Students, faculty, and staff gathered at 17th and Spring Garden, the location of the Community College of Philadelphia, to voice their concerns of an impending strike between the college’s professors and the school that was scheduled to take place this week.
As of March 12, professors and union members have decided not to strike, but will organize a public campaign to convince administration to drop their “take it or leave it” stance and continue normal negotiations.
There was an estimated 60 or more at the rally chanting in unison, “No contract, no peace,” stopping only when a professor or faculty member stood at the makeshift podium atop the steps of the college’s Mint Building.
Students with buckets for drums and a paper mache student that held a sign, “Let me graduate on time,” aligned the steps. Signs that read “Invest in people,” “Jobs for Justice,” and “Where did the money go?” depicted their frustrations.
“I honestly do not blame the staff or professors that wish to go on strike,” Charlene Brown, a junior nursing major said. “It is sad that it has to come to this in order for them to get what they need. They are the ‘ground troops’ of the college and they are the ones that are putting in the work to make sure our needs are met.”
After over a year of failed of negotiations, before and after the expiration of the current contract last August, on Feb. 24 CCP presented what it called its best and final offer to teachers and staff. However, the professors aren’t buying it, citing a recent construction boom and high executive salaries that belie the school’s cries of poverty. With neither side budging, a strike appeared imminent, but has been put off, for now.
With the recent expansion projects of the college underway, one of them being a new dining pavilion already completed, the second a renovation and expansion to one of the college’s main buildings, it’s not hard to see why many who attend the college are wondering why money cannot be found to satisfy the faculty and staff.
“It is a shame, for everyone at The Community College of Philadelphia, that this situation is taking place,” CCP English professor, Ari Bank said. “In an ‘ideal world,’ we would have money to satisfy both what CCP administration feels is needed for the College, such as more campus construction, as well as money to satisfy very reasonable salary increases so teachers and classified employees may keep up with cost-of-living increases. However, this is not an ideal world, prioritizing should be put into effect, and at the end of the day, I am certain students would prefer to have teachers in the classroom before anything else.”
“I think, for a couple of reasons, the most important people here are the faculty and staff that keeps the place running,” CCP English professor, Nate House said. “The contract offer insults us and as administration salary increases, our administrative responsibilities as faculty have gone up.”
The college called its offer fair, noting that it includes raises of more than ten percent over four years for most teachers and staff (after a one-year wage freeze), as well as health benefits and free tuition for employees and their families.
“We value the contributions of our faculty and staff, and we want to reach a fair and equitable agreement with the Federation that recognizes their hard work on behalf of our students,” said Stephen M. Curtis, President of CCP in a statement sent out to the college. “We think that the offer we presented [today] reaches the limit of what the College can reasonably afford without requiring an unrealistic tuition increase, something that the College absolutely cannot support.”
“The reality is that the College cannot go beyond these overall financial limits,” said Dr. Curtis. “We’re willing to negotiate within these parameters, but as far as the College’s ability to pay, this is as good as it gets.”
Professors have other ideas. They argue that CCP has millions in reserves, they just purchased $5 million in land, there is new construction taking place, top-tier administrators make six figure salaries and the college expenditure for administration has skyrocketed.
“The president of CCP makes almost two times as much as the Mayor of Philadelphia, and yet, there is no money to cover ‘cost-of-living’ raises for faculty and staff,” Bank continued. “And now we are supposed to pay much more for health insurance coverage, okay? I may be working at Whole Foods soon. I won’t be able to afford to teach, literally.”
Looming over the rancor is the threat of a tuition hike if the college’s costs soar too high. CCP is the only community college in Philadelphia, and is the only option for many students emerging from the city’s poor neighborhoods and decrepit public schools who lack the resources or educational background to jump directly to Temple or one of the region’s other colleges or universities.
Reduced public sector funding has left tuition providing 57.5 percent of the college’s budget, an already historically high level that is expected to surpass 60 percent in the coming year. Raising tuition would only heighten the barrier to entry to students who can barely afford to attend as it is.
The students at the rally remained squarely in their teachers’ corner.
“It’s as simple as this, give these professors what they are asking for,” Brown said. “They put in their time and some do more than the average professor would do to help their students.”
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