Faculty members have gone on strike at East Stroudsburg, Kutztown and 12 other Pennsylvania universities, impacting more than 100,000 students across the state.
Contract negotiations between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and its faculty union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), hit an impasse late Tuesday night when the union said the state handed it its last, best offer and was done negotiating.
APSCUF announced on its Facebook page that faculty went on strike for 5 a.m. Wednesday. Spokesman Dan Spiegel then addressed the media at Kutztown University in a news conference at 11 a.m.
"I stand before you in a state of profound disappointment that this event is occurring," Spiegel said. "We are 477 days past our contract’s expiration, and one thing has been consistent: PASSHE’s insistence on implementing proposals that will degrade the quality of the education we offer, the value of the degrees we confer, and the conditions under which we perform this important work."
The two sides were unable to reach agreement on proposed raises and health care contributions
Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for PASSHE, said there is disappointment that the union representing faculty decided to strike, and the state system wants to settle the differences for the sake of the students.
The state system is still assessing the impact of the strike, because it's not immediately clear how many faculty members will participate and how it will affect classes, Marshall said.
He said the state system thought it made significant progress toward settling the strike and thought the union would consider postponing the action.
Marshall said PASSHE will do everything it can to get the differences settled, but "it takes two. We need cooperation."
No meetings are currently scheduled, but Marshall said the sides "need to get together and need to resolve this."
Dozens of students joined their educators on the picket lines at Kutztown University on Wednesday.
"I hope everything goes good for them, but I hope everything goes good for the students, too," said sophomore Thalita Soto.
But others said they want professors to get back to work.
"I'm not really in support of it, honestly. It seems like the only people getting hurt here are the students," said junior Jesse Dewitt, "and we are paying this school to learn and the only people in the classrooms doing their jobs is the students. It's our jobs to go to class and learn and we are the only ones doing it."
The system has never had a strike in its 34-year history.
The students are still required to report to class.
Kutztown University has set up a webpage about the strike, with information for staff, students and families.
KU President Kenneth Hawkinson and members of his cabinet held an hour-long meeting with students on Wednesday. The students were encouraged to attend and ask questions.