THORNBURY TWP. — In the unseasonable midday heat, about a dozen faculty held up protest signs outside of the entrances of Cheyney University in Thornbury Twp. on Oct. 19, 2016.
The number had been much larger earlier in the day (and included students), according to the chapter union representative, but as time had passed and temperatures increased the crowd had dwindled.
The faculty were protesting the breakdown of contract negotiations between their union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty, and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
The APSCUF members, which include faculty at 14 universities, have been operating without a contract from the government for more than 470 days. On Oct. 18, 2016 both groups met to share final offers, only to walk away from the negotiating table.
As the strike continued, both groups met up again, but an agreement had not been reached as of 5:30 p.m. It is the first time the PSSHE has had a strike in 33 years.
Ivan Turnipseed, chair of hospitality and recreational management program at Cheyney, was leading his group of striking faculty in chants on Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re concerned about not having a contract because we think that diminishes the quality of education in the commonwealth,” he said.
“You can’t put students first if you put faculty last.”
Turnipseed emphasized that the faculty want a fair contract and that the strike is a last resort.
“We have absolutely no interest in going on strike,” he said. “I love my students, I love what I do – but it’s important for me to stand here for the quality for future education.”
“We want quality education for our students, and quality educators deserve a quality contract.”
His thoughts were shared by B. J. Mullaney, a librarian at Cheyney and the chapter president for the union. For her, the strike is also a learning opportunity for students.
“The reality is, if someone learns there is value in standing up for yourself, it’s an excellent lesson,” she said.
At Cheyney, which has a undergraduate enrollment of a 686, faculty and students have a close relationship. That’s led to the student body being well informed about the strike, according to Mullaney.
“We have students who feel that have a good understanding of the issue,” she said. “They understand why we had to do this.”
The few students hanging around Cheyney campus on Oct. 19 were decidedly upset about the strike.
“I feel terrible about it,” said Azie Faison, a sophomore at the school. “Some students are here paying for an education but we’re not getting an education because they want to go on strike.”
Still he placed the blame on the government, not the faculty – as did freshman Camron Jones.
“It’s the government’s fault for not paying our teachers,” he said, adding later “They get paid to teach us so we can grow up and make money and make the economy better.”
Turnipseed and Mullaney both expressed frustration that negotiations have ended up in a strike.
“No one has time for this,” Turnipseed said. “I don’t have time for this. But we’re going to make time if the state system refuses to negotiate in good faith.”
Mullaney put the blame on PSSHE chancellor Frank Brogan.
“Frank Brogan has to agree to negotiate again, that’s the problem,” she said. “It isn’t the faculty and it isn’t us being on the line.”