This Wednesday, thousands of faculty members from 14 state colleges and universities in Pennsylvania went on strike. The numbers are significant for the area of higher education where protests are not as frequent. The decision from faculty members to go on strike shows that there are widespread tensions in universities between administrators and the faculty. The work conflict between the two sides escalated to a strike, as they could not reach an agreement regarding working conditions. The strike has the support of students on campus who are standing by their teachers.
Labor Disputes in the Usually Quiet Sector of Higher Education
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has a history of nearly 34 years. This walkout from teachers is the first time this happened in its history. In recent years just a handful of faculty strikes have taken place around the country. Faculty members had to resort to a strike since they have been working without a contract since June 30 of 2015. Because they have not had a contract for over a year now, The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties decided to walk out on classes.
Faculty members in other university systems were close to a strike as well. This year, two of the biggest public university systems in the country came close to a strike from faculty members. The faculty at California State University was just days away from walking out before they reached an agreement. Also, the faculty at the City University of New York was prepared to go on strike. But, fortunately, being offered new contracts stopped the initiative.
The sector of higher education could see more labor disputes. In the future, students who also work at the university could get together and ask for their rights. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled regarding the situation of students that work as research assistants or teaching assistants. Now, the students also have the right to form a union and ask to be treated like employees. Receiving employee status at the university would mean that student assistants could ask for better working conditions and more solid contractual agreements.
Colleges and Universities Headed towards More Disagreements
Terry W. Hartle is the senior vice president for the American Council on Education, the largest association of colleges and universities in the country. He says that labor disputes are now more common.
“Labor issues are far more prominent on the radar screen of higher education than they were 10 or 20 years ago.”
Said Terry W. Hartle for the American Council on Education.
Public universities are more likely to see labor disputes happen. The cash-strapped institutions are struggling to meet the demands of their budget. Recently, government subsidies for higher education institutions have gone down. That has directly affected the lives of faculty members. Now, they have to deal with stagnant pay as well as declining benefits.
Public and private colleges and universities are also using a shortcut to delivering results. They are relying on the work of part-time faculty members or adjunct faculty members. They receive less money and few benefits compared to full-time professors. But the situation makes many on campuses unhappy.
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