My Response to Faculty Vilification

Stop Writing

Good morning from my office,

I got home at 1:15 this morning and it is before 8:00 and I have been up since 5:30. I was at the diner this morning working the morning crowd to support the faculty of the university who are being confronted with perhaps the most egregious set of proposals in the history of the PASSHE system. As is the case locally, the editor of the paper, who is an alum of the very university and faculty he regularly attacks, has written his usual misrepresentation of the facts (I call it this because he includes only what serves his purpose) and called the faculty on the proverbial carpet yet again. This is the same person who regularly posts all of our salaries with little explanation behind them each year in the paper.

While the coverage in the Press Enterprise have been a little more even-handed, even those articles leave out a number of important points. Is it because of incompetent writing or not knowing how to ask the questions? I am unsure and I want to give a particular reporter the benefit of the doubt because I believe them to be sincere. However, after an editorial yesterday in the local paper, which was ludicrous at best, I have decided to respond. I am pretty sure the paper will not run the entire response because they will tell me it is over their word limit. It is probably impossible to make it to that limit because this editorial was unconscionable in so many ways. Therefore, I offer a copy of what I have written. I have also posted in on my Facebook page and sent it to the Raging Chicken Press.

Dear Bloomsburg University student, towns-person, and the “esteemed” editor of the Press Enterprise,

Indeed, you have heard much about a possible strike by the faculty of the fourteen PASSHE schools of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; you have received emails from Chancellor Brogan’s office assuring you that the System and the Board of Governors are bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and equitable contract; and you have once again heard from the editor of this newspaper that we are merely fear mongering and pretending to sacrifice your education (9/14/2016). Unfortunately, as often seems to be the case in the seven years I have taught here, Mr. Sachetti delights in vilifying the faculty of the university, the very university from where he received his degree. His reasons for doing this and the enormous energy he regularly spends to disparage this university and its faculty baffle me, but that is a topic for another time. Suffice it to say, someone must have hurt his feelings tremendously for him to champion such disdain so routinely.

What he fails to note in his editorial is that the primary reason your faculty, your fellow citizens of this town, have chosen to stand up for a more evenhanded contract is precisely because of you, the student. Some of the major sticking points, contrary to his assertion, are not about health care or salary; those points of contention are about the changes they want to make to the collective bargaining agreement, all 249 of them (yes, you read that correctly), and how those changes affect your education. Let me offer just three of those changes we believe to be most egregious and worth our not accepting their proposal. We will hold out because of what it would do to the quality and credibility of the degree you would receive from Bloomsburg or any of the other PASSHE institutions.

As has been the case in each of the last two or three proposals, they want adjunct faculty to increase their teaching to five sections with more preparatory for different classes added also. All of this with no pay increase, thereby cutting their salaries 20 percent. As important is it would create two-tiers of education within departments because of the increased work load in preparing for classes and grading assignments. The system rationale is they do not have as much to do as tenure track faculty, so it should be easy. What they do not say is that most of those faculty are working to finish their doctoral degrees and are looking for other positions where they have a sense of security because currently as an adjunct, they have no job security. Additionally, it takes away from the quality of instruction and is pedagogically unsound. Second, the administration wants the unfettered ability to move us from department to department and location to location at will. As a tenured faculty, hired specifically to create a Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing program that is now one of the most comprehensive on the East coast, I work hard to support that program as well as teaching four sections a semester. However, you do not want me teaching your Principles of Accounting class or Organic Chemistry class because I do not know enough to provide a substantive learning experience for future CPAs or M.D.s. I, in fact, would feel guilty because I could not do an adequate job, and we should never be simply adequate. In addition, I do not want to drive to East Stroudsburg twice a week to teach a course there. I did not get four degrees to be a substitute teacher, moved around by the whims of those not in the classroom. Students, parents, and certainly future employers need to ask how my instruction in those classes would compromise the quality of the education for which a student (or their parent) has paid good money? Third, the system wants to allow people with no Masters or Doctoral degree to be the instructor of record for a class. I am quite sure you will not pay less tuition for that section than if your PhD-degreed professor is teaching. More significantly, what does this do to the credibility of your degree? How does that provide you the foundation you will need to be successful in your career, and 90% of PASSHE students stay in the Commonwealth so what does that do to the credibility of the workforce for the future?

Those are only three of the proposals that we are fighting against. This has nothing to do with salary or benefits so the majority of Mr. Sachetti’s recent editorial is moot. While he has tossed out figures and claimed a number of things about our intent and what we make, he has misspoken (and that is not surprising). He claims we only work 30 weeks a year, but he fails to mention that we work throughout the summer to publish or we go to conferences to stay current in our scholarship, a requirement if we want to become tenured or promoted. He fails to mention the incredible number of hours we spend outside the classroom advising, supporting undergraduate research, traveling abroad with students, without being paid a faculty wage during the Christmas break, or the amount of time spent each break preparing for the next semester

I do understand that I make a reasonable salary (and he will provide that for you in his yearly chart), but he does not mention that I have four degrees and fourteen years of higher education. He does not mention that I have been teaching college for the last 20 years. He does not mention that the money faculty pour back into this town daily, weekly, and yearly, make a significant difference in what is available here for each and every one of us. I have read his hateful and reproachful commentary on us for seven years and enough is enough. The real story is that the faculty of this university and the faculty across the thirteen other schools want a system that demonstrates a commitment to quality education and does not merely give it lip-service. We desire a fair and equitable contract that illustrates that we work and live in this Commonwealth, a contract that recognizes we have worked 33 months of the last 60 without a current contract, we continued to come to work every day, in spite of losing four steps. We have bargained in good faith and we have stood up for the integrity of providing an education that both our students and the people of this state deserve. I might note that I am still in my office as I write this and it is 11:22 p.m. and I have been on campus since 7:00 a.m. this morning. So while I certainly do not want to strike, I will. So how dare he??!!

Sincerely,

Dr. Michael Martin
Asst. Professor of English
Director of the Digital Rhetoric and Professional Writing Program
APSCUF Member
#APSCUF, @RCPress

If you are a parent of a student or a student it is time to stand up and let the chancellor or the local university president know that what they are proposing is unacceptable. Notice, I have said nothing about the health care or benefits. I care first and foremost about the quality of education we provide and the integrity I hold as an educator. If you have questions, please contact me and I will be glad to provide more information. I should also note that for some reason, the copied article has paragraphs in it when I am drafting, but somehow they do not show up in the post. I am working with this and trying to figure it out. I apologize.

Sincerely,

Dr. Martin

Grace and Dignity on Either Side of the Tracks

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Good morning,

It is almost Wisconsin-cold here in the Upper Susquehanna Valley this morning, but it is still nonetheless manageable. I got up extremely early to deal with some issues and will be on the road again before the day is out. It is now Friday evening and I am back in Gettysburg. Driving about 500 miles today has taken it’s toll on me. Sometimes I’m rather astounded that I used to think road trips were fun. I did stop on the way back because I needed to take a break. I got something to eat and also took a nap at a rest stop. Some of the morning events reminded me of how little I know about some things. While I generally like to believe that I am someone well-informed that was not the case this morning.

As I observed and listened to what went on I realized how difficult things are for so many people. It forced me to reflect again on what I believe is the ever widening gap between those who have things and those who do not; the difference between those who worked hard to try to get something only to lose it and those who seem to get things with little or no work. It was actually part of the conversation I had this morning. Furthermore, and I should not be surprised, it is showing up in my little corner of the world as the university has decided to change how tuition will be charged and subsequently be collected. One can be sure that students were not included in the decision and, for the most part neither were faculty. What I understand is some were given the “opportunity” to attend a meeting on the Friday of Thanksgiving break. Otherwise, as a whole we were not given much notice either. From what we can tell the board of governors has decided that students can make up any budget shortfall. I could say much more about this decision and the process, but I will refrain, at least for the moment. At Bloomsburg this reduces the forecasted deficit, which seemed a bit sketchy to begin with from 1o million to about 3 million. I am waiting to get some final figures. What this will do to students, to programs, and to the state system does not appear to have been part of the decision-making process. The absurdity of it, at least at this moment, is beyond my comprehension. It will price many low income students and families out of the market, again widening the gap between those who can afford college and those who cannot.

The title of this blog posting is actually a quote from a story I heard this morning on NPR. It was a story about a children’s book and about a boy on a bus. The little boy with his Nanna lamented the things that he did not have, while his Nanna tried to help him focus more carefully on the things that he did have. I am generally not inclined to buy children’s books, but I might have to get this one. The author and illustrator, both Californians, wrote about things they experienced growing up. As I have noted in blogs past, I did not always have what I wanted but not once can I remember not having what I needed. I was actually very fortunate. As I consider the events of today, I am reminded about how decisions are made and so many people have little to no voice in those decisions. I know that I will be attending some meetings this week and into the semester. While I am not sure if anything can be done to reverse the university’s plan, I, for one, will go on the record to say it is unjust and not very well reasoned.

However, as I noted, I should not be surprised. Reflecting on some of the news stories over the last two weeks and the decision of the Koch brothers to spend almost one billion dollars on the next election, I need some assistance. Someone help me understand how that is democracy. Someone explain to me how buying an election creates trust in our system, in the people, or in the elected government. I cannot see it. It is manipulation. I cannot imagine the founders of this country believing that this would be what they hoped or believed could happen to their grand experiment. In fact, I heard the most fascinating address or lecture tonight about the state of politics in Pennsylvania. The bottom line in that address was basically that no one elected in the legislature needed anyone else nor did they feel beholden to them. Even though we were the only state to not re-elect an incumbent Republican governor, The election of Governor Wolfe was actually vote against the former Governor Tom Corbett and not vote for the Democrat. Our esteemed and knowledgeable speaker went on to note that the legislature is both the most Republican and polarized it has been in the last half century. It was actually a very fascinating and frightening address. Perhaps the last important point that directly affects those of us in higher education is that while the electorate wants something done to fund education that is mostly at the K-12 level. The entire thing was quite depressing when I think about it carefully.

That actually brings brings me to my point or focus in this post. A few years ago there was a somewhat vocal, but short-lived group of protests against the so-called one-percent-ers. While the initial argument was against so few having so much wealth, the protests were not focused entirely on that and too many others, in my opinion, jumped on the proverbial bandwagon; the consequence ended up with the initial message about unfairness or injustice becoming diluted. As the one-percenters unabashedly try to buy the next election, as a board of governors decides to put a burden, one created by an ex-governor, who took $90 million from higher education during his four years ~ something supported by the legislature ~  on the backs of students, the opportunity for many students to be educated within the Commonwealth becomes more unobtainable because of rising costs. The plethora of other consequences or fall-out from this decision is exponentially troubling, but I will leave that for another time. While there are certainly cases of the stereotypic millennial entitlement, there are many other students who work so desperately hard to take advantage of the opportunity to be educated. I know this to be the truth because I see it daily. In spite of the debt they must take on to receive an undergraduate education, many students work hard both in their classes and in extracurricular jobs, hoping to eventually graduate and make a difference in their lives. I think of some students I know quite well, ones who are prime examples of this. Paying meticulous attention to everything that concerns their education and working tremendously hard with such myopic focus, they actually miss some things they should not. However, I’m not sure it is possible to see the consequence of those actions at times. Even though I have felt the sequela of that perceived demand, and its aftermath, I guess if I step back, just maybe, I can understand why. Perhaps the sophistic elegance and grace used at times is more necessary than I’ve been willing to realize. I still don’t like it, but perhaps, at moments, I can at least comprehend it’s necessity.

While I am certainly not extraordinarily wealthy, I have to admit that I have a few worries. I have worked hard with 14 years in college, but I’ve also been fortunate. Without the care of many over the years, I would not be where I am. What I’ve tried to do is to give to others and return the good fortune that I have been blessed to receive. I grew up in a part of town or we were called river rats. It was a blue-collar and and certainly one of the poor sections of town. As I previously noted there were times growing up but I’m sure my parents struggle mightily to even give us necessities. But the people on my block and in my neighborhood worked hard. They asked for little, if anything, and they live their lives with grace and dignity. There is the saying about growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. I’m not sure I was on the wrong side, but, on the other hand, I’m not sure I was on the right side. Maybe I grew up actually on the tracks . What I am realizing is maybe it was to being on the tracks that forced me to keep moving. Because logically, if one stays in that place, the outcome would be to get run over, not a particularly wise not pleasant outcome.

When I realize that we all have our story, and no two are the same, I’m compelled to believe that each story has value. To fail to believe in the value of the other is to lose sight of the founding principles of democracy. When we fail to treat others with grace and dignity, we fail them, but more significantly we fail ourselves. This past week, in my Foundations class, we spoke about the value of each person’s language and what they bring to class. We talked about the difference between standard and nonstandard language. The language someone brings with them helps them understand who they are. It creates an identity. One of the many things that I am tasked to do is to move that language into academe. To help the student claim his or her place as someone hoping to become a scholar. Sometimes that’s a tall order. But more importantly I can only assist I cannot make someone do it. I know this from my own experience. I’ve also watched someone over the past year work tremendously hard to overcome previous choices. It is something they have done on their own. Most of the time, it has been a joy to watch.

Perhaps it’s because I still feel I am on the tracks at times that I work so hard to help others move from one place to the next. Well I’m not sure that I do it with all that much grace I do try to do it with dignity. That is all I can do. So it is almost 4:00 a.m. Perhaps I can go back to sleep. . . . I did sleep, but as is often the case I needed to go back, edit, proofread and then work on this some more. I am always amazed by what I find in my writing, especially when it is done at some early hour of the morning. What I see, not surprisingly, is even at that time, my brain goes faster than either my voice or my fingers. I miss things. I make illogical jumps. It is now Monday and I am facing student conferences, grading, revisions, and other things. Then there is the life outside of here that always seems to disappear. It is time to get organized yet again. So I am off to do just that.
As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin