State schools faculty offers pay freeze
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Just how dire is the state funding outlook for higher education in Pennsylvania next year?
It's looking so bad the union representing 6,000 faculty and coaches at the 14 state-owned universities announced Monday it had "agreed in principle" to negotiate a wage freeze.
It did so, even though wages had not yet come up in months-old contract talks with management of the State System of Higher Education, said Ken Mash, vice president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF).
Gov. Tom Corbett did broach a pay freeze on March 8 when he offered a state budget proposal that would halve state appropriations to Pennsylvania's public universities. The text of his speech referred specifically to public school employees and school districts -- not professors -- although he also called on State System employees "to consider sacrifice."
Regardless of whether faculty were mentioned by name, the unprecedented nature of the governor's cuts appears to have altered the bargaining strategy for a union whose four-year labor pact with the State System expires June 30.
The governor's proposals, which are drawing sharp rebukes from campuses, would be the biggest single-year cut in the history of American public higher education, national groups say.
"After we recovered from the shock wave, I think we all just generally agreed that what we needed to do is focus on restoring the money that would be cut," Mr. Mash said.
"We didn't want to be perceived in any way as being part of the problem," he said. "We didn't want to be asking for an increase when we're trying to maintain the status quo."
About 120,000 students attend the 14 State System schools, which include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania. State System leaders were largely mum on the APSCUF announcement.
"We all understand this is a time of shared sacrifice. At the same time we don't negotiate in the public," State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said.
Last week, James Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, urged K-12 teacher union locals to consider pay freezes and other cost-cutting measures.
According to APSCUF's current contract, faculty pay ranges based on experience and length of service are $51,856 to $76,661 for assistant professors; $60,030 to $88,744 for associate professors; and $72,967 to $107,870 for full professors.
Under the pact, negotiated in 2007, raises of 4 percent were awarded this year plus service increments of either 2.5 percent or 5 percent.
Even before Mr. Corbett's proposed budget, the 14 universities faced program cuts, and three campuses -- East Stroudsburg, Kutztown and Mansfield -- were bracing for a total of 15 faculty layoffs this summer, the first affecting APSCUF in nearly 30 years, Mr. Mash said.
About 30 percent of State System operations are funded by the state. The governor would slash the subsidy from $503.4 million to $232.6 million and bring the level of dollar support below what the schools received in 1983-84.
A lobbying effort against the cuts kicks into high gear today with APSCUF-organized rallies planned for various State System campuses.
The four-state related universities are facing similar budget cuts, and students are mobilizing, with more than 4,000 petition signatures so far and campus gatherings planned later this month and on April 5 in Harrisburg, said Molly Stieber, a University of Pittsburgh junior and president of the university's undergraduate student government,
Students are planning to host a daylong event Wednesday in the school's William Pitt Union, urging their peers to write letters to state officials, she said.
The statement from APSCUF said it was acting "in the context of similar sacrifice shared by our administrative and management counterparts" in an era in which state funding has been declining.
"We want to do our part to support our universities and respond to the governor's call for a one-year wage freeze. We want to be part of the solution," APSCUF president Steve Hicks said. "We hope the General Assembly does its part by meeting the Commonwealth's obligation to the State System of Higher Education by restoring the critical funds necessary for our students to have the same opportunities their brothers, sisters and parents had to improve themselves and to secure Pennsylvania's future."
Mr. Mash said the cuts in the governor's proposed budget are so large, "Four universities could close and we wouldn't make up that amount."
First Published March 22, 2011 12:00 am