This has gotten outlandishly silly. Both part-time/adjunct and full-time PSU faculty members have entered into mediation with the PSU administration over salaries (one of the first steps on the path to a strike), and the discussion isn’t going well. Faculty representatives have reported little headway being made, and a battle is currently going on between the two sides over what amounts to a 2 percent raise. The administration is now offering a 10 percent pay raise, while faculty is now asking for 12 percent, a considerable drop from their previous demand of 20 percent.
This has gotten outlandishly silly.
Both part-time/adjunct and full-time PSU faculty members have entered into mediation with the PSU administration over salaries (one of the first steps on the path to a strike), and the discussion isn’t going well. Faculty representatives have reported little headway being made, and a battle is currently going on between the two sides over what amounts to a 2 percent raise. The administration is now offering a 10 percent pay raise, while faculty is now asking for 12 percent, a considerable drop from their previous demand of 20 percent.
Meanwhile, according to the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, PSU faculty still makes $3,000 to $7,000 less than their University of Oregon and Oregon State University counterparts. A total 300 faculty members have left Portland State since 2003, the top two cited reasons being low pay and high workloads. Oregon still ranks 46th in the nation for per student funding for higher education. PSU student tuition and the cost of living in Portland have both increased 54 percent in the last 16 years. And the average part-time professor at PSU wouldn’t make a living wage even with the current administration proposal.
And yet, all these rather depressing figures are not what’s really silly about all this. The core of the problem here has nothing to do with spiraling tuition or the PSU administration.
What’s silly is the place that Oregon has decided to put teachers in the educational system. That is, not first.
The bedrock of education in any form is the existence of a student and a teacher. The rest is secondary. The students come to school on their own but the money to bring in teachers never seems to materialize like it does for other things. When a new recreational facility was needed here, somehow the state legislature thought it was worth the $42 million (which is coming out of a new student fee, by the way). When former PSU President Daniel Bernstine just had to double his salary in the fall of 2006, somehow the PSU Foundation was able to get the money.
“It’s not that simple,” many say. True. Money is bureaucratized. The wishes of private donors and red tape loom in the way of the ability to put funds where they might be most needed. I know. I’m from Eugene, where the University of Oregon gets millions of dollars from Nike for athletics while funds for academics can…y’know, run a little short. Locker rooms are state of the art though. To be fair, Nike gives some money for academics too. But it’s nothing compared to athletics. No, it’s not that simple.
What is simple is that without motivated students who are willing to learn, and effective teachers who are willing to teach, we don’t get a decent education. Well, we have the students. More and more students are attending Oregon public schools each year, and PSU in particular is the one of the fastest growing schools in the Oregon University System in terms of student enrollment.
We are here. We want to learn, and we’re paying through the nose for it. In return, we want teachers who are paid well and not overworked. We want teachers who can give us individual attention in class sizes that don’t reduce students to numbers (please, we’d like the person who we listen to all term to at least know us by name). We want a school that attracts teachers, not a school that struggles to keep them.
When plans for the new recreational center were in the works a few years back, an independent Washington, D.C.-based firm was hired to conduct an extensive survey of student support for the project. They found that 70 percent of students were for it, and it helped to green-light the project. Wonder what would happen if anybody took the time to ask students what they thought about earmarking tens of millions of dollars for hiring more teachers and increasing the pay of existing ones?
Ensuring that schools have good-quality teachers, and plenty of them, needs to be our educational system’s number one priority. Part of that involves paying them well, even at the expense of other things. Modern technology, recreational centers, stipends for lowly campus newspaper writers–these are all wonderful things worthy of support, but they don’t hold a candle to putting more top-notch teachers into classes of smaller sizes.
Last year the state legislature set aside $6.86 million to reduce student-to-faculty ratios. Great. That’s awesome. But it needs to be a beginning, and not an end. Our whole paradigm of what we view as important for our education could use a seismic shift. The PSU Administration could be an ally in this. They could start us on the road to putting teachers first. By proxy, putting teachers first usually means putting students first, too.
But it looks for now like the faculty and the administration will battle on, and the wispy hearsay of a strike might become tangible action. It’s anyone’s guess as to how that would work out. After all, no teacher’s union has ever gone on strike in the history of Oregon public higher education. Guess it used to be that they never had to.