Editorial: Pa. state faculty strike highlights need for support

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

After months of disagreement and failed negotiations, the faculty of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-supported universities will go on strike starting today.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties President Kenneth Mash confirmed the unprecedented strike will likely go on after breaking down overnight concessions in the midst of a media blackout.

The strike will bring a halt to the education of the state system’s 105,000 students, forcing professors to cancel classes and push back tests. But more importantly, it highlights the need for support among our faculty and value their work as educators.

While it’s nothing new for the Pennsylvania state government to undervalue its teachers and professors, its inability to reach an agreement last night and force a strike should be a wake-up call for lawmakers. Teachers and professors in the state system of higher education are valuable assets to the Commonwealth, and their demands now are not unreasonable. Lawmakers should stand with, rather than fight against, the people who educate tomorrow’s workers and leaders.

Yet ever since their contract ended in June 2015, the State System of Higher Education and its faculty union have not been able to come to agreement on a new contract.

The faculty union has said it is mainly concerned about salary cuts, changes to the health care package and the additional requirements for adjuncts, including additional classes being taught by full-time adjuncts, reduced compensation rates for part-time adjuncts and increasing the use of adjuncts overall. While the state system agreed to eliminate the adjunct proposals, they are still in a stalemate with the other two issues.

The university system offered a health care system similar to that of other system employees, but the proposal would increase the amount they pay for premiums and deductibles.

The state system also offered faculty raises that would range from 7.25 percent to 17.25 percent over a four-year contract, but the faculty union denied the offer. Salaries for full-time faculty range from $46,609 to $112,232, but part-time faculty are paid a minimum of $5,838 per three-credit course they teach.

While the strike might temporarily halt the education of thousands of students, the devaluing of our professors and education as a whole should be of more concern.

State funding for higher education has decreased significantly since 2008. Despite seeing a slight increase for the first time last year, students and professors are still hurting from the crippling effects this has had on their salaries and tuition.

Since then, unions at universities have popped up everywhere including our own here at Pitt. While Pitt is still in the process of forming a faculty union, we should be supporting them as much as we can. As of now, they are unable to demand the wages and benefits they deserve, unlike the Pennsylvania state school system.

We need to demand higher wages and better health care for our professors, as they are the pillars of our education. Our professors are being stretched, our tuition continues to rise and without challenging the devaluing of education, we all lose out. We should be coming up with ways to support and build up our faculty, not ways to cut their benefits and reduce them to disposable labor.

Pitt and every university deserve a fair contract, and the state must acknowledge that.