Our Viewpoint: PASSHE vs. APSCUF vs. Students?

By Kimberly Firestine

With the faculty strike possibly starting Oct. 19, students and teachers rallied together in Harrisburg to protest PASSHE and the desire for a ‘fair contract.’

Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor Frank Brogan held a question and answer session via Facebook Live on Oct. 4. Brogan took questions from those watching as well as some that were emailed ahead of time. When The Spectator’s news editor Macala Leigey started asking Brogan questions that students wanted answers to, the quote below was his response.

“Macala’s questions are good ones, but simply won’t be answered today.”

Brogan then went on to repeat that there has never been a strike in PASSHE history, though the option has always been there. If nobody wants a strike to happen and there’s never been a strike in PASSHE history — as both the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) and PASSHE have made plainly clear — then why do these issues still exist? There has to be some common ground somewhere in this hodge-podge of “we want, but they want.”

As a student who has worked relentlessly for the past three years to get my degree early, I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m confused. We aren’t getting the answers we want, need and deserve.

When students have asked if they’re supposed to attend classes — like most other questions — we’ve been given mixed responses. For PASSHE, it’s “attend your classes as regularly scheduled.” For APSCUF, it’s “students will know what to do.”

The problem is, we haven’t been given enough information to make that decision. As I sit here, I find it difficult to put into words and prioritize the frustrations students are feeling right now. There’s so much happening with this strike that’s gambling with our future, and there’s almost nothing we can do without having to choose sides. If we do choose sides, are we really helping ourselves or are we just turning ourselves into pawns?

If students attend class with a professor whom is not properly trained or does not have the experience to teach it at a level I’m paying for, then what’s the point? If I’m not going to learn at a college-level with experienced professors or professionals in that field, then that’s a waste of my federal aid and private loans.

If students attend a class with a temporary professor and the original professor’s syllabus says “the only grades from this course that count must come from me,” what happens then? Does our hard work and money go to waste? Do we get the credit from the university? If not, do we get a refund for those credits?

According to PASSHE’s website, “the issuing of grades may be delayed” for those whose classes are affected by the strike. They do not address the issue of the syllabus statement or how long the delay could be.

Brogan, in his Facebook event said, “should a strike occur, you have our commitment that we will do everything possible to make sure you have an uninterrupted opportunity to finish your semester, collect a grade and ultimately, the credits that go along with that grade for the hard work you’ve put in.”

Addressing the issue of financial aid, the website for PASSHE says, “as long as the university is able to do so, your financial aid and student bill will not be affected. If a protracted strike prevents the university from completing the semester, there could be an impact on student financial aid,” but it doesn’t say what the impact could be, still leaving students without answers.

Then comes the issue of housing. Would students living off-campus with a set lease-end date have to pay extra rent if the semester were to be extended? For those living on campus, will they be sent home if the strike lasts longer than is possible to make up for? Will students get reimbursed for paying for housing they would not have otherwise needed to, had they not gone to Edinboro University for the 2016-17 academic year? These questions go untouched on both PASSHE’s and APSCUF’s websites.

While both have somewhat helpful answers to frequently asked questions regarding the strike, APSCUF’s website is more focused on what the state system wants them to do, rather than giving information about what the students and parents are supposed to do.

You’ll notice — in Compton Hall, at least — the APSCUF posters hanging up that say things like “Negotiate” along with a second message like “Go back to the table” and, “Got a contract?” My question is, why are these hanging up so obviously for students to see? We’re not the ones you should be trying to convince. We don’t belong to either side. We’re here to get an education so we can better ourselves and give our futures a chance at being worthwhile. So, why does it feel like mom and dad are in the middle of a nasty divorce and are battling for custody?

The APSCUF president Dr. Kenneth M. Mash also hosted a Facebook Live question and answer session for student journalists on Oct. 5. His opening statement was, surprisingly, an apology. “I’m sorry to the students because I feel like we’ve gone into a place, yet again, where students are caught in the middle between the faculty and administration.”

Throughout the entire hour-long live feed, I asked him one question:

“Some students at Edinboro feel as though they’re being used as ‘bait’ in these discussions between APSCUF and PASSHE. How can APSCUF ensure them that their futures are being taken seriously, and not just used as a weapon in the case against PASSHE and vice versa?”

Mash’s response seemed sincere, though he seemed caught off-guard by the question.

“I want you to know that I think that that’s an absolutely fair question and I know that some people may have got on late, but I began this by apologizing,” he said.

“I think that it is wholly unfair to our students that time and time again we wind up in the same position where students are caught up in the middle,” said Mash. “They have to be worried about their grades; they have to listen to both sides carping where frankly the faculty are concerned about these issues when they should be giving students 100 percent of their attention.”

The strike date of Oct. 19 is not far. The closer it gets and the less answers we are given, makes me more scared, angry and frustrated. I don’t like not knowing what my future holds, and I don’t like not knowing whether or not all the hard work I’ve done over the past three years at Edinboro was worth it. I can only hope that when the day comes, PASSHE and APSCUF will both “know what to do.”

— Kimberly Firestine

Kimberly Firestine is the arts editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

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