Staying Together for the Kids

Mommy and Daddy are fighting.

At least that’s what it feels like following the closing of the longest faculty union contract negotiations in Youngstown State University’s history.

Immediately following the faculty’s narrow-margined vote in favor of the current contract, the union put out a press release essentially saying that despite adopting the contract, they certainly didn’t like it.

At the Board of Trustees meeting where the contract was ratified, Senator Harry Meshel shared — vividly — his distaste for the union leadership and even mentioned that following these most recent negotiations, he was happy for his term as a trustee to be ending. The other board members looked relieved just to get the whole thing over with.

Nobody likes the current situation. The faculty feel underappreciated and robbed of earnings they believe they deserve, and the administration knows full well that this is an issue that isn’t going away; it will very likely shine a negative light on YSU when it comes to attracting talented faculty in the future.

So why this uncomfortable truce? Part of the reason is that they’re trying to hold the family together for the kids — the students.

Following the faculty’s vote to accept the current contract, a member of the faculty expressed their relief that students weren’t dragged into the murky waters of the negotiations.

Another faculty member offered similar sentiments while discussing the contract negotiations three years ago that nearly resulted in a strike. The faculty member explained that a strike would have resulted in the administration canceling the semester. In turn, a cancellation would have resulted in at least a semester delay in student graduations and a freeze on student loan funds that many students rely on to help pay for living expenses while in school.

Student well-being is a concern for both the administration and the faculty, though the two may have a difference in opinion over what exactly constitutes students’ well-being.

However, at some point in the future, if YSU’s financial situation doesn’t improve significantly, students may need to accept that they’re going to need to take a backseat for the sake of the university as a whole.

A strike this year probably wouldn’t have won the faculty their ideal contracts even if it had gone that far. The financial state of the university simply wouldn’t have allowed it.

And, as a result, we believe it was certainly the right choice to avoid a strike this round of negotiations.

A strike won’t necessarily be fair to those students if and when it happens, and it certainly won’t be pretty. But at some point, if the faculty and the administration can’t reach some level of peace, YSU is going to hit a point of no return. Conditions here will be so volatile that we won’t be able to attract quality leadership in the administration — three deans and several vice presidents left over the last year — or quality faculty to teach students.

There may need to be a strike.

Hopefully, things will improve over the next few years. Maybe funding priorities will change. Maybe enrollment will take off, and the administration’s plans to attract more students from further away will help bolster the school’s income. Maybe the library will get funding. Maybe the next union contract negotiations will go swimmingly and everyone will get what they want.

Maybe.

But an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, and there doesn’t seem to be any outside forces waiting on the tracks to slow down the current train of disdain. And unfortunately a strike may be necessary to force the hand of the university — igniting changes in institutional goals or individual policies that will once again synergize faculty and administration. A strike may not be good for the students in that moment of YSU’s history, but it may be necessary on a grander scale.

Of course, we don’t want to believe this sentiment.

We want to believe that faculty leaders, the Board of Trustees and other administrators will work together over the next few years to rebuild bridges and ensure that YSU can effectively continue to work as a force for improving the lives of students, the careers of professionals and the quality of life in the Mahoning Valley.

It seems that due to the very nature of the beast this is unlikely, so, until a significant effort is made to bridge the rift between two of the most integral communities of professionals on campus, we can’t adopt that stance.

It’s a pesimistic viewpoint, but the writing is on the wall.

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