The drum beat has already begun for faculty strikes at Pennsylvania State Universities and of course, it’s all for the children.

Walt Brasch of Newsitem has a solution. What Pennsylvania Universities need is more union representatives on their boards. That should solve the problem. Right?

University boards lack union slant

About one million Pennsylvanians are members of labor unions and the state has a long history of union rights and activism, but neither of the two largest university systems has a labor representative on its governing board.

The only labor representative on the Board of Governors of the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) in its 29-year history was Julius Uehlein, who served from 1988 to 1995 while he was Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president. The appointment was made by Gov. Robert P. Casey, a pro-worker Democrat. The SSHE, a state-owned system, has 120,000 students enrolled in 14 universities.

Only three persons have ever represented labor on Penn State’s Board of Trustees. Gov. Milton Shapp, a Democrat, appointed Harry Boyer, the state AFL-CIO president, in 1976. When Boyer retired in 1982, he also left as a trustee. Richard Trumka, a Penn State alumnus and Villanova Law School graduate, now the national AFL-CIO president, served as a trustee from 1983 to 1995 while he was president of the United Mine Workers. He was first appointed by Gov. Dick Thornburgh, a Republican, reappointed by Casey, but not reappointed when Tom Ridge, a Republican, became governor. Penn State, a state-related university which received about $272 million in state funding for the current fiscal year, has 96,000 students on its 24 campuses.

The 32-member Penn State Board of Trustees is divided into five groups: ex-officio members who are in the governor’s administration (6), governor appointments (6), members elected by the alumni association (8), business and industry members (6), and elected members from agriculture (6). The agriculture representation dates to 1862 when Penn State (at that time known as Farmer’s High School) was one of the first two land grant institutions. The land grant institutions were created to provide advanced education in agriculture and the sciences. About half of its members are corporate CEOs. Except for one student representative, most of the rest are lawyers or senior corporate or public agency executives.

SSHE’s 20-member Board of Governors has three student representatives who are appointed by the board after being nominated by the presidents of the 14 universities. Thus, the students usually have views similar to what the administration sees as acceptable. Most student representatives have tended to follow a “cower and comply” role. Membership also includes four legislators, selected from each political caucus (Democrat and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate), and the secretary of the Department of Education); the rest are appointed by the governor, with the approval of the state Senate. Gov. Tom Corbett and his designated representative, Jennifer Branstetter, a public relations executive, serve on both Penn State and SSHE boards. Most of the other members are lawyers or senior business executives. One of them, Kenneth Jarin, who served as chair for six years and is currently a member, is a lawyer who represents management in labor issues.

The lack of at least one representative of labor on the SSHE Board of Governors is because of “a lack of sensitivity to the labor point of view,” says Dr. Stephen Hicks, president of the 6,400-member Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF).

“It remains a curiosity why the people’s universities don’t represent the people,” says Irwin Aronson, general counsel for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

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University boards lack union slant (Newsitem)