to Steve to say some things that aren’t within that limit. So here ya go. You can read the original version here. Or here:

Over the past week plus “at APSCUF” (which is less of a place than a state of mind — sort of), quite a bit of time has been spent looking at PASSHE’s new system of performance funding, which goes into effect this fall.  New in this system is a series of optional choices for the universities.  One of those — under “Stewardship” — is “Instructional Productivity.”

(Digressive paragraph) Several times at this weekend’s APSCUF Legislative Assembly, faculty went to the microphone to tell us “that’s a horrible term, don’t use it.”   One speaker suggested, strongly, that we use “workload” instead, because “that’s what it is.”  The problem with all this argument about terminology is that it isn’t “our” (as in faculty or APSCUF’s) language, it is PASSHE’s language, codified in PASSHE documents, approved by PASSHE’s Board of Governors (in January 2011), and used in all the documents forwarded by the Dixon Center for universities to use in determining their performance indicators.  They will continue to use it, no matter what we call it.

(Back to central point) This discussion of instructional productivity, er workload, centers on numbers from the state system showing the average CalUP faculty member generates 758 credit hours per year.  That’s #1 in the system by almost 2 standard deviations — next is Slippery Rock at 652.  Cheyney is lowest at 469.  At Assembly our most knowledgeable person said that Carnegie II.A institutions have an average of 589 — which is East Stroudsburg’s average (they rank 9th in the system, telling you how well we do; our unweighted average is 599).

Should instructional productivity be a performance indicator?  Probably not.  But our best early analysis of the options to university managers is that this is one they will all pick.  It is one that is clearly attainable (many other options seem unattainable).

This morning on *CBS Sunday Morning* they had a piece on college costs.  They interviewed the president and a student from Sarah Lawrence, amongst others — the most expensive college in the country, according to the story — and both talked about how the personalized attention from faculty was the great attraction of the university.  The president said it wasn’t faculty salaries that drove their price so high, but the fact they had to hire LOTS of faculty to keep that small class experience.

The point was made on the Assembly floor that CAL no longer can claim that kind of experience.  758 represents an average of 21 students in EVERY class CAL offers.  Of course, that would mean that EVERY faculty member teaches 12 courses, that no one has any release time to run a program, chair a department, do research…which we know isn’t true.

It means that every student sits in a class with a lot of other students — not Sarah Lawrence.  What it IS like is Penn State — a comparison made on the floor as the 758 number is almost exactly what the behemoth university in State College has as their average, too.  Although we hate it, WE ARE PENN STATE!

This is where we are in public higher education in Pennsylvania, and the US, today.  In the *New York Times* today, Frank Bruni cites an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development statement: Thirty years ago, the U.S. led the world in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with the equivalent of at least a two-year degree; only Canada and Israel were close.  As of 2009, the U.S. lagged behind 14 other developed countries.”  We don’t generate the number of degrees we need to stay with, let alone ahead, of the rest of the world because we make higher education both unaffordable and inaccessible.

How?  By defunding higher ed, both in Pennsylvania and across the country.  Last year PASSHE took an 18% cut in funding from the state; we’ve been asked to give back 5% more this year; and for 12-13 the current proposal from the Governor is a 20% cut.  This is after what even the State Senate  Appropriations Committee has admitted has been at least a decade of defunding.  Tuitions have risen and PASSHE’s Board and then the universities have responded with higher tuition AND a cut in their needed expenditures (it’s known in budget-tuition talk around the System as “the Gap” — the difference between the income from tuition and state appropriation and the real cost to sustain the current apparatus — and it’s been over $20 million every year I’ve been state APSCUF president).  It’s a squeeze from both ends.

This squeeze leads to more “productivity,” which, yes, means more faculty workload.  There’s no one else to squeeze in an academic institution: there are only so many copiers, paperclips, and backroom workers.  The real business is students and faculty.  Though you’d be surprised how little of an institution’s budget is actually for that part of the business (one set of numbers makes it to be in the 20-30% range and declining annually).   Classes grow, faculty have more students, the way we teach changes.

Who wants to go to college to sit in a large class, or sit in their dorm on their laptop in “distance” learning, or go to college where no one connected to the university even acts like they want to know their name?  College education is a labor intensive exercise.  As the labor economist from George Washington University said, we haven’t found a way to make it anything but labor intensive.

It serves no one to be more productive at some point: even an English professor (like me) understands the rudiments of the law of diminishing returns.  There’s a reason that all the PASSHE institutions have long advertised themselves to students (who are either the consumers or the product in the productivity model — that one can’t tell says much about how well the model applies) as familiar, know-your-name, private school model institutions.  No one has ever said “we are and want to be like (Carnegie) research (i) institutions, with large lecture halls and grad students in front of smaller classes.”

Cal has reached the point of diminished returns.  PASSHE should be careful about walking the other 13 institutions in their footsteps, given their current financial state.

Our students deserve quality education.  They deserve personalized attention.  They deserve a real opportunity to become what they want to become, not the plumber or carpenter that is the Corbett Administration concentration (which is NOT what students who choose to go to college want to do).

Using instructional productivity to distribute dollars and to show who is performing best will not have a positive outcome.

We all deserve better.

— Steve

 For what it’s worth, I couldn’t agree more–except for one thing. While Steve is certainly correct that PASSHE uses the term instructional productivity to describe, um, whatever it’s describing by using a term that means nothing, I was one of the people on the floor of the Legislative Assembly cheering the call to reject the term as often and loudly as possible.
Of course, that might be why I’m not President of anything. And that might be for the best.
–Seth

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Filed under Access, Advocacy, APSCUF, Budget Cuts, CFHE, Collective Bargaining, Corporate University, deliverology, Education reform, Inside Higher Ed, Instructional Productivity, Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE, Penn State University, Performance Funding, Privatization, Tom Corbett