Faculty and students rally for higher education

Faculty and students combined forces last Thursday to stage a rally in support of faculty in their ongoing contract negotiations. The Portland State chapter of the American Association of University Professors and Fox 12 News estimated that nearly 1,000 people were gathered in the Park Blocks at the rally’s peak.

“We’re really excited about how the rally went,” said David Osborne, an instructor at PSU and member of PSU-AAUP. “We had a tremendous turnout in spite of the rain. We clearly have the support of students and community members.”

Eric Noll, legislative affairs director for the Associated Students of PSU and a board member of the Oregon Student Association, echoed faculty enthusiasm.

“The show of student power and student organizing on campus was inspiring. The walkout was an incredible opportunity for students who have never participated in something like that before to experience what it feels like to make their voice heard.”

As of the morning of the walkout, nearly 700 students were signed up via a text message loop to participate. However, it is possible that many more left class at the appointed time. A number of faculty with courses taking place at the time of the rally reported that their entire class walked out together.

Students began planning the walkout at a public info session held by the PSU Student Union in early February. Initially aiming to coincide with a faculty info picket, the walkout gained further significance on Monday of last week when PSU-AAUP declared an impasse in their negotiations with the PSU administration. The declaration of an impasse brings faculty a step closer to authorizing a strike that would coincide with the second week of spring term.

Faculty kicked off Thursday’s rally at 11 a.m. by forming a picket line in front of the Park Blocks entrance to Smith Memorial Student Union. According to Osborne, at least 350 PSU-AAUP members were present by an early count. By 11:20 a.m. when students began to converge on the area, faculty were marching a route around SMSU and many students joined along.

After the planned student walkout joined up with the faculty information picket, students, faculty, staff and community members held a speak-out on the stage of the south Park Blocks.

Despite the poor weather conditions, a count made by PSU Campus Public Safety estimated that about 300 people stuck around to hear fellow students, staff and faculty articulate their mutual solidarity and the important correlation between working conditions and quality of education on campus.

‘A very powerful force’

While bargaining takes place between the faculty union and the PSU administration and does not involve any direct student role, Osborne emphasized the importance of student involvement.

“The support of students is essential for what we are trying to accomplish. It shows us that the kind of things we are advocating for are indeed the things that will serve the students. It further demonstrates that the administration is heading in the wrong direction, and the students and the faculty have a different vision for how [to] provide for high quality education at PSU.”

The link between faculty contract demands and the broader vision for PSU’s future was further underlined by Noll.

“What’s been talked about at the bargaining table is more comprehensive than just funding—it’s about shared governance.”

In Noll’s perspective, the administration would have much to gain by creating more opportunities for students to engage with decision-making at the university.

“When students, staff and faculty are all in one room together, we can be a very powerful force and a resource to administrators when it comes to securing key changes at the state level. Unfortunately, we’ve been moving away from that in the conversations we’ve been having the last 10 months on campus.”

One source of student frustration at the rally was the administration’s choice to hold a PSU mobile app launch party at the same time as the walkout. The party was held in the basement of SMSU and promised free pizza and games. It was announced on the university’s Facebook page after the planning of the student walkout was underway.

Christian Aniciete, the social media coordinator for PSU’s communications office, said that this was nothing more than a coincidence. The party’s date, he said, was set in late December. A student walkout was first publically proposed Jan. 30 at an information session held by PSUSU.

“This event was not orchestrated to distract [students from] the walkout,” Aniciete said in an email. “It was not a PR stunt as my team does not have a ‘secret agenda’ planning these events.”

Next steps

According to the timeline put in place by the recent declaration of an impasse, the administration and PSU-AAUP had until yesterday to submit their best and final efforts. If an agreement can be reached, then faculty will vote to ratify the proposed contract and a strike will be averted. If an agreement is not reached, then the 30-day cooling off period set in motion by the impasse will continue.

According to Scott Gallagher from the Office of University Communications, PSU-AAUP can vote to strike at any time during this period, but they cannot actually go on strike until the 30 days are up. They must also give the administration a 10-day notice before striking.

“The earliest they could do it would be April 3 or 4,” Gallagher stated. However, faculty have notified students that in the event of a strike, they will hold off until the second week of spring term so that students’ visas, loan disbursements and other needs affected by enrollment status will be unaffected.

Gallagher said, “We’re confident we’ll come to an agreement and we hope that it happens as soon as possible.”

As for the walkout, on behalf of the university Gallagher voiced his support for the students.

“We support students’ rights to gather and discuss any issue—it’s part of being in university, to voice concerns and share information. If students choose to walk out, then that is up to them.”

Gallagher reiterated that the university has systems in place to maintain business as usual in the event of a strike.

“Our job is to make sure that nothing gets in the way of students pursuing their academic goals, and we will do everything we can to make sure there is no interruption,” he said.

Cameron Frank, an organizer with the PSU Student Union and Student Action Coalition, said that “What was demonstrated at the rally is that students are willing to take more drastic action.”

“If the administration still continues to refuse to listen, then students will escalate tactics,” he said, adding that a number of students had suggested staging at sit-in at the Market Center Building where PSU President Wim Wiewel and the administration have their offices.

When asked if future actions might entail a student occupation of administrative buildings, Frank responded that, “all options are on the table.”

A version of this story appeared in the March 4 issue of the Vanguard. Jordan Molnar contributed reporting.

Editor’s note: It has recently come to our attention that Sara Swetzoff has been reporting on issues concerning the potential faculty strike while also maintaining personal involvement with the Portland State University Student Union—an organization that has come out in full support of the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The Vanguard recognizes this is a conflict of interest that contradicts our mission to serve as a fair and balanced news source for the PSU community. We apologize for failing to catch this problem before the stories made it to print and have since taken action to ensure it will not happen again.