Hello on a Sunday evening where I am working to organize my jumbled thoughts (life, existence, viewpoints or),
I can only try to begin comprehending he array of thoughts, concerns, and yes, perhaps, degree of fear that might overwhelm me unless I take some time to think about it and compose some of those thoughts in this blog. I am a bit shocked because, certainly within my memory, for the first time in my life I might be more pessimistic than optimistic. Lydia would be shocked (or maybe happy that she had converted me from the optimistic she seemed to have such disdain for upon occasion). When she would ask me, “Michael, how are you”(In her Austrian accent)? I would generally answer, “No complaints.” Her retort would be, “That’s disgusting! You are too happy!” I told her that I was brought into her life to balance out that cynicism. She would scowl and hit me. I miss that give and take to this day. I wonder what she would think about Donald? I am sure she would have opinions. Just when I think I cannot be further amazed by the unpredictability of this election year, a week like this one in the immediate past occurs and I know that certainly truth (or whatever you want to call it) is stranger than fiction. Between the United States Congress wanting to blame President Obama for not explaining the consequences of their own bill to them, to the revelation that Donald Trump claimed to lose almost a $1,000,000,000.00 (that is one billion) in a year. How can you lose that much money and still claim to be an astute business person? From the fallout of the debates and 3:00 a.m. Twitter rants to the misogynistic comments that seem to just keep coming from both the candidate and his surrogates, I can only wonder how??
As I write this blog, it is now the 2nd of October and the potential for a strike among the 5,500 faculty in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is relatively high. I should note that the administration of PASSHE has asked that they no longer be referred to as PASSHE, but they want to be known as the State System. What might taking the word “Education” out of your title signify? Should we be concerned? I think so. One might have to agree that with the way they have gone about negotiations referring to them as the SS might be apropos. I have written a significant editorial in The Voice, the student paper, this past week. While it is similar to what I have written before, but it is specifically pointed toward students and parents. If you would like to read it, please go to http://buvoice.com. As you are considering what is penned, here are some other facts to consider: Pennsylvania, in spite of having a 14 university system as well as Penn State, Temple and Pitt, three other universities who also receive state appropriations, ranks 47th in the country in terms of how much money they spend on higher education. Yes, you read that correctly: 47th. In addition, for students or parents who continuously seem to pay more, I would also note that Penn State, Temple and Pitt, as three schools, receive an amount approximately equal to the appropriatation as the 14 state schools who are PASSHE counterparts. And yet . . . our esteemed leader, the former Lt. Governor to Jeb Bush, Chancellor Frank Brogan asked for no additional money during almost 6 hours of hearings before the State Senate Budget Committee. That unfortunate lack seemed to also be present when asked about the faculty might claim to represent. After being asked how much we worked, he had to ask his supporting staff at those hearings. Then when told he had to add the 5 hours of office hours he was asked if we only worked 17 hours a week for our six figure salary (which is also inaccurate and something the local paper loves to use), he did nothing to dispel such a ridiculous notion. That is in spite of the fact that each faculty member is required to send in a report each semester telling the State Legislature how much we work. Does all of this sound absurd to you? It should, but that is the current atmosphere of negotiations with our State System (SS). While they want to impose a number of significant changes to how we would be allowed to teach in our classrooms, they seem to have little sense of the consequences of those requests. They want the unfettered ability to move me from department to department and location to location at will. Hmmmm? How is that going to work for a chemistry or a math student as I try to exlain carbon bonding or reverse functions? If you think that sounds ludicrous, the President of Bloomsburg University already tried to put an Anthropology faculty person in the Math, Computer Science and Statistics Department this fall. It did not actually come to pass because, at least currently, we can reject such a move, but even the attempt is beyond egregious. Note the word “unfettered” earlier. That does not allow for rejection in the future. Again, I am left to wonder how we got to this point?
As I have spoken ito groups of students or other, it is apparent that many parents, many towns peopl, and even our own students, have little real understanding of what is at stake. The changes in teaching proposed by the SS will gut the credibility of a PASSHE degree. It will leave students under-prepared and left to wonder why they are caught between the proverbial “rock and hard spot” in their future positions or why they are under-compensated in spite the significant invest of (approximate for in-state, but substantively more for the out-of-state) 100K they spent on their degree. They have been cheated. They have been stolen from by a bunch of bureaucrats and legislators who somehow believe that higher education is not worth investing in. That credit by tuition keeps them from “lingering in the smorgasbord of classes” to closely paraphrase Chancellor Brogan (March 2016) . What the hell are they thinking? This coming Thursday, I will be in front of the Board of Governors of the System arguing they need to rethink how they are handling this negotiation.we are 16 days from striking and they have refused offers to meet this coming week.
While my main objections have to do with what they are doing to my classroom, the passion of my argument is also related to what they have done to us financially. I do need to be honest about that piece, but I also want to explain why. In the 8 years (and I am in my eighth year) I have been teaching in the system I have lost 4 steps. That affects my yearly salary; it affects my pension; it affects my morale. Again, I am trying to be as genuine as I can about that. My health insurance is certainly an amazing plan, and I know that. However, we have, like every other part of the country had to give things back (our co-pays increased by 100% in the last contract and our raises were 0, 1,1, and 2 percent), and we will again. I know this. Yet, the other state unions were not asked to give back what they are asking of us. They did not have deductibles added to their plans to my knowledge. They were offered a 7 1/2 percent raise over 4 years with 3 steps included. We were offered that raise only if we will willing to give 70 million dollars in cuts back from the outset. So the 159 million figure the state provided a week ago is a bald faced lie. Otherwise we were offered a total of 1% over four years with one step in the final year of the contract. Again, I am willing to pay more to a degree, and, as noted, I know it is coming, but the people who are asking us to swallow all of this got 3% raises this past year. As a specific example, I appreciate Dr. Soltz, our president. Furthermore, I do not begrudge him his salary, but his raises over the past three years equal about 23%. Or as another example, the governor of the State of Pennsylvania makes $187,000 a year (which I think ranks in the upper third of top state executives) and he does not even take his salary because he has done well as a business person. The Chancellor makes almost $346,000.000 after his over $8,000.00 raise this year. I am pretty sure he was more than willing to take that raise as he has negotiated against us. Again, I do not begrudge what people make, but do not ask me to give up so much when you, yourself, are unwilling to do so. It is about fairness; it is about being equitable. It is an abuse of power to do what they are doing, but then again, such an unfathomable example of this greed can be found in the standard bearer of the Republican party. He brags that he is too smart to pay taxes and then claims that companies that go abroad to do the same are slime balls. As the day has proceeded, the news continues to reveal how he uses the tax code in ways the average person cannot, but then he claims to be on our side? Would he be willing to help the little person do what he does? Does anyone see a disconnect here? He claims that he can be nastier than Secretary Clinton because she has used his own words against him? For the first time in my memory (contrary to things like the Swift Boat issue or even George W Bush’s service record, where people went digging on both sides), no digging is needed to demonstrate the risible reality of the @realDonaldTrump. I am completely stunned as I consider the depth to which we have fallen as a society. Again, I am left to wonder how?
This past week, fortunately, and probably to Lydia.s chagrin, I have been reminded of something a bit more positive. It is related to Congress, but focusing on the President. What I have continued to realize about President Obama is that is perhaps the most principled president i have experienced in my life. As a small person, one from the 50s and 60s, I might have believed that person to be President Kennedy, but what we have learned since about his personal life is more problematic than former President Clinton. I will say that while I appreciate President Clinton’s acumen and ability to make complex political issues understandable, I do not appreciate the digressions that created such problems for his time in office. Yet, other presidencies also seemed to have some significant human struggle. President Ford had family issues in the White House: President Nixon had to resign. Some of the children of former presidents certainly have had issues. The Obamas have had more scrutiny that perhaps any presidency in history, merely because of the social media atmosphere of our present world, but scandal has not been cluttering our headlines; they are an amazing family. Their daughters have grown up in the spotlight, but they are elegant and poised from what I can see. Michele Obama would be an amazing president in her own right. She is articulate, brilliant and also principled. As a first family, I believe they have set the “gold standard” of what we should expect from the occupants of the White House. I am still stunned at the Congress and the degree of obstructionism and racism that permeates both our legislators and the American public. I say this as the White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant male. This morning, I was in the diner for breakfast and heard about a situation where the youngest daughter of the owners stood up for her older sister when her sibling was being mistreated. She said to the rude guest or customer, or just plain dumbass, “That is my sister and you cannot disrespect her.” Good for you Lexi!! Where did we lose what seems to be all sense of decorum necessary for any society to survive? Where did we become such a society of Malcontents? What I know is that I am willing to treat others with the respect I would hope to deserve myself. What I have finally learned to do is to stick up for myself. I have learned what many have told me for so long . . . . if you not do it, nobody else will. It is so true.
So to whomever might read this, as the days are ticking down and a Chancellor is more content to spin on Facebook than negotiate, I am hoping is that students will stand up for what is fair. If they do not, what is coming will be hurtful for everyone. If you are reading this and a student, CALL THE CHANCELLOR. If you are reading this and a student, CALL YOUR PARENTS with the real facts. If you are a student or an alumnus of the PASSHE system realize the consequence of these proposals and what they do to the value of the degree you already have. This is not what happens to those still studying, it affects the entire system, the state, and the alumni. Speak out loud and strong. Tell the SS, as they want to be called, to change course and be fair and equitable in what they are doing to your classrooms. I will not back down. I will stand up for the integrity of what I do and the education I believe my students deserve.
Thanks for reading.
@realDonaldTrump, @POTUS, @FLOTUS, @BloomsburgAPSCUF, @APSCUF,