In recent weeks I have heard a lot of student concerns about the possibility that APSCUF, the union that represents university professors in the 14 universities in the state system of higher education (SSHE), may go on strike at the end of June. I would like to take this opportunity to try to explain why students should consider supporting the union in its fight for a livable wage here at West Chester University. Unions are under attack from many quarters in the United States. There is a common misperception that unions are in business to “protect incompetents.” This kind of reasoning is bandied about by managers and corporate owners as a way of deflecting their real worries – that they might have to pay their workers a livable wage and that doing so could hurt their profit margins. What unions protect are decent, fair wage scales and decent, fair working standards.
APSCUF professors need to prepare very seriously for a strike. We have signed two mediocre contracts in a row because administrators in the state system of higher education were convinced APSCUF professors would never go on strike, that none of us could afford a strike. We must show solidarity in the face of administrative “contract offers” that are laughable. SSHE proposes a 0-0-0-0 percent raise over the next four years.
Ask your parents if they would settle for such a proposal from their employers. Your families would be losing ground to rising inflation if they did. This proposal dares us to organize a strike.
The preservation of our livelihoods is at stake but, more importantly, the preservation of the quality of education at all universities in the state system is also at stake. APSCUF professors are worried that the quality of instruction will decrease if SSHE administrators are allowed to hire more part-time adjuncts instead of tenure-line faculty members.
Part-time faculty can be superb teachers, dedicated to their students. However, they don’t (they simply can’t) have the same commitment to West Chester. They don’t serve as advisors; they don’t serve on university committees; they don’t help in curriculum development and all of the other work that insures the quality of a WCU degree.
We worry that the quality of instruction will decline if they are allowed to increase class sizes indiscriminately. We worry the quality of the instruction you receive will be diluted if the better candidates for job openings are drawn to universities where the teaching load is significantly lower and the salaries are increasingly higher than at state system universities.
Professors in the union feel strongly we are taking a stand for middle class values and for the continued maintenance of middle class economic standards. Having a fair distribution of income among middle class families creates political stability for the nation. When wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of people, political chaos ensues.
I believe I can say this without sounding hyperbolic: APSCUF members have a strong responsibility to take a stand not only for our own union but for the very idea of a brotherhood of workers. We are taking a stand for the preservation of middle class values, wages and health benefits.
The union is important because it is the best way to ensure benchmarks that corporations and other work organizations must compete against. Our contract will create a competitive wage scale in other work places. It will also establish benchmarks for health insurance; work place benefits; safe working conditions; sick, family and maternity leaves.
We are doing yeoman’s work for the lower and middle classes in Pennsylvania. We help students achieve economic success in life. The reason your tuition is relatively low is because our class sizes are higher than many comparative universities in the state and because our teaching loads are comparatively heavier too. There is a direct correlation between our course loads, our class sizes and the state system’s affordable tuitions.
Professors teach. We advise students. We conduct research and publish our findings. We serve on university and departmental committees. We write letters of recommendation for students for jobs and graduate school. We help evaluate colleagues in our departments. Most of us work between 50 and 60 hours a week.
Students might wonder why university administrators make more money than the professors who teach them and why the percentage of administrative hires keeps rising when the hiring of tenure-line professors does not keep pace.
Please consider these three points when you decide whether to support the union in our negotiations with the Pennsylvania SSHE.
1. Unions are good for America because they preserve a middle class.
2. APSCUF professors serve lower and middle-class families through comparatively higher teaching loads and larger class sizes.
3. APSCUF professors stand for solid educational values that will serve graduates well when they leave college and enter the work force.
-Charles Bauerlein (Asst. Professsor of Journalism)