Faculty members at Pennsylvania’s state-run universities are preparing to stage a system-wide walkout on Oct. 19. The move comes well after a year of unsuccessful negotiation following the expiration of official faculty employment contracts on June 30, 2015. Both the administration and the more than five thousand members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties are divided over a lengthy number of key issues, such as salary for tenured and adjunct professors, faculty workloads and healthcare. Yet, both union members and administrators definitively agree on one key issue: if a strike occurs, the group that will be hit hardest is the students.
A mass walkout by faculty members could easily wreak havoc upon the more than 105,000 students that are currently taking classes within the Pennsylvania state university system. Administrators have stated that in the event of such a strike, all students would still be required to attend and pay for their fall semester courses, despite the lack of any official faculty presence or any actual teaching. In addition to this being incredibly fiscally detrimental to Pennsylvanian students and their families, the scenario could also have serious consequences for the academic status of all students in the system, as it is still unknown whether or not the courses will be counted as legitimate credits towards graduation.
While it may be hard to determine which party is truly at fault for the breakdown of these negotiations — particularly because all official contract discussions have taken place behind closed doors — both the union members and the administration will bear responsibility if students are denied a proper education due to their failings. Demonstrations of this nature have been rarely seen in the world of academia for this very reason. The group being hurt the most by the strike is not just some board of trustees at a company, or the consumers of a product, but rather students who are trying to further their education.
Normally the pressure to provide such a vital experience to young and impressionable participants is enough to stop most contract disputes from reaching such a point, but lately, that standard seems to be changing. Similar events have occurred at other universities — most recently at Long Island University — that seem to indicate a more widespread shift towards the devaluation of the act of providing an education at any cost. This is beyond worrying, as such a shift — if left unchecked — can and will grow to affect students nationwide. Administrators and faculty members in Pennsylvania need to think carefully about their actions in the upcoming week, as their choices will have consequences that will play out on a national scale.
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