When it comes to protests on college campuses, it’s generally the students who are apt to make a fuss. Comes with the territory – big emotions, new ideas and a strong desire to make a difference in the world around them. Sometimes the faculty gets involved. It’s not often the faculty are the only ones making headlines. But that’s been the case at a Pennsylvania public college.
Union members representing public college faculty in Pennsylvania settled into what would be a three-day strike last week, a walk out that ended last Friday. At issue were three main complaints related to pay, benefits, and working conditions. All told, about 5,500 professors and countless other workers stepped off the job last Wednesday after contract talks permanently stalled.
It was a frustrating development for both sides, as those contract talks had been going on for about two years. It was imperative for the two sides to come to an agreement, as the academic fate of more than 100,000 students at 14 state schools hung in the balance. These students were instructed to report to their classes, but without any guarantee, there would be a faculty member there to instruct them.
Union leaders left it up to individual faculty members whether or not to strike, so students attended classes unsure as to whom may be standing at the front of the room.
Now, though, an agreement has been reached…and, as usual, no one is really happy. Faculty accepted a smaller pay increase than they wanted while the state nixed nearly 250 proposed changes to the current agreement. Through a released statement, union president Kenneth Mash, said: “Our primary goals were to preserve quality education for our students, protect our adjuncts from exploitation, and make sure the varieties of faculty work are respected…”
The fate and general job quality of adjunct professors has become a difficult issue from both a financial and a PR perspective for colleges across the country. The schools can use adjuncts to teach basic or lower level classes, pay them less and still meet rating and accreditation requirements. Meanwhile, adjuncts are taking on full workloads for a fraction of what “full-time” professors make. Seeing an advantage, countless colleges went that route more and more often, leading to steadily decreasing pay for adjuncts as well as diminishing job advancement prospects for promising young professors.
As news of these changes leaked out to the press, the perceived greed of the schools and indifference to their faculty have created a PR issue for college leadership to address. While this battle is over, that way is far from decided.