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Students at IUP rally in support of professors

by on October 20, 2016 10:59 AM

With the state system’s faculty union on strike, hundreds of students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania took to the streets and the Oak Grove Wednesday, most of whom were rallying in support of their professors’ decision to strike.

Most students who were rallying said they did not go to class Wednesday and do not plan to attend until the strike is over and their assigned professors are back in the classroom.

Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and IUP officials, however, cautioned students to report for classes where non-striking professors may continue to work or qualified substitutes may be assigned to conduct classes.

Members of IUP’s marching band, The Legend, also organized an Oak Grove “rehearsal” in support of their faculty, but were quickly forced off campus by campus police on the grounds that they did not receive permission from university authorities to rehearse in the Oak Grove. The band proceeded to cross Oakland Avenue at Washington Street and perform in the lawn next to Copies Plus.

“We gathered as students,” one band member said. “We didn’t do this with faculty or administration, we took it upon ourselves.”

University police could have cited the band’s student leaders had the situation gotten out of control, another member said, but by moving off campus the musicians avoided further repercussions.

But members of the marching band were not alone in their efforts. An unofficial group of about 20 students who call themselves “Students for Faculty” also showed support for professors with a “sit-down” in the Oak Grove, complete with signs, blankets to sit on, homemade T-shirts and snacks. The group split up between the five zones surrounding IUP’s campus to ensure that faculty in each strike zone would receive the same amount of support.

Seneca Mastovich, a senior English writing studies major, and Abby Panek, a junior philosophy/pre-law major, were among those students advocating for more student support. Mastovich said PASSHE leaving the negotiating table at 9 p.m. Tuesday night while APSCUF stayed until 5 a.m. was “absolutely disgraceful.”

“It’s so disheartening to see that the state just left,” Mastovich said. “If the state is so willing to walk away from the teachers — and they’re walking away from us, too — there’s no reason that I should go and support the state by attending my classes.”

“I’m not missing class, I’m standing with my teachers.”

Panek, an executive board member for Students for Faculty, said along with picketing and supplying professors with snacks, students in the unofficial organization were going door to door to local businesses asking for any kind of donation for the striking faculty. She said she was striking because her professors are important to her.

“If our faculty isn’t treated fairly, then our students aren’t treated fairly,” Panek said. “We’re kind of stuck in the middle of the state and APSCUF, and if I have to pick someone it’s definitely going to be my professors.”

“Go to class,” said Michelle Fryling, university spokeswoman. “Faculty are legally permitted to not strike, and they also are permitted to change their minds and return to work at any time.”

Campus facilities not run by APSCUF members remain open and available for students to complete non-classroom work, such as computer labs and the libraries.

Where students stand academically won’t be determined until the strike ends, according to the PASSHE website.

Grades may be delayed, and the system may opt to add days and hours of instruction time past the scheduled end of the semester to make up for lost time.

The effect on December graduation and the strike’s impact on students’ abilities to meet employment or military obligations after the fall term won’t be known for a while, but PASSHE promises to work with students where possible.

“The university will make every effort to be as flexible as possible while fulfilling its educational requirements,” according to the PASSHE question and answer page online at http://www.passhe.edu/FactCenter/Pages/FAQs.aspx.

IUP’s Student Government Association president Brian Swatt said the organization will be remaining neutral and unbiased in how they represent the university.

“We believe that our responsibility as an organization is to provide the most factual information to the student body so that they remain informed, educated and aware of what’s going on and the effects of the strike,” Swatt said. “I believe that both sides need to sit down at the negotiation table and continue good faith, collective bargaining and hopefully a positive outcome will come out of it. We need to stay committed to ensuring that they’re settling for the students.”

Swatt also said SGA is encouraging students, per standard policy and protocol, to attend classes. If their professor or a substitute does not arrive within 15 minutes, students are permitted to leave class.

SGA has hosted several strike informational open forum sessions in the past few days and is planning to host more throughout the duration of the strike.

While the majority of students striking on campus and the surrounding during the day Wednesday said they were planning to stay in Indiana throughout the strike’s duration and support their professors, others took to social media in search of “strike bar specials” or rides to their hometowns across the state until further notice.

Panek and Mastovich encouraged the students who are looking at the faculty strike as a vacation to get informed about what’s really going on with the negotiation process.

“These teachers have been negotiating since 2014 but have been under an expired contract for over a year,” Mastovich said. “I think that (students) need to look more into what this is really about instead of what they think it’s about. It’s not a break, it’s a breaking point.”

“To the people who are treating this as a vacation, it’s very disappointing,” Panek said. “I get it because everybody’s stressed and breaks are great, but that’s not what this is. That’s not what this is about and people shouldn’t share that stigma too much.”

PHOTO: Harold Schwaim, a junior operations production management major from Imperial, attached a sign to his skateboard in support of the professors who are on strike. (Jamie Empfield/Gazette)



Casey is a freelance writer for The Indiana Gazette. She is a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, studying journalism and public relations.
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