With the potential strike on the rise on Oct. 19, students have expressed confusion and concern about how it could affect the student body. To get more information about the strike and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty’s general discussion about the issues they have had to confront, I interviewed English professor Seth Kahn, where questions regarding APSCUF and the possible strike were discussed.
SM: Where are students’ money going to while their teachers aren’t working?
SK: The administration has told you to expect that everything will proceed as normal, so it sounds like their plan is to replace us if we’re out. I have a hard time imagining they can replace more than 900 of us with qualified people, but it’s what they say. If it turns out that classes don’t proceed on schedule during a strike, part of any settlement that brings us back to work would include making sure students get the time you paid for. There are various models for how that might work, depending on the length of a strike–adding days to the end of the school year; encouraging faculty and students to come in for some weekend “voluntary” classes (like we did a couple of winters ago after getting smacked by snow and ice); or similar kinds of ideas. Which of those we (both the administration and the union) would agree to is hard to say. I believe the WCU administration is committed to working with us to make any such recovery time as smooth as possible for everyone, and mostly for you.
SM: How will students’ grades be affected if there is a strike?
SK: That’s impossible to say with any certainty. If the strike is short, it’s likely not to have much if any effect at all. If it’s really long, then the administration has options that I wouldn’t even begin to guess at how they might execute. That’s a question they could answer that I wouldn’t want to try to on their behalf.
SM: If there is a strike, how long is it expected to last?
SK: Nobody knows. The faculty hope that, if it has to happen, a strike quickly signals to the State System negotiators that we don’t think they’re trying hard enough, and that they’ll hear the message. So from our point of view, it’s all a matter of how the system responds. If they hear the message and respond positively, it could be very short. If they double-down on the strategy that’s gotten us to this point, it could be much longer.
SM: If there is a strike, how will classes work? Would they continue? Or are all professors mandated to strike?
SK: First, nobody is mandated to strike; that’s against the law. And AP- SCUF as a matter of policy doesn’t fine or punish faculty who don’t participate. We do, however, fully expect that faculty will participate because we understand that if we’re forced to strike, crossing the picket line to teach undercuts everything we’re working for in the negotiations. That said, as you’ve seen in emails and press releases from the Chancellor’s Office, they’re telling you that classes will continue. I’d be surprised if they can do that as easily as they seem to think they can, but it’s well within their right – and arguably their responsibility – to try.
SM: Is it true that one of the main reasons for the strike is due to the school’s desire to hire undergraduate degree adjuncts instead of hiring higher educated professors and instructors?
SK: The idea here is right but the details are a little blurry. There are two proposals that kind of run together in the question. First, while WCU and all the State System schools employee some adjunct faculty, they currently have advanced degrees. As of now, our full-time adjunct faculty teach four courses per semester. The proposal from the State System would increase their load to five courses per semester without any increase in pay. The most recent State System press release contends that current full-time adjunct faculty have service and scholarship responsibilities that constitute the 20 percent of their workload that would become teaching. That claim is simply untrue. There are adjunct faculty who do service and scholarship, but it is NOT part of their base workload. The proposal to add a course is very much a change in that base. Aside from the financial implications, teaching five courses per semester would make it nearly impossible for adjunct faculty to do any of the other work faculty do for students-advising student groups, writing recommendation letters, having one-on-one conferences, doing any kind of research/scholarship at all, and so on. So there’s an impact on students too; it’s not just about fairness for our adjunct faculty. The other proposal, to begin allowing graduate students in Masters programs to be allowed to teach, has been taken off the table. And by the way, we believe one reason why is that you, students, made such noise about it. Take that as a lesson!
SM: Is there information that the president is sending us in the links that is not true or leaving out information that is being told to the faculty?
SK: I don’t know that we’re getting information from the president (or the Chancellor) that you’re not. We certainly get information from our union that doesn’t square with what you’re hearing from the Chancellor. Check out <www.apscuf.org/students> to see what we think the Chancellor’s Office is misrepresenting or omitting.
SM: What is the main reason for the strike, the biggest issue that is encouraging the faculty to possibly strike?
SK: I think there are two. First, many of us are really angry on behalf of our adjunct faculty that the state system wants to treat them worse, in terms of pay and access to service and scholarship, then the system already does. Most of us understand the problems our adjuncts face, and as a collective we’re pushing back on that. Second, we’re not willing to agree to the laundry list of proposals that would affect the faculty’s ability to make decisions about curriculum, hiring policies, placement in departments, and the like.
Along with our love of the subjects we teach and study, many of us are drawn to this profession because it’s one of the few places where workers’ expertise regarding our own working conditions has always mattered. We’re not interested in watching the state system undo all of that, rather than doing a better job of making the case to the legislature that the system needs money.
In other words, faculty aren’t the big, greedy, expensive monstrosity we’re being made out to be, but we’re being asked to bear the weight of recent economic troubles and a state system that hasn’t fought hard for its members. The only other group being asked to bear so much of the weight is you.
I hope students understand how much we mean it when we say that we’re standing up for you as much we’re standing up for ourselves; we’re in this together.
Samantha Mineroff is a third-year student majoring in English writings track with a minor in creative writing. She can be reached at SM825021@wcupa.edu.