Good Saturday afternoon,
For those who are wondering about this graphic or picture, I think by the end of the post you will understand it more, but I offer this graphic shout out to all who walked, picketed, shouted, or offered support to the cause of higher education this past week. Since my last post, life has been a whirl-wind of events, requirements, obligations and emotions. As I begin to write this I have been working on my courses because of some required revision and an obligation to following through on what is required because of the events of this past week. When I posted the last time, we were forty-eight hours from the first possible faculty strike in the 30+ year history of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE); it is now about a week later, the weekend following my Monday post and on the other side of a forty-eight+ hour strike where the 5,500 faculty left their classes to stand up for the quality of education we so strive to maintain in our classrooms. Monday and Tuesday were sort of a blur as I prepared for what turned out to be the inevitable. I spent more time preparing and grading so that if Wednesday turned out as it did, I was prepared and I had done as much for my students as possible. Because there had never been a strike, most of the questions asked from others, or even my own self-pondering, were/was answered by the simple three word phrase my mother so detested if she asked questions, “I don’t know.” There was no template; there was no recipe card; and there were too many variables over which I had no control.
So Tuesday night I spent the last hours in my office tidying up, much like what you do before you go on vacation so you come home to a clean house. I also did the things I could to make sure that someone could not come in an easily take over my classes. I made sure to not do anything that would have gone against the admonishments and warnings from our provost. I went into my office one last time about 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning to make sure that I had everything I needed for about 10 days. Again, because I had neither an inkling nor an idea what to expect. I was up by 3:30 and I was nervous. Even though I had a better idea than many what was in place, as a member of both the Public Relations Committee and the Mobilization Committee, I still had little idea what to expect in terms of support on the campus or from the students. We had some indication of wide-spread support because the strike authorization vote that was above 93%, but it is one thing to vote, it is another thing to walk out and have no paycheck and no health insurance. We had also created a strike/picket line sign up with more than 2,000 slots to fill and they were all filled. These things seem to bode well for the chance of wide-spread support among colleagues, but there were other constituencies to consider, the most important being students and their parents. Would they realize our actions were about more than us wanting a raise or no change in our health insurance? The jury was still out on that one. There was the other audience for which there little doubt there would be no convincing or “winning,” if I can use that term, the local 30-second crowd. There is a long history of disenchantment between some of the local people and those “elitists” on the hill (that is the actual term that is regularly used). There is a bit of irony when largest employer of the county brings about 11.00 back into the community for every 1.00 earned. Bloomsburg would not really be much of the only town in Pennsylvania without those of us who work for the university, but also live within the community.
I experienced this disenchantment when a local member of the community named Rob referred to me as an “over-educated asshole” the morning the strike was to begin. When I let him know I was one of those educated assholes who would be striking, he told me “to get the fuck away from him.” Sorry if you are offended by this language, but I am merely repeating the exact quality of his discourse. Long-story-short of our communicative interaction was I did not back down and he got a bit exasperated. I must admit I was also, but I could manage it a bit better than he. What was interesting was Thursday, the following morning, I had breakfast at the diner and Jessica, the owner, asked if I had been involved in a verbal altercation at Dunkin’ Donut the previous morning early. I was stunned. She told me a local came in and noted that someone got in his face when he started smarting off. I should note that the owner and I spoke a second time and he, Bad Hombre, did admit that I spoke passionately, but not crudely. She said she knew it had to be me. What I learned in that moment was simple: there was more of my father in me than I might have realized. I had never stood up so vehemently for the union cause in my life. I had never found myself in a place to stand up for principle and be confronted by such an inappropriately-stated-disdain for what I am so passionate (my teaching). This “somewhat” closed-minded person not only had little idea what I do daily or weekly, he stated in his profanity-laced foolishness that he did not give a shit. Ultimately, it was the tone, his attempt to bully me, and his blatant disrespect that created such a comeback from me, one that not even I expected. I was reminded of what my older brother once told me about the laid-back man I knew as my father. He said on the job or when it was about his union membership, we was a very different person. I guess I have that piece in me also.
Wednesday was an astounding day. As we arrived at Carver Hall to begin picketing that first morning by 5:30 a.m., we were greeted by about 20 students, including two students from my Foundations course, Sam and Eric, to whom I offer this shout-out for coming out so early to support us. I walked at three of the 5 locations that first day and walked from 5:30 in the morning until about noon and then from 2:30-6:00 p.m. The entire day was a bit surreal because of the amazing support we received from so many people. To say that I am gratified and humbled by our amazing students does not come close to what I am feeling within me even today as I am trying to find some sense of normalcy. There were students, signs, bull-horns, chants, a band, drums, the campus radio station, honking horns, music, and a sense of camaraderie that I have never felt on the campus, and perhaps not in my entire life. Throughout that day there were so many people in front of Carver Hall and the energy was infectious. Thursday I was asked to come in early again, but this time to take a post at the construction site on campus. Four of us stood under the ominous clouds waiting to see what would happen. The foreman for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and for the United Brotherhood of Operating Engineers took the time to speak with us and ask questions about our reason for striking. By 9:00 a.m. that morning pretty much all unionized trades unions had pulled their workers off the site. What a wonderful demonstration of support and union solidarity for us. As I noted in my last posting, my father was correct about the importance of union brothers and sisters standing together. I saw it in action and I hope you are proud of the stance we took this past week, Dad. Thursday was a long day, but again between colleagues, phenomenal student support and knowing that 13 other universities were also standing strong, we soldiered on whatever the circumstance might be. Throughout the day more pizza, donuts, sandwiches and coffee continued to flow in reminding us of the support that was present for us. Wednesday’s student band and Thursday’s choir and the deaf students on campus, who were told they did not have the right to signing or an interpreter by Disability Services on campus because they had not given 24 hour notice, when they themselves were not given 24 hour notice of the hastily organized meetings on Wednesday by administration, were out in force and their collective voices were deafening. It was fabulous and we are grateful to the local news station, WBRE, for covering their story. By Friday we knew there was more rain coming, but it did nothing to deter our resolve to stand once again. I should note that Kristin Baver, the local reporter for the Press Enterprise, worked tirelessly to cover the changing story from early morning until we ended our picketing around 6:00 or so in the evening. Also on Thursday, more construction workers left the job, and now, in retrospect, there was more going on behind the scenes than we realized. Mid-morning Friday, a group of Bloomsburg students and a couple of faculty boarded a school bus for the Dixon Center in Harrisburg. We were met by colleagues from Shippensburg and Millersville as well as the amazing APSCUF staff. Bloomsburg students wer3e undeterred by the rain and they were outside the Dixon Center chanting loudly and continuously for their education. Once the rain opened with torrents, they went inside and requested an audience with Chancellor Brogan, himself. What they found out was there were two attorney’s ahead of them. Again, in retrospect, it appears, particularly because of what a student overheard, these attorneys were from the State System’s negotiating team and the end was in sight. There are a number of student to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude for their unswerving support. I was fortunate to get to know one in particular who took the time to drive around early in the morning in her little bug to deliver sustenance and a smile. She is small, but mighty. It might be easy to under-estimate her because she is a bit shy, but she is passionate and keenly aware of what is just and right. She also understands why it is so. She knows who she is and I am blessed to know her. As we returned to Bloom from Harrisburg, she spoke about returning on Monday in a business suit to meet with the Chancellor in person. She realized that rhetorically she needed to be taken seriously. Not your typical student. She reminds me of another student who has become such an important part of my life since returning from Poland last year. She sat with me today as I finished this blog. She is a phenomenal student and brilliant young person also. We returned to Bloom and arrived about an hour before we would hear that we had a new tentative contract. There is so much I could say about the three days more descriptively, but what I learned is solidarity and being honest about what matters makes a difference. I learned that standing in solidarity for something bigger than one’s self matters and makes a difference. I learned once again that people who think about and believe in the value of education, both professors and students, can make a positive difference in the face of what seems to be pretty daunting odds. I learned that some things take more time than I wish they did and that a Governor’s support makes an unbelievable difference. To my former colleagues in Wisconsin, it is such a difference. Indeed, the professor learned a great deal this week. I need to give a shout out also to the wonderful owners and family of the Bloomsburg Diner. They have been more supportive than words will ever explain. I am honored to call the entire family, friends. Thanks John, Jessica, Amara, Luke, Ariel, and Lexi.
Today is the 23rd of October, so I actually am working on this for a second day. In 1988, on this day, and it was a Sunday, I was ordained as a Lutheran pastor at my little Lutheran Church in Sioux City Iowa. At that time, I believed I would spend the rest of my life as a parish pastor, and perhaps eventually a professor in a seminary. Well one of the two plans came to be, sort of. I did not expect to be a writing professor or the director of a digital rhetoric and professional writing program. There is an irony in location also because that first parish was in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, only about and hour and 20 minutes away. When I left the state in 1992 I did not believe I would ever come back. It is now the place I have lived the longest since I graduated from high school. That day, after my ordination service, I was so overwhelmed by what had just happened to me that I had to lie down and sleep. It seems like more than a lifetime ago that all of that happened. That twenty-eight years seems a century ago. I was so much more idealistic then. I believed so much more in the goodness of people. I believed that when one was helped or provided help, people were grateful and would respond in kind. While I am still a giver, I know all too well that people will take advantage of your graciousness. That has been a difficult lesson, but the professor continues to learn. As the day continues, I have a number of things to accomplish, but it is manageable. I sit and write with a sense of gratitude for what has been accomplished and for all the people who made a difference this past week and even, yes, in the past 28 years since I was in a different role.
It is back to work and thanks as always for reading.
Present Professor and Former Pastor
Proud Faculty Member of Bloomsburg University
Proud Member of APSCUF