Yesterday, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF), the faculty union of which I am a part, declared a strike for the first time in its history. Over 5000 faculty from across PA are walking picket lines or providing APSCUF support in other ways in efforts to bring the PA State System back to the negotiation table. You can read about the context of the strike and get the latest news here.
We've enjoyed overwhelming support from students. I was moved to tears by students delivering us snacks and water, carrying signs, singing protest signs, and posting supportive messages to social media. (Shout out to @strike_ku !)
A few students have exercised their right to disagree with us. One theme in that disagreement prompts me to write: that faculty somehow prefer picketing to teaching, or that I'm on some sort of vacation, being lazy and avoiding work.
I didn't vote to authorize the strike lightly. I love teaching. My students are very important to me. Specifically, teaching writing, mostly to freshmen, mostly to first-gen college students, is my passion. When strangers ask what I do for a living, they all too often express dismay over the state of student writing, lament the ignorance of freshmen, or yearn for some mythical past in which college students were better prepared. I always correct them quickly: I love teaching composition, my students are smart and eager, and they are actually far more communication savvy than generations past. Helping students to discover their potential, to improve their critical thinking, and to express themselves more confidently is the best job I could ever ask for.
But I'm not in the classroom today. When the strike was officially announced, I cried. I haven't slept well in days. I'd much prefer to be talking to my College Comp students about audience today, or practicing reading scholarly studies with my Research Writing class. Even so, I am proud to be standing with my APSCUF colleagues today, I do this not just for our faculty, but for my current students, and for my future students, the ones I haven't met. I walk not just for more money (that's the story the State System perpetuates), but to protect the structure of higher education, to ensure that all faculty can do their jobs in an environment that supports the best possible learning conditions.
That said, I am also walking for pay, but not with my own pay at the top of my agenda. As an advocate for labor generally and for contingent labor in higher ed, I am especially motivated by this particular sticking point, as described in an APSCUF press release:
The state system wants to "Put adjunct faculty members, 60 percent of whom are women, on a separate — lower — salary scale. APSCUF is concerned about this as a pay-equity issue, [APSCUF president Ken] Mash said. While the State System's proposal did include raises, those raises were higher for higher-ranking faculty and lower for lower-ranking ones, a further unfairness APSCUF believes was meant to divide union members, Mash said. APSCUF is proud to have adjunct faculty members in its union and wants them treated with the same respect as tenured professors, Mash said."
As my Kutztown University colleague Kevin McCloskey explains beginning at 0:20 in the the student-produced video at the top of this post, our adjunct colleagues are MAs and PhDs --with the student loan bills to show it--they are professionals who deserve to be paid fairly for their work. Right now, the State System is hoping that tenure-line faculty will accept a raise at the cost of hurting these colleagues. We're standing up to that.
Other issues rankle as well, like the state reducing professional development funds to $0. Those funds allow me to attend conferences to stay up on the latest teaching methods and scholarship in my field. They allows me to attend seminars and to research so that I am the best-informed prof I can e be. I'm a better teacher for it. It's also a required part of my job--I must do professional development. But without those funds, I can't afford conferences fees and travel, or research fact-finding trips or classes. My adjunct colleagues are even less likely to be able to afford professional development. How can we do this part of our jobs without any support from our employer?
I'm not lazy. In fact, I keep finding myself thinking about the student assignments that I still need to comment on, the projects ungraded. I want to do that work. But standing up for what's right is the more important move right now.
I stand #withAPSCUF.