Good morning, Chair Shapira, Chancellor Greenstein, presidents, and guests,
My name is Ken Mash, and I am the president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, which represents the faculty and the coaches at the universities that comprise the State System of Higher Education.
I think we can all agree that we do well when we provide students with opportunities to achieve their goals and to achieve the American Dream of upward mobility. We do well when our students are prepared to enter the workforce. We do well when our students are able to fill the employment needs of the Commonwealth. I do not know any of my colleagues who would disagree with these statements.
We do exceptionally well when we truly meet the System’s purpose as defined by Act 188, that is “to provide high-quality education at the lowest possible cost to students.” We are all conscious of college costs and this current board’s attempts to keep them as low as possible.
But what is a “high-quality education?” More specifically, what is a high-quality university education?
Certainly, that can and does mean successful career preparation and meeting workforce needs. Put more traditionally, this means preparing students for the technical skills necessary for them to achieve.
But that is only one part of the equation, when it comes to a high-quality education. The other part of that is liberal education — or a grounding in the liberal arts. For those unfamiliar, the word “liberal” in this sense is not in contrast to conservative arts, and a liberal education is not in contrast to a conservative education. In fact, several advocates of liberal education have been on the conservative end of the spectrum.
The word “liberal” in this context derives from the Latin, and it means to be free. In fact, the liberal arts were, at one time, not available to everyone — precisely because not everyone was free. The liberal arts were the special province of the privileged.
Why? Because a liberal education is very much about thinking critically — something that those in power were more than happy to deprive others of, lest they lose the power they held. They understood too well that free people had to have free minds, and so they kept to themselves the study of ideas, the ability to draw lessons from the past, the ability of drawing connections between disciplines, the ability to communicate to different types of people, and the ability to think abstractly.
Yes, they kept for themselves the topics that they believed made people full human beings. They full well knew that if they entered business, medicine, the law, engineering, architecture, etc., etc., etc. they would have the edge. They even knew that if they majored in one of these areas in the liberal arts that they were prepared not for one specific thing, but for a vast array of opportunities that might arise. Further, they knew that the education they reserved for themselves would make them better citizens, better parents, better friends, better conversationalists.
As our country democratized, so did higher education. But we must never, never, never lose sight of what a college education truly means. It never can mean only vocational training, as valuable as that is.
I know that many of you are aware of this. Regardless, it is good to be reminded — because there are so many other forces that can push in counter directions.
So, Chair Shapira, governors, presidents, and guests, we, the faculty, rankle at the idea that we can cut that education down. We cringe when it is implied that higher education can make do with less liberal education. We shudder at the thought that a university can truly exist without core offerings, that a liberal education can somehow be delivered on the cheap, or even simply be merged into the curriculum.
We become equally upset when we know that we are the universities of the working class and that we are the universities that will reach out to underrepresented populations — because these students need a liberal education every bit as much as anyone else. A liberal education, a prerequisite for a quality education, cannot be solely the province of those who can afford to attend an elite institution.
In fact, our students need liberal education, whether they realize it or not. It is the responsibility of us all to do a much better job of explaining this to them. And if the Commonwealth wants us to truly provide a quality education at the most affordable cost, we must be given the resources to do so. We cannot turn our backs on what our students need because it is harder to explain what a liberal education is and what it does for them. Because cutting in this area can be the path of least resistance, when it comes to difficult times, we have to be on guard against cutting the liberal arts.
Regardless, insinuating to our students that they can get a true quality education without a true quality liberal education is to sell them a fiction. We cannot continue to cut into these courses, programs, and minors without being unfaithful to the very purpose of our System. We cannot turn our back on our students, or cut them out of these classes, or offer them exclusively through means that make it difficult for them to learn and to achieve.
We need to do better. And we need to keep this in mind as we progress. And while we should and ought to pay attention to the needs of the Commonwealth and to the workforce, we always, always, always have to remember the importance of the liberal arts.
Thank you very much for your time.
Negotiators met Sunday to discuss the faculty contract. As negotiations pick up steam, APSCUF members have a variety of ways to share concerns and priorities surrounding our next collective bargaining agreements.
Surveys for faculty and coach members went to campus emails Oct. 12, and those surveys close 4:30 p.m Thursday, Oct. 20. If you’re a faculty or coach member who hasn’t received the survey in your campus email, please check your spam/junk/other folder first, then contact APSCUF for assistance. Need to become a member? Click here to learn how to join APSCUF.
Members have additional venues for discussing contract concerns. APSCUF will host a series of town-hall calls for members. The schedule and signup forms were in the Oct. 19 member newsletter and are posted on the members-only benefits page (login required). APSCUF chapters are holding their own forums, too, and members can contact APSCUF leadership at any time with feedback.
Cal U student Mia Ola is the 2022 recipient of State APSCUF’s $3,000 scholarship, selected by APSCUF’s special-services committee. She is the daughter of James Ola, California faculty member. Click here to read more about her.
APSCUF offers a scholarship to relatives of APSCUF or APSCURF members in good standing. The 2023 application will be available in the coming months on the Students page of the APSCUF website.
Photo: Cal U APSCUF Chapter President Mario Majcen presents Mia Ola with the 2022 APSCUF scholarship. Photo courtesy of Cal U APSCUF
Negotiations for the next faculty collective bargaining agreement have begun. Read APSCUF’s brief press release here.
Members: Faculty and coach negotiations surveys will go out next month, running Oct. 12–20. See the State APSCUF newsletter (login required for archive access) for details. Not yet an APSCUF member? Click here to learn how to join APSCUF.
APSCUF President Dr. Kenneth M. Mash at the Capitol in August. Photo/Kathryn Morton
Dr. Kenneth M. Mash, who began a new APSCUF presidential term in June, looks forward to rebuilding his relationship with APSCUF members and hopes all members will become more involved in the organization.
“By getting involved, you learn a lot more about academia and public higher education,” Mash said. “That is a side benefit for faculty members; they get to understand the way these institutions operate. There is something extraordinarily fulfilling in knowing you aren’t just working for yourself but for others. I do not think everyone has to devote themselves entirely to APSCUF, but at some point in their careers, members should make a point to dedicate some time involved with their APSCUF chapter and/or State APSCUF. It’s about being part of something that is bigger than yourself.”
Mash wants to remind members that, while APSCUF may not always have the legal authority and control that Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education does, we are smart and we must put that to use in how we organize ourselves to create the best institutions possible.
“This is a very turbulent time, and I know I am capable of serving our faculty with everything I have,” Mash said. “Our work has just begun.”
APSCUF intern, summer 2022
Dr. Kenneth M. Mash was elected in April as president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. Mash, who previously was president from 2014 to 2020, also has been involved in State APSCUF as state meet-and-discuss chair and vice president. Mash is a political-science professor at East Stroudsburg University, where he directed the ESU honors program. His research interests include judicial politics, constitutional law, and political theory. He graduated from Queen’s College in 1987 and pursued a master’s and Ph.D. in political science from the Pennsylvania State University.