May 25, 2015

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Finding common ground at CFHE

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Solidifying alliances among student organizations, higher education and organized labor was the focus of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education’s Ninth National Gathering.

“The assaults on higher education in New York and across the country are real and they are relentless,” said Secretary Eileen Landy, left, CFHE’s campaign coordinator. “The issues being discussed this weekend are crucial; they must be addressed and we will work together to find solutions.”

The CFHE, a national confederation of organizations dedicated to quality, affordable and accessible higher education, drew more than 120 participants—some from as far away as California, Minnesota and Florida—to its May 22-24 conference in Philadelphia. VPP Philippe Abraham and a small group of UUP members, including Executive Board members Ken Lindblom, Pamela Malone and Anne Wiegard, attended the event.

At the symposium, participants took a long look at issues such as civil rights, social justice and the relentless assault on higher education and organized labor.

“You are the protectors of the extraordinary legacy that protects America’s children and the future of America’s children and the future of America’s security,” said keynote speaker Stuart Davidson, a nationally known union attorney from Philadelphia. “No one should take a step back on the value and significance of your work in representing the people who are the future of America.”

The conference featured panel discussions such as “Civil Rights & Labor Rights in the Future of Higher Education” and “Opposing Privatization of Public Higher Education and Affirming Social Justice for All: Issues from the CFHE Educators of Color Caucus.”

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Students get their say

Student organizers also played a role; Alexandra Flores-Quilty, right, president of the United States Student Association was on a May 23 panel on advocacy. National coordinators representing the Student Labor Action Project, Jobs With Justice and UnKoch My Campus took part in a May 24 panel titled “Strengthening Alliances with Students.”

During the discussion, students offered straightforward advice to help faculty and unionists engage students in advocacy efforts. They suggested that faculty invite students to meetings and give them a voice when it comes to shaping and making decisions.

“If you can’t organize faculty around an issue, you won’t be successful organizing students,” said Beth Huang, coordinator of the Student Labor Action Project.

“I think you need to point out that the problems students face in their own lives are the same problems that we face in the university,” said Gillian Mason, representing Jobs With Justice. “Build relationships and treat students as friends. Please don’t make assumptions about us.”

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Reinvesting in public higher ed

John Hanger, secretary of Planning and Policy for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, focused on the connection between civil rights, unions and the importance of public higher education in his symposium-opening May 22 speech.

“We must invest in people in the bottom half of the economy,” said Hanger, who joined Wolf’s administration months after ending a Democratic primary campaign against him in 2014. “The inequality we have now is not just immoral, it’s limiting our growth.”

Landy talked about the challenges public higher education advocates face in New York as part of a panel called “Advocating for Higher Education.” She discussed UUP’s battle for fair funding for SUNY and showed UUP’s impactful television ad, which the union aired in February and March.

Lilian Taiz, the California Faculty Association's immediate past president, said that he attacks on public higher education are intended to destabilize and ultimately destroy the middle class.

“I think that our story, and what has happened to faculty across the country, is the story of people who can’t get into the middle class and are struggling to stay in the middle class,” Taiz said. “We have to embrace that reality and speak out for all of us.”

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