SRU students came together Thursday morning in support of the faculty and led a march through campus in support of their professors.
The march was organized by a group of students through a Facebook event. The students met at the campus entrance near North Hall and joined picketing at 11 a.m.
The student organizers created a petition to be read aloud and later delivered to President Cheryl Norton. Ben Shaevitz, president of the SRU chapter of APSCUF and physics professor, and Colleen Cooke, vice president of the SRU chapter of APSCUF and recreational therapy professor, thanked the students that were there supporting their faculty.
“Colleen has worked at the university for 20 years and I have worked here my whole adult life, for 28 years, and I love this institution,” Shaevitz said. “Every single chapter president at all 14 schools echoed that they were simply floored by the support of the students on their campuses.
Shaevitz said that the strike was about community and that Norton’s statements showed she didn’t value it.
“Her actions do not reflect that belief that people count,” Shaevitz said. “I think that’s unacceptable for our president to display that against our community.”
“She threw us right under the Happy Bus,” Cooke said.
Shaevitz promised to work with the administration after the strike, but said he won’t forget the words that President Norton used towards the faculty.
The students marched around Old Main and then to the Smith Student Center. The chants called for a fair contract and for Chancellor Frank Brogan to stand down. The students gathered on the second floor and waited for President Norton, who held an open forum about the strike.
Students gave the petition to Norton, and followed it up with questions and concerns they had about the strike.Students wanted to know what she was aware of and what was going to be done about the negotiations. Norton said the words she spoke in the video on the website Wednesday morning were misinterpreted and the hope is for the state to come back to the table.
Norton said the issue is about the students and not just the administration and staff, and that the faculty is here for students. She said they provide excellence in the classroom and that’s how academic reputation is preserved.
“I apologize, and that is my bad for how that statement was interpreted,” Norton said. “I was trying to say how it was the state union leadership who called for the strike. It is not our faculty at this institution who sit at the negotiating table. We want a resolution and for this to be shorter rather than longer, the contract needs to be fair to our faculty. To some extent we’re all here together, and I apologize to you all.”
Students wondered why the state system’s negotiating team left the table and Norton assured everyone that the system was still at the hotel. She said those at the university have no vote and their goal is to maintain the health and safety of the campus. Norton said that issues of teaching quality were addressed but money issues still needed to be discussed.
The student body appreciated the apology, but reminded President Norton that she represents them. Students wondered if an apology for her comments would follow, and if she intends to make this right again. Norton said, Twitter is the best way to let students know what needs to be heard, and a video will follow soon.
The final proposal by the state system was rejected by the union, and students asked if President Norton believed it was fair or not. Norton said the increase in faculty wages would fluctuate over the next five years and follow a distinct pattern from seven and a quarter percent to 12 percent. She said the current health plan of the faculty would be changed so that they are on the same plan as campus police, managers and other officials. Norton said they would receive a deductible as well, which the current health plan does not include.
“I am here for student success and the fact that faculty, staff and administrators support your goals,” Norton said. “I will support them for their average 12 percent raise, and that they are in the top 15 percent in the country for being paid. We have such great people here that want you, the students, to be successful.”
Students said they trust the faculty and know that they will do what’s best for the students. Norton said the negotiations have gone on for a long period of time and the process is difficult for everyone. Norton said that APSCUF and the state will work together to finish the negotiations.
“I want to thank everyone for their time and patience in this difficult time,” Norton said. “I want to thank all of you, the students, for coming out today, and standing by your professors. The support for your faculty has been great.”
The students marched back to the entrance near Old Main, where Shaevitz and Cooke answered any questions they had and gave their rebuttals on issues discussed by Norton.
Cooke said the job of the president and the chancellor is to advocate for the legislature for more funding.
“They’re not doing their jobs if we are operating on the same allocation,” Cooke said. “They’re not doing their jobs if they’re not advocating for you and for us.”
Shaevitz said that APSCUF’s latest proposal would have saved the university money and that the group requested to keep the same healthcare plan, even though it would mean fewer raises. He said it was reasonable and the state system would have received the same amount of savings.
“Her trying to explain to you the details of the package is perfectly fine, but it misses the big picture,” Shaevitz said. “If the goal is to save money why does it matter how we save you money?”
Shaevitz said that although Norton said all the issues of education were removed, four to five still remain, including workload for internships, eliminating funding for professional development and policy on retrenchment.
Students asked about how the faculty is among the highest-paid professors and Shaevitz that it is true but can be interpreted differently.
“We feel that it is an attribute, we pull our weight,” Shaevitz said.
Shaevitz questioned why the only way to balance the budget is to raise tuition.
Cooke was worried about some of Norton’s words, saying that the two groups will still have a relationship after this and that she was bothered about how Norton blamed the strike on faculty in her video.
“We did not choose this, this is not where we want to be,” Cooke said. “It was the last card to play and we waited as long as we could wait.”
The strike will continue until a contract is reached between PASSHE and APSCUF.