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Faculty Strike at Millersville University

Written by Richard Copeland, Producer - Smart Talk | Oct 19, 2016 12:32 PM

After a two year negotiation broke down late Tuesday night, the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties (APSCUF) began a strike that was approved in late August.   Instructors at the 14 schools that are part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PSSHE) joined the picket line.  APSCUF President Ken Mash issued a statement through a press release:  "We waited until 5:00 a.m. We are headed to the picket lines, but even on the picket lines, our phones will be on, should the State System decide it doesn't want to abandon its students. "

News of the strike spread quickly through social media.  Millersville University Chemistry Professor Katie Allen was alerted immediately by a Twitter post:  "I found out at five o'clock, with everybody else."  Allen assumed her role as picket captain and joined about 50 faculty members lined up outside of the main entrance to the university. 

Picketers held signs reading "Negotiate a Fair Contract" and "Students Deserve Quality" and chanted "Frank Brogan Has Got to Go" - a reference to the PSSHE Chancellor representing the state in the negotiations.  They were joined by students showing their support for the faculty.  Caitlyn Tynes, a sophomore environmental biology major, joined the striking faculty members on the picket line after learning classes were canceled.  "I saw my teachers and I wanted to support them because they were risking losing their health insurance.  I can stand up with them."

The union, which has been operating without a contract since June of 2015, objects to PSSHE policies that would increase the use of temporary faculty members, reducing the number of full-time instructors and decrease the salaries of adjunct professors.  Ken Mash discussed the failure of the talks with WITF's Smart Talk on Wednesday.  "We offered them a wage package that was really much smaller than any other state employee," he said.  "We offered them a package that could save them 50 million dollars for years and they said that's not good enough."

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PSSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall  also joined Wednesday's Smart Talk and said that the money just isn't there to meet the needs of the faculty:  "Overall, the system has seen declining enrollments six years in a row, so we're facing very, very difficult times."  Marshall feels that the union is taking an adversarial approach to the discussions.  "It seems as if APSCUF tries to present this picture that we're going after them, that we're trying to punish them" he said.  "Nothing could be further from the truth."

On the Millersville campus, the students we talked to seem to be taking the strike in stride.  Junior David King of Marietta wasn't surprised by the strike.  Instructors have been warning students of this possibility for weeks.  Knowing the strike was in effect, King was still told to report to class today:  "I came to my first chemistry class and there was no professor there.  I stayed for about 10 minutes and left."  King, like other students is concerned about what this could mean for graduation, saying "I'm really hoping that the semester could continue on.  I guess if it doesn't, we'll all be held back a semester and if that happens I really hope that we get our tuition refunded."

Despite their concerns, Millersville students are showing support for their teachers.  Caitlyn Tynes spoke about her fellow students' perception of these negotiations: "If they [students] understand that our quality of education is going to go down by us getting biology teachers teaching chemistry or having graduate students teaching lecture then they understand we didn't pay for that; we paid to be taught by doctors."

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