“Thirteen days and counting” is the phrase approximately 500 faculty and students had on their minds as they rallied Thursday at the Dixon Center in Harrisburg.
A total of 73 faculty members from IUP – the most of any school in attendance – filled a bus to travel three hours southeast to the state capital.
Some of the attendees opted to drive separately because the bus wasn’t large enough to accommodate all who turned out to support this event.
“I think it’s a great turnout,” said Heide Witthöft, chair of IUP Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties’ (APSCUF) temporary faculty committee, legislative assembly delegate, strike organizing committee member and professor of German in the foreign languages department.
“It’s a much bigger turnout than in the past. There is lot of great energy here.”
Witthöft also noted that some of her colleagues, such as those in the political science department, had offered to teach each other’s classes so they could attend the rally.
“Nobody wants to do this,” she said. “Everyone is hoping that this will result in progress.”
“It says there, ‘state system of higher education,’” Witthöft said as she pointed to the emblem on the Dixon Center.
“They should be supporting us and doing what’s best for students.”
Witthöft said she was thankful that other unions were showing their support and unity by providing their equipment and support at the rally.
She also said it was “great” to hear the cars driving by honking in support of the march.
At the beginning of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Board of Governors’ meeting, Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira emphasized that she was glad for the presence of students and faculty members representing the state schools.
Those who wished to speak were allotted a total of 30 minutes to make their remarks. Most statements were about how much the State System has meant to each individual in his or her careers and how they all wished to preserve various areas of the quality of education.
Some of the speakers’ notions were about how “faculty are not machines” and “students are not numbers.”
They also spoke about how a lack of job security causes adjuncts and temporary faculty to leave or to have to work harder to find more opportunities within the system. Similarly, a few reiterated that research is a key component in scholarship, and that scholarship is the foundation for securing academic excellence.
All of the speakers’ themes touched on the changes which are viewed as the most harmful that the State System has proposed for the contract.
During the speakers’ presentations, Shapira attentively nodded in agreement with some of their words and appeared to be, overall, receptive of the points they were bringing up. Chancellor Frank Brogan could be seen writing messages to his colleagues during the public comment.
Shapira extended the amount of time that was originally offered to the speakers so all who volunteered to speak had the chance to do so.
After the allotted time was up, Dr. Kenneth Mash, president of APSCUF and professor of political science at East Stroudsburg University, thanked Shapira for the time extension.
“We could have had 100 people here speaking,” he said. “I hope you hear our voices.”
Most of the audience then left to return to the march and continue chanting.
The chants were audible from within the meeting and were concentrated to grow the loudest when Brogan was speaking.
“If you think Florida is so great, head on back to the sunshine state!” they chanted.
Many of the chants being shouted had a common theme of anger directed toward Brogan, including a sing-along of the song “Na Na Na Na Hey Hey-ey Goodbye” in which they said Brogan’s name at the end of every verse.
“He’s the one you hear the most,” Witthöft said in reference to the pointed frustration. “He’s the face of the State System.”
While the majority of supporters stood outside to march, a group of students returned to the Board of Governors’ meeting to observe its process and try to ask a few questions.
“They were handing out awards to each other,” said Anna Lang (junior, English).
“They voted for some new things while we were there, and they voted on increasing the budget. When we came in, we were silent and respectful, standing in the back.
“No one acknowledged us and most of them didn’t make any eye contact.”
After the meeting, Lang said the students asked Brogan if he would talk to them.
“We were flat-out ignored,” she said. “People almost ran out of the room to avoid us.
“We left the room chanting.”
Those students were met by a thunderous applause from the students and faculty members who were still outside and gathered around to hear what they had to say.
The students passed a megaphone around amongst themselves, saying that they didn’t understand how the Board of Governors was “able to sit in there and give themselves raises while freezing [faculty] raises for two years.”
During the meeting, students also put their fists in the air and raised a banner petition signed by more than 1,200 students across all 14 schools.
“I hope [this has an impact],” said Dr. Amanda Morris, president of Kutztown University’s chapter of APSCUF, associate professor in the English department at KU and an IUP alumna.
“I hope that they see that we are standing in solidarity,” she said.
“We all want the same thing. We just want a contract. We don’t want to go on strike.”
Morris started at KU in August 2010 and, although she does have tenure, referred to herself as “relatively new faculty.”
In the spring, Morris was elected to be president of KU’s APSCUF chapter.
“I’ve never been in a union before,” she said. “I am so thankful that we have a union because I’ve seen how my other colleagues at other universities have been treated.
“We have the power to stand up for ourselves and our students.”