Eden Hirtzel, an English major attending Millersville, knows that if the teacher’s union goes on strike, that it will mean a massive hindrance to the education of students across the entirety of Pennsylvania.
With the conflicts rising between the state system and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, otherwise known as APSCUF, the amount of students who know nothing about the idea of a potential strike may be surprising.
“It’s something we should all be paying attention to regardless of where we stand on the issue,” said Hirtzel. “This is our education, the livelihood of our professors, and the future of our university at stake.”
The conflicts between the union and the state started in early April, according to APSCUF’s website. But it was mutually agreed upon by both parties that they would wait until a later date to discuss it, to not interrupt finals or graduation season.
Now, five months later, APSCUF has set a definitive date for their strike: October 19.
Of course, this is a conditional date; if the state and the union can agree on a mutually beneficial contract, the strike will be canceled and everything will feel seemingly normal for students in the state system.
The decision to officially commit to the possible strike was announced Sept. 23 by APSCUF. However, according to an APSCUF spokeswoman, Kathryn Morton, the strike is not the goal of the union; it’s to reach a fair agreement.
“In the unfortunate event of a strike, we do not expect anyone to cross the picket line,” said Morton. There is no definite course of action for university students in a situation like this.
“Our faculty members do not want to go on strike,” Morton said. “They want to be in the classroom and doing what they love to do — teaching students.”
“Do I want it to happen? God, no,” Hirtzel said. “Will I blame my professors for the strike? Again, God, no.”
The state-system universities this would affect are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.
Shippensburg students stood in solidarity with the professors of their university by hosting a “Sit In,” where they peacefully protested the rights of professors to work under a valid contract; they will be hosting a sit in every Monday until contract negotiations are met.
The state system has tried to come up with a plan for negotiation, but APSCUF believed that the state’s proposal would only hinder the experience of the professors and the students.
“A fair contract also helps attract and retain quality faculty and coaches at State System universities,” Morton said. “A fair contract is important to students because faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.”
Some of the proposals included are to cut the pay of the lower-paid faculty by 20 percent, and to have graduate students start teaching courses at universities.
Allen “Kit” Howell, a music professor at Millersville and the adviser for the Marauder Men’s Glee Club, is no stranger to these contract negotiations; he has been in the state system since 1996.
When APSCUF threatened a strike in 2007, Howell was the Picket Captain at Edinboro.
“The cause is righteous because our students deserve a true liberal arts education from the best possible faculty,” Howell said. “They should not have to go to an Ivy League school to get a real education. Every student deserves access.”
It is not yet known if the strike will actually happen, but in any case, all sides involved appear passionate and driven.
“I encourage every student to do research; look at what the state system is asking of faculty,” Hirtzel said. “Then, think about what that means for you.”
The next contract negotiations take place Sept. 29.