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Faculty strike at West Chester University; students join in: 'They deserve fair wages'

WEST CHESTER — The picket lines outside of West Chester University began around 5 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2016.

Striking faculty, protesting the breakdown in negotiations between the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, held up signs that read “This is a school, not a business” and “Keep politics out of public education” outside the main entrance of the school on High Street.

The faculty at West Chester were not the only ones striking, 14 different state universities joined their efforts, including Millersville University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

It is the first time in 33 years that the State Sytem of Higher Education has experienced a strike.

“I hope it gets resolved by the end of today,” said Chris Przemieniecki, assistant professor of criminal justice for West Chester University.

“We want to be in the classroom, we want to teach and we want to educate,” he continued. “But there comes a point in time where enough is enough.”

“I feel bad for the students,” said Jackie Butler, an adjunct professor in chemistry at West Chester. “That’s who I really feel bad for – they’re the one’s getting the shaft.

“Every day we miss, they’re missing classes that we have to make up,” she continued. “It’s not like it’s from a natural disaster… this is totally manmade and if I were a student I’d be really, really mad.”

Butler spent part of class on Oct. 18 giving her students the email addresses for the university chancellor, Frank Brogan, as well as Govenor Tom Wolf. She urged them to contact their state representative too.

“We’re their constituents and they need to fix this thing,” she said.  

Faculty were joined by students around 11 p.m., who staged their own walk-out of more than 50 students to show solidarity with the union.

“I didn’t expect that much support from the student body, but I’m really happy to see it,” said senior Shane Lynch as he marched along. “It just goes to show how important the faculty is. That’s really what a university is – the faculty.

“I think [Chancellor Frank Brogan] needs to get out of bed right now and start talking,” he said, his voice getting louder. “Come on, negotiate!”

His sentiments were echoed by Elena Hoffman, a fellow senior at West Chester.

“We really just want to get fair contracts for the professors, because if the professors don’t have benefits than we’re not benefited because they won’t be here to teach us,” she said. “And if you press them to take on more classes, then there are things that are sacrificed – like they’re research… so it’s really a loss for all students and professors.”

Lilah Saber, a junior, helped recruit students for the protest. “I’m here today just to support our professors,” she said. “They deserve a fair contract, they deserve fair wages and we deserve a better education than the PASSHE system is offering us.”

As the students and faculty patrolled the picket lines, the Habanero Latin Band played upbeat music to keep spirits high.

The band is made up of West Chester University students who felt it was important to show support with their instruments.

“[We’re here] to motivate people, to educate them about the issues that our teachers face,” said Ian Sadock, a senior at West Chester and band member. “Hopefully we can bring our passion through our music into the negotiation table.”

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