Professors left picket lines on Friday after a faculty union reached agreement with the Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.
About 80 percent of faculty had joined the strike, the first in the state university’s system, affecting more than 100,000 students at colleges across Pennsylvania. It started Wednesday morning.
“It was really an unusual process,” said Kenneth Mash, president of the union, who thanked the governor and other political leaders for their help resolving the standoff. “The governor himself, and the governor’s office were really involved in doing everything from trying to push the sides to compromise to actually passing messages along to the different sides – things had broken down so badly” after years of contract negotiations. “If it wasn’t for them I don’t know when the strike would have ended.”
He said he was happy everyone could return to the classroom.
“To preserve quality education, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties accepted concessions to salary and benefits in exchange for eliminating most of the 249 changes the state system proposed in June,” the union announced in a statement. “Also for the sake of students, APSCUF agreed to a salary package that was significantly lower than that of the other unions.”
The union said it was fighting to preserve the quality of higher education when the state was demanding changes such as more adjunct faculty and requiring professors to teach more classes per semester. A spokesman for the state system said that state funding has not increased in many years and with enrollment declines, cuts had to be made somewhere.
Mash said in a statement, “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.
“We achieved every single one of those goals, and the faculty were willing to take less than every other bargaining unit in order to preserve those goals. We are relieved to have an agreement that preserves quality public higher education in Pennsylvania and allows our members to get back into the classroom where they belong.”
Mash was also grateful for the support they got throughout the strike from many students, who joined professors, brought them coffee and donuts, and tweeted their support on social media.
State system leaders also thanked Gov. Tom Wolf (D). “Once again, everyone can focus on what matters most — teaching and learning,” Board Chair Cynthia D. Shapira said in a statement.
“Today is an opportunity for a fresh start,” said State System Chancellor Frank T. Brogan. “Throughout this process, our students have been remarkably patient, and they should be applauded. Now, we look forward to making sure the rest of the year ends strong for them and for our talented faculty.”
The agreement includes faculty pay increases, the state system noted in a release, and will allow the system to save significant health-care costs.
The new contract, which would run through June 30, 2018, will go to all union members for a vote. If ratified, that tentative agreement would go to the board of governors of the state system for final approval.
The union represents about 5,500 professors and coaches from Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester universities.
Wolf said in a statement that negotiations had been challenging but he felt they had reached an agreement that was fair to both sides.
“We all agree that the higher education of our students is a top priority, and I am thrilled that today students can go back to class and professors can teach them.
“I will continue my fight for greater investment in higher education and affordability for Pennsylvania families. We must ensure that we all work together to strengthen the State System financially – after years of underfunding – while providing our professors and students with the resources necessary to train a future workforce to compete in the modern economy.”