Students at IUP rally for faculty
Organizers for a student-faculty rally received a roaring response Friday at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
About 1,000 people showed up for the 3 p.m. rally on the east Sutton Hall steps, campus police estimated. Students and professors spoke in support of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, or APSCUF.
The association is in contract negotiations with the State System of Higher Education, or SSHE. Association members voted in Monroeville last weekend to take a strike authorization vote, most likely to take place next week, for leverage in the negotiations.
Several students said yesterday they have been interested in the negotiations, but their professors do not talk about it during class.
“I think they want to concentrate on what we’re there to do,” said Rebecca Weiss, 21, a French education major from Ross Township, Allegheny County. “Professors try to keep it out of the classroom.”
“A lot of people want to know what’s going on,” said Mike Edmonds, 21, a criminology major from Vandergrift. “Most teachers aren’t allowed to talk about it in class.”
Michelle Simko, 19, a nursing major from Philadelphia, didn’t attend the rally but said she would support the faculty if they went on strike. She, like other students at the rally, was in favor of keeping class sizes smaller.
“That’s what they advertise about IUP,” Simko said.
Negotiations between the faculty union — whose contract expired in June — and the state system have been moving slowly, according to IUP professors Gwendolyn Torges and Bernie Ankey, who helped organize the rally.
SSHE spokesman Tom Gluck agreed that the process has been “especially challenging” this year. When told how many people attended the rally, he commented, “I’m impressed.
“This is an important issue for students,” said Gluck. “It’s both understandable and appropriate that students would have an interest and express their views on this.”
Undergraduate students Jesse Phillips, Amber Hollinger, Anuj Khadhar and Curtis Lane along with graduate student Damien Tackett spoke at the rally. Political science professors David Chambers and Steve Jackson, chairman of the department, also made speeches to a crowd that cheered their cause and booed the state system.
After the speeches, the group marched inside and made a public comment at the Council of Trustees meeting. Jackson said they would ask the council to express the rally-goers’ views to the state Board of Governors.
Torges said rally organizers wanted to approach the Council of Trustees simply to garner more support.
“They can’t settle the contract,” Torges said of council members. But “we think of them as on our side, and we hope they continue to be.”
One item of concern for students is larger classes that faculty label as “cash cows” for the state. Several students handed out “moo-lah”: fake money with information on how to e-mail SSHE Chancellor Judy Hample.
SSHE has been struggling to find a way to meet a shortfall, which totals about $40 million even after tuition was increased 5 percent in July, according to Gluck. In August, Hample initiated a wage freeze for all university management and faculty.
“We’re willing to fight for this, and we want to show that other people support it too,” Torges said. “Nobody wants to strike. If there’s good-faith bargaining going, that’s good enough.”
“I understand faculty are eager to express their opinions. We are eager to reach a settlement as soon as possible,” Gluck said. “Unfortunately, neither the rallies nor the strike vote changes our fiscal reality.”
Torges said she hopes the rally sends one message to the state: “Let’s get back to the negotiating table.”
Negotiators have not met since Sept. 5. Their next session is scheduled for Friday.
More information on the contract negotiations are available on Web sites for both the state system, www.sshechan.edu, and the union, www.apscuf.com.