OPED: Road to recovery after college faculty strike

Tara Lavallee, Ph.D, Millersville University
Tara Lavallee

At the close of every class, I always say to my students, “Go forth and do good.”  I would be a flat out hypocrite if I did not follow my own advice. To the best of my abilities, I have a moral responsibility and duty to educate my students. As a professor, my conscience dictated that I stand by and with my students regardless of the consequences.  Therefore, before the announcement came that the strike was over, I crossed the picket line with my students by my side, and with joy in my heart and a smile on my face to be heading back to the classroom. I do not regret this decision. I stalwartly followed my convictions, and took to heart my mother’s often spoken Shakespearian advice “to thy own self be true.”

Without a doubt, the strike cast a dark cloud over the Millersville University campus. Prior to the strike, Millersville was a bastion of civilized discourse among students and faculty. You could often find students huddled under one of the many majestic trees dotting the campus talking about anything from the upcoming presidential election to who is dating who.

During the strike, the environment on campus was tense, and riddled with confused, anxiety-ridden students unsure if they were going to be able to graduate on time or accrue enough credits within their chosen major in order to graduate in four years instead of five or six. Now, while striking faculty members are patting each other on the backs for a job well done, students are still reeling from the feelings of uncertainty, vulnerability, and abandonment. The termination of the strike does not mean an end to the strained relationships created by the work stoppage.

Pennsylvania professors agree to contract, end strike

After all the dust settles, will the climate every really be the same on Millersville campus or will there always be that nagging doubt within the minds of students towards Millersville as an institution? Due to the perceived unpredictability of the State-Union negotiation process, will the strike detract from  prospective students looking for a “quality education” from applying to Millersville and the 13 other Pennsylvania state owned universities? This strike could possibly result in a drop in future enrollment, which could spell more trouble for the already tense financial arrangement brokered between the Union and the State System.

In actuality, what kind of message did the strike send out to students?  Can the students really feel confident, and safe that their professors will continue to remain in the classroom for the long haul if a disagreement again were to occur?

Faculty member Yong Hoon Kim gestures as he pickets at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. Faculty at Pennsylvania state universities went on strike Wednesday morning, disrupting classes midsemester after contract negotiations hit an impasse. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Calling a strike as bargaining leverage in the State-Union negotiation process has left in its wake a destructive precedent. The lesson learned is that striking, which destabilizes student to faculty, administration to faculty, faculty to faculty relationships, and student to student relationships, is a very viable “go to” maneuver for future negotiation processes.

How can we as professors expect students to resolve their own personal conflicts with each other with kindness and graciousness when we as adults cannot seem to accomplish such a feat? So, as the congratulatory backslapping and praising of those committed to the strike begins all across campus, I would be wary to assume that the damage done will pass as quickly as the strike did.

— Tara Lavallee is a professor of political science at Millersville University. She is a resident of York.