Pa. university professors strike second day, disrupting 100,000 students

- More than 100,000 state university students in Pennsylvania were told Thursday to stay at school, as striking professors returned to picket lines on 14 campuses for a second day and their union pleaded for a resumption of contract talks.

   The state university system had informed students they should show up for class unless their individual schools indicated otherwise. With no new systemwide guidance coming on Day 2 of the walkout, the schools began providing their own instructions. 
   Some, like California and Cheyney universities, told students to wait up to 15 minutes before leaving empty classrooms or submit work through online portals. Others were holding information sessions or providing lists of striking faculty and postponed classes. 
   The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said professors will remain off the job until a new contract is reached. On Tuesday, the state system gave the union what it said was its final offer, and then withdrew from bargaining.
   The union represents more than 5,000 faculty and coaches from West Chester, Kutztown, Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg and Slippery Rock universities of Pennsylvania.
   Union President Ken Mash stood outside the chancellor's office building Thursday afternoon in Harrisburg to push for a resumption of contract talks.
   "If they want to come out and right now and negotiate, we're willing to go ahead and do that," Mash said. "But, I don't want to be totally unfair either, because they do have my cellphone number, so if they want to call later on and say that they're ready to negotiate, we're ready to do that too."
   In a statement earlier in the day, Mash said: "For goodness' sake, Chancellor (Frank) Brogan, stop playing games."
   System spokesman Kenn Marshall said earlier in the week that the administration felt it had made significant progress toward a settlement before talks broke off.
   It withdrew a proposal, which drew criticism from the union, to increase adjunct professors' workload, while offering raises to all permanent and temporary faculty. A proposal to make professors pay more for their health care is identical to one other system employees have agreed to, Marshall said.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers issued this statement, saying it stands in solidarity with Pennsylvania’s college and university staff:
"The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers stands in full solidarity with the PA college and university faculties who are on strike for a better contract. Like the PFT's 1,146-day fight to get a new contract with the school district, this strike is about more than salaries and benefits--the members of the APSCUF want a new agreement that will provide better educational environments for college students.
"Whether it's the K-12 or post-secondary level, the decision to go on strike is an extremely difficult one for educators. It is an absolute last resort for professionals who would want nothing more than to teach students and be respected, supported and compensated for the work they do.
"The PFT hopes the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and APSCUF will soon return to the bargaining table to resolve their differences and settle a contract that benefits the students and faculty in Pennsylvania's colleges and universities."
   Picketers across the state said they were not striking solely for health benefits or salary, but to preserve the quality of education for students by supporting faculty at every level of pay and experience. 
   Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday he was "extremely disappointed" both sides were unable to reach agreement. He called the strike "detrimental" and warned it "will have far-reaching effects for years to come." He urged both sides to return to negotiations.
   The Pennsylvania state system is one of the nation's largest public university systems. State funding for the system, at $444 million this year, is about the same as it was 17 years ago, even as full-time enrollment has risen more than 10 percent.
   The last faculty contract expired June 30, 2015.
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