STANLEY P. BERARD
It pleases me to learn of the commitment by the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to cooperating with APSCUF in our ongoing negotiations, as expressed by PASSHE Vice Chancellor Gary Dent in a recent column in The Express.
Although Mr. Dent portrays it differently, this is a new commitment on PASSHE's part.
In his column, Mr. Dent refers to the fiscal challenges facing the State System.
Let us put those fiscal challenges in context. Since 1993, the annual expenditures supporting faculty compensation and other aspects of the everyday operation of Lock Haven University and the other PASSHE universities - the "educational and general" budget - have remained fairly steady at just under $14,000 per full-time-equivalent student in 2011-12 dollars. The portion of that per-student cost attributable to personnel has remained right around $10,000 over these years. (My source is the 2012-13 PASSHE appropriations request, Appendix B-9.)
This means that any cost increases beyond the rate of inflation over the last two decades - such as have occurred in health care for workers in all sectors of the economy - have been absorbed in PASSHE by a combination of reduced compensation and benefits and increased student enrollment.
So, for many years now, APSCUF faculty have contributed to meeting the universities' fiscal challenges through increased cost sharing and reduced benefits, through a salary structure that does not always keep pace with inflation, and through steady increases in the sizes of both face-to-face and online classes.
Even with ever-increasing class sizes, APSCUF faculty have remained committed to developing relationships of close collaboration and meaningful interaction with students and to doing so as professors who regularly engage in research or practice in their fields. APSCUF faculty strive to keep these commitments with a course load that is twice what is typical at research-oriented universities like Penn State.
In this context, the positions Mr. Dent stated in his column are misguided in several respects.
First, before further reducing employee health benefits, PASSHE should institute practices that other large employers commonly use to control the premiums insurers charge.
Second, PASSHE should try to avoid radical changes in retiree health benefits for future hires, from whom we will expect the same commitment and dedication as from current faculty.
Third, PASSHE schools should use part-time temporary faculty rarely and under circumstances that warrant their being paid on the same scale as regular faculty (part-timers already are lowest on the scale in most instances).
Fourth, unless PASSHE no longer wants to be involved in distance education, it should acknowledge the additional work and expertise that are still required to deliver a quality course through a distance format.
APSCUF faculty are certainly concerned about the increases in tuition and fees our students have borne over the years.
These are due to the diminishing share of PASSHE's educational and general costs covered by state appropriations (from around 50 percent in the early 1990s to under 30 percent today).
Given that per-student expenditures have not changed when adjusted for inflation, practically all of the constant-dollar increases in PASSHE tuition and educational fees since 1993 result from declines in state funding and not from increased spending per student.
The expertise and dedication of APSCUF faculty members have played the predominant role in containing PASSHE's per-student costs while building the academic quality of our institutions.
Every day at PASSHE universities, APSCUF members work directly with students to advance their educational achievements.
If PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh recognizes the real contributions and serious concerns of the faculty during the current negotiations and beyond, it will go far toward building a collaborative relationship between PASSHE and APSCUF as we face our common challenges together.
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Stanley Berard is the chapter president of the Lock Haven University APSCUF union.