Why We Will Strike (Though We Would Rather Teach)

– Melissa K. Downes and Jeanne M. Slattery

An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.
Thomas Jefferson

img_0119Neither of us wants to go on strike. We love teaching, we’re committed to our students, and we would far rather be doing our jobs than walking picket lines, listening to PASSHE managers misrepresent us, worrying about our students, and fussing about how we will pay our bills. Yet, if it comes down to it, we will strike. Why?

For our students:
We agree with Thomas Jefferson: an educated citizenry is vital  for our survival as a free people. However, teaching well and learning well are labor-intensive processes. We are willing to strike to be able to have the kind of working conditions that allow us to continue to spend the time preparing our courses, responding to and grading papers, advising and mentoring students, and working with student groups, as well as the many other responsibilities we have as professors. We are willing to strike to rebuild and maintain a quality and affordable public university system in Pennsylvania.

We are also willing to strike to obtain the kind of support that our universities need.

  • The PASSHE universities have been woefully underfunded recently. In 1984 in Pennsylvania, students paid about 35% of the costs of their education. The percentage that students and their families pay increased to almost 75% by 2012 (Mahoney, 2014).
  • Only five states have cut public education more deeply in recent years than Pennsylvania – Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, and South Carolina (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2016).
  • We are 48th in funding for public higher education per capita in the nation (Pennyslvania Budget and Policy Center, 2014). As a result, our students have been forced to pick up a significantly larger proportion of the cost of their education; tuition and fees are now the third-highest at public four-year colleges in the US (Pennyslvania Budget and Policy Center, 2014).
  • Student loan debt in Pennsylvania is now the third highest in the nation (L’Amoreaux, 2016).

We think of this as a moral issue. As L’Amoreaux (2016) argued,

When we do not demand that public education and higher education be adequately funded by the state, we are complicit in creating a situation in which we contribute to furthering the economic divide between those who have and those who do not. We perpetuate poverty in our state by failing to provide future generations with opportunities. (para. 8)

For our colleagues:
If we fail to stand up and support our union, we also fail to support our colleagues. If we accept whatever our Chancellor offers, if we fail to advocate for our adjuncts, we suggest that we believe that our work is not valuable, that we don’t deserve to be reimbursed for our years of training, our expertise, our hard work (Warner, 2016).

If we accept the current proposals, we suggest that it is okay to almost double our workload when we teach labs or supervise interns – which would also have a negative impact on our students.

If we accept the current proposals, we suggest that we believe it’s okay for our president to move us to any position within the university at her (or his) whim – which would be absurd and have a disastrous effect on our students and their learning.

If we accept the current proposals, we indicate that it’s okay to set up a two-tiered system, one for tenured/tenure-track faculty, another for adjuncts. We would say that it is okay to increase adjunct workload by 25% (from four courses to five per semester), while cutting their opportunities to do the service and research that would make them competitive for positions here or elsewhere. Under the conditions of the PASSHE-proposed contract, we would advise colleagues not to accept an adjunct position here if they ever want to earn a tenure-track position.

None of this is okay.

PASSHE’s proposal would damage our ability to hire and keep strong temporary faculty members. Moreover, PASSHE’s proposal would damage our ability to hire and keep any faculty.

A move toward increased reliance on part-time adjuncts and graduate students would make it more difficult for departments to complete the very considerable but necessary “housework” that enables departments and universities to run smoothly (e.g., advising, recruitment, assessment, curriculum development, evaluations for tenure, letters for promotion, search committees, accreditation, committee work).

The changes that PASSHE proposes would make it more difficult for faculty to write and do the research that makes a university a vibrant place of learning – as we would need to focus more of our energies on departmental and university housework (see above). Departments would find it more difficult to hire faculty, and students would be denied the inspiration that comes from faculty engaged in ongoing research.

For our university and its long term good:
Our students need a healthy university. They need to have our universities receive sufficient funding to be successful. They need faculty who are well-prepared, who value their teaching and work with their students. They need faculty who are committed to their universities rather than feeling demoralized (as we increasingly do), who believe that their universities can be better and are working to make them so. They need faculty who believe that their administrators, university, and university system have their backs and value education and what faculty do. Students need to be able to depend on the value of their degrees. Weakening our universities, as this PASSHE proposal would, would weaken the value of students’ degrees.

We suspect that some administrators believe that we are fighting because we like to cause trouble, because we want to hurt our university, because we want more money. We love and are committed to our university. We want to see it succeed. We want to see it do its very best. What PASSHE proposes undermines our universities, our students, our faculty, and our union. It is their proposal that overlooks quality to focus on money.


Rally outside the PASSHE Board of Governors meeting, October 2016

For our union:
If we fail to fight for salary, health care, and good working conditions, we imply that we concur with the chancellor’s statement that we only work 17 hours per week, that we are overpaid and underworked, that we don’t deserve to be treated well. We allow unchallenged the myth that our work is not valuable (Warner, 2016).

The PASSHE contract proposal and the myths publicly repeated by our chancellor, the board of governors, our legislators, and our administrators suggest they do not understand who we are or what we do. Or, perhaps, they do understand what we do and have willfully misrepresented us for political ends.

We faculty spend four to ten years in graduate school to build significant expertise in our field. During those years we had to forgo significant income. We chose to do it because we love to learn, we love to teach, and we love to serve.

We do more than teach 12 hours per week and meet our office hours, we often work 60 or more hours per week to meet the varied expectations of our job (e.g., teaching, grading, research, advising, university service, community service; see Slattery & Downes, 2016; Ziker, 2014). We work throughout our unpaid summers: preparing for the next year, writing and doing research, doing the things that we are otherwise unable to complete during the school year.

Breaking a union does not make for a healthier or better university or a better or healthier Pennsylvania.

For ourselves:
We did not vote to authorize a strike simply or even mainly for increased salary. We will strike to support quality education for our students. We will strike to maintain working conditions that allow us to offer our students a quality education. We will strike to maintain the health of our university system and our union. We will strike because we deserve to be treated with respect.

We do not want to strike, but we will – if PASSHE and Chancellor Brogan force us to.


Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2016). State-by-state fact sheets: Higher education cuts jeopardize students’ and states’ economic future. Retrieved from http://www.cbpp.org/research/state-by-state-fact-sheets-higher-education-cuts-jeopardize-students-and-states-economic

L’Amoreaux, N. A. (2016). IUP faculty union president: Why I will strike. The Hawk Eye. Retrieved from https://thehawkeyeonlinenews.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/iup-faculty-union-president-why-i-will-strike/

Mahoney, K. (2014). PA state senators crafting legislation to allow universities to secede from state system of higher ed. Academe Blog. Retrieved from https://academeblog.org/2014/02/24/pa-state-senators-crafting-legislation-to-allow-universities-to-secede-from-state-system-of-higher-ed/

Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. (2014). Media release: A must-have for Pennsylvania. Part II: Investment in higher education for growth and opportunity. Retrieved from http://pennbpc.org/media-release-must-have-pennsylvania-part-ii-investment-higher-education-growth-and-opportunity

Slattery, J. M., & Downes, M. K. (2016). 10 myths that damage a university. Part 1: How a university “should” run. Hand in Hand. Retrieved from https://handinhandclarion.wordpress.com/2016/09/24/10-myths-that-da…rsity-should-run/

Warner, J. (2016). If tenured want to survive, pay your adjuncts. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/if-tenured-want-survive-pay-your-adjuncts

Ziker, J. (2014, March 31). The long, lonely job of Homo academicus. The Blue Review. Retrieved from https://thebluereview.org/faculty-time-allocation/

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