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Article published October 24, 2012
SRU profs will vote on strike
Sandy Pontius Butler Eagle
STATE COLLEGE — Slippery Rock University’s 475 professors will vote before Thanksgiving on whether to authorize a strike, union president Patrick Burkhart said Monday. Burkhart, SRU professor of geography, geology and the environment, was among 106 members of the Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties union who met Saturday in State College and unanimously approved a strike action. The organization represents 6,000 faculty and coaches at the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education, PASSHE. Faculty at each university will vote on the strike issue. “(Strike authorization) increases your leverage to promote effective negotiations,” Burkhart said. “There is a pattern that negotiations don’t progress very well until we’re at the brink of a strike.” Strikes have been authorized before, but there has never been a faculty strike at the state universities. The move comes amid stalled contract talks. On Oct. 12, system officials declined the union’s offer for binding arbitration. “PASSHE has a long list of unreasonable demands,” that affect nearly every part of the faculty employment contract, Burkhart said. PASSHE’s demands include the use of unlimited numbers of part-time faculty, graduate students assigned to teach classes, a 35 percent pay cut for part-time staff, an increase in faculty teaching load and unlimited class sizes. Health and retirement benefits are also at stake. “The faculty want to teach and teach well,” Burkhart said, but they are asked to do so in an environment that funds “glamour rather than rigor.” SRU and other state universities have responded to “market pressure” by putting too much emphasis and expenditure on student life with new dining halls and new housing units, Burkhart said. “Student life has become huge,” he said, creating “Club Med”-level facilities and draining money that would otherwise be spent on faculty. The number of administrators also has risen to address student life issues, he said, restricting faculty funds. “I’m afraid that (SRU is) drifting from its core mission,” Burkhart said. “I think all of higher education faces this kind of pressure.” State universities have faced a decade of diminishing appropriations, he said, even before Gov. Tom Corbett cut them by 50 percent. “The commonwealth has a diminishing interest in funding public education,” Burkhart said. The last faculty contract expired in June 2011. Steve Hicks, president of the union, stated in a news release, “Faculty members do not want to strike. We do not make this decision lightly. We want to assure our students and their families that we will continue to do everything we can to settle a fair contract with PASSHE.” The Associated Press contributed to this report.