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Amid historic faculty strike, anxiety, confusion and jubilation rein at IUP

INDIANA — Hours after helping to initiate the first strike in the history of Pennsylvania’s state university system, faculty and union members at Indiana University of Pennsylvania took to the picket line on Wednesday morning, joining their colleagues across the state in a push for a new contract.

Elsewhere on campus, students wandered about in confusion, unsure if classes were being held, and, if not, what all of this might mean for them and the semester’s credits if a deal isn’t struck soon.

Junior Cynthia Sopko said students received an email from university administrators at around 7:55 a.m. on Wednesday. “It said ‘A faculty union strike has been called,’ but that ‘IUP was open for business,'” Sopko explained. “It said ‘Faculty members are not required to strike, and classes will still be held.'”

But with a large portion of the faculty now on the picket lines outside, it’s unclear how many of those classes are actually taking place.

Non-faculty employees of the university, who declined to be identified, told PennLive that while some students were showing up for classes Wednesday morning, they weren’t aware of one that had actually been held.

Vincent Lopez, former president of the university’s student body, said there was also talk that if the strike wound on for long enough, and if more than 45 hours of instruction time were missed, the semester and any accumulated credits could be rendered null-and-void. State System of Higher Education spokesman Kenn Marshall couldn’t say at what point it would become impossible to complete cover the courses’  required material, but conceded that cancelling the semester and refunding tuition would be a worst-case scenario.

David Chambers, chair of IUP’s political science program and IUP’s spokesperson with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), the group which voted to initiate the strike early Wednesday, said faculty and union members at IUP are aware of student concerns.

But Chambers and his colleagues place the blame on the state university system officials, whom they call on to get “back to the table to make a deal.”

With the faculty from the state universities on strike, now what?

He added: “There’s a lot of good will from the students, but also a lot of anxiety. The students are concerned that they’ve invested a good deal of work and a good deal of money, and they’re understandably concerned about what will happen to those credits.”

But students, like Sopko, said they would continue to support the faculty members at IUP, as well as striking faculty at the 13 other state universities.      

“I feel it’s as important to me as it is to the faculty,” she said. “I pay a lot of money to be here, and I expect a quality education and quality faculty.”

Several state universities say sporting events will go on during strike, but challenges await

As Sopko spoke, her striking faculty members stood nearby, just outside the university gates. Many held picket signs including one reading “Honk for Higher Ed,” a request many passing motorists fulfilled. And by noon, the sound of car horns and chanting and cheering picketers had begun to swell across the campus’ northern end.

Lopez said students were also planning an afternoon sit-in on campus in support of the faculty. This after he claims a similar demonstration was broken up by campus police that morning, over the use of an unpermitted megaphone.

Lopez said they hadn’t obtained the necessary permit ahead of the second protest, either, adding, “we’re gonna chance it.”  

What you need to know as the faculty at state universities go on strike

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