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By Dr. Steve Hicks, Past President of APSCUF and Lock Haven University Faculty Member

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of hearing politicians, board members, and university administrators toss around the buzzwords like “workforce planning” and “program realignment” in what they claim is a need to “reform” higher education.

Rarely do you hear anyone elucidate the meaning of these buzzwords. 

In fact, program realignment was the central point of Chancellor Brogan’s missive to “everyone” on July 30th – right before the collective bargaining agreement’s deadline for the initial retrenchment letter.

It was on our local Meet & Discuss agenda at Lock Haven University that week (“workforce planning”).

What does it mean?  How can the fourteen state system universities realign and reform to get -- what?

I have heard this twaddle for years.   Some of the gall was hearing it at Governor Corbett’s post-secondary education commission hearings two summers ago – they changed the name from “higher education commission” when they realized they weren’t talking about higher ed – as at multiple hearings testifiers stood and decried the Commonwealth’s lack of welders!

[A note on welders: according to a source I’ll repeatedly use, the PA Labor & Industry Department High Priority Occupation List, we need all of 528 more welders, cutters, solderers and brazers in the Commonwealth per year.]

Here’s what the Labor & Industry list tells us: there are 27 occupations designated as needing a Bachelor’s degree or more on the list of 106.  How many jobs per year? 10,853.  PASSHE graduates more than double that every year, as do the state-relateds (Pitt, Penn St, Temple); that number is non-sustaining.  What are we reshaping for?

The most needed bachelor’s degree occupation? 1,668 accountants and auditors.  We already do that.

Second?  Marketing research analysts (889).  We already do that. 

Third?  Computer system analysts.  We do that. Maybe not everywhere and in the numbers we need (though there are only 670 jobs per year in PA in this) but it’s not something we need to reform to do.

So, what are we realigning to or for?

This question is even more perplexing when you look at studies about what employers want.   Like this one from the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) from 2013.    Like many other such studies, it turns out executives hiring care more about the generic skills learned at a university, critical thinking, computation, written and oral communication, problem solving, than a specific major.  The much maligned philosophy major, or French major, shockingly! has what they want.   Much reinforced by quality general education (core curriculum) courses and by multiple years of reinforcement in multiple disciplines and multiple courses.

I ask again: what is it we are missing and what are we supposed to “align” with?

Administrators keep saying things like “we need to match the faculty with our student demand.”  They talk about investing in the “high demand programs.”

But universities respond to “high demand” – or anything else – slowly.  This year’s “high demand” is tomorrow’s “out of demand” – remember when journalists were in demand (post-Watergate)?  Remember when school teachers were in high demand (state budget cuts have killed that)?  Instead, universities, as PASSHE schools do, should educate students broadly so they can supply those “soft skills” no matter what the major and adapt from job to job as their lives, our economy, and their goals change – they all will change careers three times.  Worrying about nailing that first job seems short-sighted, which is one thing universities aren’t supposed to be.

I won’t speak here as to why all these “leaders” think higher education needs to reform, but I will say this clearly and soundly: it’s a misguided attempt to get four-year universities to do what they aren’t supposed to (welding?!?!?) and to forget our core aptitude: no matter the major, teaching students to think critically, communicate well, and solve the problems of any prospective employer.  Literally tens of thousands of jobs need those skills and those graduates – we need to keep “forming” students like that and the Commonwealth will be in fine shape.

Instead of program realignment and workforce planning, let’s have some innovative thoughts about how to get more high school graduates into to college, to keep them in college (we need to spend money so high risk 18-year-olds have a real chance of succeeding on campus), and how to mitigate the ever-increasing cost of public higher ed – even as we received flat funding from the state for the third straight year (after the 18% cut in 2011), students are asked to pay 3% more tuition and 15% more in tech fees, when they already average almost a welder’s annual wage in debt when they graduate.  THIS is what politicians, administrators and board members should be focused on: more accessibility, not on the next “hot” (a relative term) program.  The market will take care of that, thank you.

Dr. Seth Kahn is an APSCUF and faculty member from West Chester University. As a guest blogger, his views reflected below do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization as a whole. 

First, a loud thank you to APSCUF for sending me to New York City August 4-5 for the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor's 11th biennial conference. If you're unfamiliar with COCAL, the organization has emerged since the late 1990s as a--if not the--central venue in which adjunct activists collaborate to develop strategies and tactics to win better working conditions for contingent faculty. COCAL brings together contingent/adjunct activists from Canada and Mexico (both of which have hosted conferences) with their US counterparts, understanding contingency as a globalizing phenomenon.

I learned a lot at this conference, and before getting into the details, maybe the most important lesson is something I already realized (perhaps the most forceful statement of it by and for adjunct faculty comes from Keith Hoeller) but had reinforced more palpably than I could have imagined--

Lesson #1: While tenured and tenure-track faculty should and can be helpful advocates/allies for adjunct faculty equity, the real push for equity comes directly from adjunct faculty. I'm not sure how many other tenured/tenure-track people were there (I recognized a couple but expect there were some I just didn't know), but the energy, talent, and commitment in the room were almost entirely adjunct-driven. If I could bring anything back to APSCUF from this conference, it's a dose of that commitment for all adjunct members of the union; we know the talent and energy are here. The struggle for equity is everybody's, including yours. 

Other people have covered the conference's proceedings. This post from the Chronicle of Higher Education's Vitae section offers a coherent overview of events. Inside Higher Ed's coverage of the opening plenary session addresses the need to take direct action, including strikes (Stanley Aronowitz argued strongly for wildcat strikes; Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of British Columbia, contended that any public employee besides emergency responders has a moral right to strike) and better to articulate the (academic) labor movement in terms of non-financial issues. Other panelists and audience members considered tactics available to faculty in non-union states. The second plenary, which I'll say more about below, focused on specific strategies and tactics (mostly in union environments) for gaining and protecting contingent faculty power. The third plenary focused on linking arguments about contingent academic labor to issues of contingency in other labor sectors.

At that second plenary, called "Inside the Academy: The Cutting Edge," I learned about a variety of efforts that I think translate pretty directly into possible APSCUF positions/actions:

Lesson #2: We need to support in every way we can SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign, along with similar AFT and USW metro organizing efforts, even in areas that don't directly affect our members. USW has been working in Pittsburgh, and AFT is organizing across the Philly metro area as well as one campus in Pittsburgh. While APSCUF adjunct faculty are members of our bargaining unit already and won't be targets of those efforts, there's no reason that we can't and shouldn't offer support--to the extent that it's welcome. Not only are better conditions for contingent faculty an obvious good, but often APSCUF adjunct faculty work at multiple institutions, and we're benefiting them by working to improve those institutions. 

Lesson #3: Genuine adjunct equity goes beyond compensation. Donna Nebenzahl, representing the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA), described their successes on two important fronts. In their last contract, they negotiated a $240,000 (Canadian dollars, but still) professional development fund specifically for part-time faculty. The dollar amount aside, the key concept is the commitment the union and university have made.  I strongly call on APSCUF to make a similarly strong commitment to our adjunct faculty, as members of our bargaining unit. Likewise, Condordia part-time faculty have (to borrow Nebenzahl's words) "permeate[d] the governance of the university" by winning representation on hiring committees, curriculum committees, and other governing bodies. APSCUF permanent faculty members need to support our adjunct colleagues in this regard--there's simply no good reason not to. 

Alternating with the plenaries, the other major events at the conference were three breakout meetings of "interest groups" focused on specific strategic problems: working with media; negotiating equity; legal issues (Affordable Care Act; discrimination issues; etc); building a national agenda (working with unions and other organizations across institutions and regions); and organizing (with) students. The charge for the interest groups was loose, but the gist was to develop a short strategy statement, and if there was time to develop whatever tactical recommendations we could in order to operationalize the strategy. I joined the student group, learning at the beginning of the first session that organizers expected us to stay in a group for all three (I had planned on attending the media and national agenda groups as well, but deferred to the preference of the people who had done the work of putting the conference together).

I wasn't able to attend the closing session at which all five groups presented their final results, but (with the permission of our group members and facilitators) I can share what the student group developed, and one member of the national agenda group has already blogged theirs, a project they call the Democracy Index. That group is undertaking an effort that resonates with and builds from what many contingent labor activists have been trying to do for years--develop a method for praising institutions that do well by their adjunct faculty, and just as importantly, calling out institutions that do wrong. There have been attempts in my field (Composition/Rhetoric/English) to push our professional organizations (MLA, CCCC, NCTE) to censure departments/programs with bad labor practices, and the response has always been that bylaws (and, they argue, laws about non-profit status) prevent them from censuring/punishing anybody. The Democracy Index doesn't call for censure, specifically, but instead proposes to publicize rankings and reports on institutions' treatment of adjunct faculty: compensation, but also access to professional resources, academic freedom, and shared governance (see Lesson #2, above).

Lesson #4: Throughout the conference (and certainly in other adjunct activist venues), one of the common tensions is over how to prioritize compensation vs governance and professionalization issues. Is it more important to make sure everybody can pay their rent and buy food first, even if that comes at the expense of governance rights, or do we establish governance rights first in order to demand compensation equity more effectively? The answer to that is largely local, of course. APSCUF does reasonably well in terms of compensation, particularly for full-time adjunct faculty, but adjunct access to governance rights and professional development is inconsistently supported. We must do better. 

The interest group on organizing with students produced a statement of Core Principles and Practices (click this link to download the file, which we saved as Student Strategy Document). Our conversations focused on the need to balance the ethics of democratic organizing (not coercing students into supporting adjuncts), the common issues that students and adjunct faculty face, and the needs of adjunct faculty.

Lesson #5: The work we did in the student group reinforces the need for our Student-Faculty Liaisons, at both local and state levels, to be involved in efforts for faculty equity of all statuses, including adjuncts. Many of our students already work contingent jobs. Many will graduate and, without a tectonic shift in the economy, find other contingent jobs. We can fight contingency in unison, without exploiting students to do it, if we're careful and attentive to the ethics of what we ask for. 

Again, I'm very grateful to APSCUF for sending me to New York, and I'm grateful to all the organizers and participants at the conference for their welcome, their energy, and a commitment I hope I can share across the union and with adjunct activists and sympathizers everywhere.

I'll end with this request, a campaign I'm involved in that garnered some attention and support at the conference too. A few weeks ago, the good folks at State APSCUF posted a piece I wrote about this petition to David Weil at the Department of Labor , calling for signatures from faculty at all ranks/statuses, managers, staff, students, parents/guardians, families, anybody with an interest in quality higher ed. As of August 10, we're approaching 6800 signatures. Please sign and share.

 

APSCUF issued the following press release today in response to yesterday's retrenchment letters: 

Harrisburg – Yesterday, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) announced that five of the 14 state-owned universities are considering faculty layoffs at the end of the upcoming academic year.

The universities considering retrenchment include Mansfield, Edinboro, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, and Cheyney. These five universities account for over 20 percent of the approximately 6,000 faculty the State System employs. APSCUF remains hopeful that the administrations and PASSHE will reconsider this potentially devastating path to “fiscal solvency.”

During the ‘11 – ‘12 fiscal year, Governor Corbett slashed the budget for the State System by $90 million, and the System has been flat funded since. The consequences of that cut are again being realized now as students may see a loss of faculty and a reduction of key programs and courses.

“We thought we were done,” said Dr. Kenneth M. Mash, APSCUF President. “Our universities and faculty have been consistently asked to do more with less. The reality is that we can’t. Faculty have been laid off, programs have been eliminated and put into moratorium. We have reached the point of doing less with less to the detriment of our students and their educational experience.”

Over the last five years, PASSHE has placed approximately 160 programs in moratorium, reorganized another 90 programs, and created a mere 56 new academic programs. The eliminated programs included, among many others, foreign languages and other programs traditionally in the liberal arts.

“Public higher education is clearly not one of the Governor’s priorities,” said Mash. “You can’t remove $90 million in funding from a system and expect that system to continue sustaining the caliber of education that our students deserve.”

“We received Governor Corbett’s anti public higher education message loud and clear,” said Mash. “Our students and their families deserve quality, affordable higher education at an affordable price tag. His cuts have not only destroyed programs and reduced faculty, but he has also taxed students and their families through increased tuition."

PASSHE Chancellor, Frank. T. Brogan and the university presidents stated that the current possibility of layoffs is also due to program realignment to better serve the Commonwealth’s needs in workforce readiness. “Talking about program realignment and strategic vision in a vacuum is unreasonably simplistic. It is not coincidental that these are the same universities that wanted to retrench last year because of ‘financial considerations.’ We are cutting faculty and programs that CEOs say students need in the workforce.”

“Eighty percent of our graduates remain in Pennsylvania, and we absolutely want them to be prepared for the workforce. The only sensible answer is that the System needs to be properly funded. We need our legislators and our Governor to truly support the Commonwealth’s future,” said Mash.

There is a national trend in which institutions of higher education deny their adjunct faculty quality wages and benefits. The calculation of credit hours results in pay almost equal to the minimum wage at most fast food and retail locations. With such inequalities, many adjuncts are left to wonder how to make ends meet.

At this moment, there is an online petition asking David Weil, Director of the Wage and Hour Division in the U.S. Department of Labor, to “open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty.” Please read Dr. Seth Kahn’s guest blog on Academe titled Why you should sign a petition calling for the Department of Labor to investigate contingent faculty working conditions. Dr. Kahn is an English professor and APSCUF member at West Chester University.

You can add your name to this very important measure by clicking here.

by Prince Matthews, APSCUF intern

Yesterday, I was telling my site supervisors that the APSCUF internship was my favorite internship to date. When asked why, I couldn’t give a specific answer so on the spot I decided to create a list highlighting the benefits of interning at APSCUF.

1. The staff at APSCUF are awesome and will treat you with the utmost respect. From the President to the other intern, everyone you’ll meet at APSCUF will treat you with respect and is glad to have you here as an addition to the team. The sense of belonging here is like no other. They are all really good at what they do, and have valuable information and interesting stories to share. In short…they’re awesome!

2. You get to work for a union that represents the faculty and coaches who helped you become the person you are today. Can you name a better internship to be passionate about? There’s no better feeling than being passionate about helping the people who were passionate about helping you. Interning for APSCUF will hit home in more ways than you could imagine.

3. You get to work with people who have similar but different stories from you. Having supervisors who are graduates of PASSHE universities gives you a greater sense of direction when it comes to entering the workforce. There’s nothing more insightful than getting the play-by-play of how your supervisors transitioned from the academic world to theReceiving such information can give you great ideas on how to pave your own journey to success.

4. You get to spend valuable time in the Pennsylvania Capitol building. If you love politics, you’ll love being in the Capitol building. There you will have the opportunity to meet legislators, government officials, lobbyists, tourists, and anyone in between. There is never a dull day, and there’s never a bland night.

5. There’s plenty of networking opportunities. During your tenure as an APSCUF intern, you get to attend countless meetings and events that can give you access to valuable networking opportunities.

6. You will learn new skills. One of the most valuable attributes about the internship is that you will get to learn new skills that have real-world use. By learning new skills, you are taken out of your comfort zone temporarily to grow as a professional forever. It also helps you build confidence and courage for completing new task in the future. Learning valuable skills now can land you a valuable position later.

7. You get your own workspace. As an aspiring young professional who is eager to get into the workforce, having your own office to work in is truly underrated and simply motivational.

8. You get to engage in valuable research projects. Here at APSCUF, interns have the opportunity to complete valuable research that looks promising to employers, great on a resume, and even better to graduate programs.

9. You can earn academic credit. Need a break from campus but still want to earn credits applicable to your graduation requirements? Intern for APSCUF.

10. You get paid! Unfortunately, not all internships are paid internships. However, here at APSCUF you will get the work experience you need and the money you deserve; it kills two birds with one stone!

PASSHE Board of Governors
Remarks of Kenneth M. Mash, Ph.D.
July 8, 2014

Chairman Pichini, Members of the Board, Chancellor Brogan,

My name is Kenneth Mash and I am the president of the APSCUF. I am proud to represent the approximately 6,000 faculty and coaches who are the heart of what we do at our 14 great universities.

Every day at those institutions, every one of them, your faculty and coaches are the ones who deliver to the students the promise of a quality higher education. Every day at our universities, our coaches are challenging their student athletes to be the best that they can be. Every day at our universities, faculty help students transform themselves into mature citizens.  Every day at our universities, there are faculty and coaches going the extra mile to help students reach their potentials.  Every day at our universities, there are faculty guiding their students into the workforce. Every day at our universities, faculty are engaged in groundbreaking research, and they do so despite the limited resources at their disposal. These are the stories that must be told.

The vibrancy, the buzz at our universities is something to behold. Excellence thrives at all of our campuses across the Commonwealth. Our students succeed. Every day at our universities, our students do amazing things, they reach new heights, exceed expectations, and our alumni go on to highly successful careers. 

Our universities, as study after study shows, return back to our communities and to the state far more than they receive in allocation dollars. They have also done more with less to the breaking point. 

These are the stories that need to be told loudly and broadly. 

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