Professors and union reps picket outside commencement

Todd Hawley, center with blue button, along with members of both AAUP_KSU and AFSCME, stands outside the M.A.C. Center picketing after the commencement ceremonies on Sat. Dec. 19, 2015.

Matthew Merchant

Members of AAUP-KSU picketed Saturday outside the M.A.C. Center during the university’s commencement ceremonies.

Hoping to raise awareness about current contract negotiations between the union representing the tenured faculty and representatives from the university, several professors braved the cold temperatures with signs and informational posters.

Along with representatives from AFSCME Local 153 — who picketed in May during the spring commencement ceremonies because of contract negotiations — the union members said they did not want to disrupt the graduation celebration.

“We want to make it perfectly clear: we are out here supporting the students,” said professor George Garrison of the Department of Pan-African Studies. “We love them as if they were our own children.”

AFSCME President David Schuckert stood alongside Todd Michl, the chief union steward, to support the members of AAUP-KSU.

“We are fighting the same fight as they are,” Schuckert said. “Just like salaries, the benefits are important to both of us. Every workplace has this issue, but the cost-benefits here don’t justify what the university wants to take.”

“We are here to say that…the university needs to prioritize the teaching and research missions — that’s how we put students first,” said Jennifer Larson, president of the executive board of AAUP-KSU.

A restraining order, filed earlier this week, restricted the union members from picketing directly outside the entrance to the M.A.C. Center.

“Kent State University’s Commencement ceremonies are an important tradition and mark a significant personal milestone for our graduates and their families,” said University Spokesman Eric Mansfield in an email. “These legal measures were taken to ensure the Commencement events were not interrupted in a way that would detract from the events’ significance or diminish their meaning. The university believes the court struck a fair balance between protecting the free speech rights of those wishing to picket while assuring the safety and well-being of those attending these meaningful university events.”

Matthew Merchant is a senior reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]