Local APSCUF faculty members held a rally in the quad during common hour Tuesday where members spoke about the possible strike and then delivered a petition to the office of President Norton.
The petition had signatures and comments from students and faculty and asked for Norton to do whatever she could to help the contract negotiations between APSCUF and PASSHE come to a conclusion before a strike.
Ben Shaevitz, president of the SRU chapter of APSCUF, started the rally and thanked the students and faculty who had gathered there.
“My skin is just tingling right now to see all the students here in support and to see my colleagues here together,” Shaevitz said.
Shaevitz said the rally was created to help show solidarity and share information with those in attendance.
“Tomorrow is the day that we may go on strike,” Shaevitz said. “We’ll learn at five in the morning about whether that will happen or not. We are prepared to strike tomorrow but we hope that that’s not what happens.”
Colleen Cooke, vice president of the SRU chapter of APSCUF and recreational therapy professor, spoke after Shaevitz and had a prepared statement. Cooke said that she had been teaching at the university for 20 years and attended the college starting in 1982, liking the small town nature and the closeness between students and faculty.
“Our primary concern is about the quality of your education,” Cooke said.
Cooke said that her enthusiasm does not come from a desire to strike but from her passion for her profession and to do what is right. Cooke briefly said that SRU should be known as a caring community without discrimination.
Patrick Burkhart, geography, geology and environment professor, spoke after Cooke and said that faculty and coaches can be heroes to students.
“Your faculty and coaches make heroic efforts to enrich your resume with expertise,” Burkhart said.
Burkhart said that in 2013 the university administration spoke of a perfect storm of financial doom and spread that doom to newspapers.
“At the time, I was president of SRU APSCUF and I did not spread hysteria,” Burkhart said. “I refused to believe we were on the edge of collapse.”
Burkhart said that at the time, he bet the administration a dollar that SRU would not lose a dollar and that the university went on to make money for the past few years.
“They made many miserable,” Burkhart said. “They cheated my students of timely-graded assessments. They are doing such again right now.”
Burkhart said that he advocated for the commonwealth to better support public education and that what the faculty and coaches do at the university is noble.
“It’s fun to watch students mature,” Burkhart said. “It’s so cool to see your faces beam with the surprise of discovery.”
Burkhart then questioned why PASSHE is speaking critically of the faculty and that PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan has had a chance to correct the negative perception of the faculty but has not yet done so.
“We are deeply invested in your success, for your success is our success,” Burkhart said.
Shaevitz spoke after Burkhart and said that APSCUF is extremely ready.
“We hope that our plans do not need to be executed but if they need to be executed we are ready, we will picket effectively, peaceful and responsibly,” Shaevitz said. “We will make our voices heard to the state system.”
Shaevitz said that SRU is a community and that it seems the state system is trying to produce a product. Shaevitz said the preparing for the strike has strengthened the bonds more than upper management realize.
“We are intentionally proactive to nourish and build up the community because we know the power of that,” Shaevitz said. “This is a place where people live their lives.”
Shaevitz recalled a time when he met with Philip Way, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, where Shaevitz explained the efforts of APSCUF to encourage students to remain neutral while asking for a contract settlement. Shaevitz said Way said it was fine for students to take APSCUF’s side as long as they were willing to pay more.
“I was completely shocked at his frankness,” Shaevitz said. “The hypothesis that the only way to balance the budget is on the backs of the students is just ludicrous.”
Shaevitz read two letters from students of Kutztown University and Mansfield University before the rally marched towards Old Main. The petition, which had over 300 signatures, was delivered to President Norton’s office. Students then chanted that they stand with APSCUF and that they matter.
Shaevitz said students are allowed to join faculty members on the picket line as long as it’s their personal choice and they follow an action statement that will make those picketing be respectful and peaceful.
The faculty at all 14 state universities are expected to go on strike tomorrow, Oct. 19 if no tentative contract is reached.