Supporting Higher Education: A Letter to the NH Congressional Delegation from the Plymouth Union Caucus

The Plymouth Union Caucus (PUC) brings together leaders from the faculty unions at Plymouth State University. This letter to New Hampshire’s Senators and Representatives is shared here on behalf of the PUC.

We write today representing the organized faculty at Plymouth State University and our collective support for your ongoing efforts to build America back better. As you well know, Plymouth is a gem of our great state. We are uniquely positioned at the gateway to the North Country, and provide an accessible and quality education to thousands of students from both in our state and across our region. We also provide a host of academic resources to our communities, our government, and businesses within reach. In short, we help make everyone smarter! And the University provides an economic engine for the central and northern tiers, especially during the difficult shoulder seasons when tourism ebbs. We continue to appreciate your efforts to support Plymouth State University and the wider mission of all higher education in New Hampshire.

But you may not know how faculties at public institutions in our state (as in much of higher education) are being decimated. Our essential work and livelihoods are under threat. We write to you today to ask you to support the American Families Plan and, as your committee appointments allow, to make sure legislation meets the needs of New Hampshire’s colleges and the people who serve those institutions.

While coping with natural demographic shifts and competition from often poorer quality and ironically more expensive for-profit education, we’ve faced greater turbulence in leadership and changing organizational schemes, all of which has made our work both more difficult and less effective. Our students are struggling, particularly those who have been the victims of inequality. We note that nationally almost eighty-nine percent of student debt forgiveness applications were rejected by the previous administration, just to cite one benchmark of the increasing challenges our students face. At the moment, the faculty is working overtime to meet the continuing challenges of the pandemic while reshaping our curricula and departments to meet projected needs, at times risking our health and those of our families. Despite our willing efforts on behalf of students and ongoing support for administrative changes, we face withering pressure to agree to reduce our salaries, forgo raises, cut health care (during a pandemic!), and reduce retirement contributions.

The justification for ongoing cuts and eroding support appears to be a strong belief in austerity management, reliance on debt instead of investment, and an unfounded lack of confidence in the higher education we provide, even though we remain the envy of the world in terms of learning, teaching, and academic rigor. The credibility or “stock,” if you will, of the higher education we provide at public institutions has, in most ways, never been higher.

What is lacking for our work is the same thing you have found lacking across the board in public institutions and services across this country: investment. We are excited by the wide range of legislative efforts you have considered, researched, and, in some cases, sponsored. We strongly urge you to support the American Families Plan when it comes up for a vote. And, for those working to write this critically important legislation, we ask you to redouble those efforts in the coming months to include support for what we need for public higher education in NH. 

We ask that you include in the ongoing legislative efforts the following specific provisions to secure the place of higher education in New Hampshire’s bright future.

  • Support federal allocations to states for four-year colleges and universities, with provisions that direct states restrict the use of that money to explicitly maintain or increase spending for instructional costs, academic research, and academic programs under threat such as in the liberal arts and programs related to diversity.
  • Increase tuition remission and benefits to include the first two years at four-year schools, in addition to those benefits now being considered for community colleges.
  • Encourage colleges and universities to require a higher proportion of tenure-track versus contingent faculty, who currently comprise a majority of the academy yet receive inadequate pay and benefits. This is particularly important as a consideration for student success grants, which provide more secure employment, particularly for faculty who teach introductory courses, which remain a mainstay of those crucial first two years of college and for students seeking to transfer.
  • Earmark money to maintain salary, raises, health care, and other benefits for faculty to keep New Hampshire viable in the highly competitive educational landscape in New England.
  • Include language in the legislation that confirms the longstanding relationship between faculties and our governing boards, a beneficial collaboration supported by the national organizations for both boards and faculties. In short, mandate that universities and colleges maintain a robust community that employs shared governance and meaningful faculty input in the spending of these new federal dollars, prizes academic freedom, and treasures the scholarship that has long been the driver of American civic success, economic prosperity, national security, and the high quality of life that we have enjoyed for decades. 

Thanks for your work representing New Hampshire’s needs on Capitol Hill. We look forward to talking more about how we can work together to support Plymouth State and other colleges and universities in New Hampshire and beyond.

Plymouth Union Caucus

Elliott Gruner, Past President, PSU American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

Evelyn Stiller, President, PSU AAUP

Rebecca Grant, President, Teaching Faculty United, SEA/SEIU

Kristin Stelmok, Vice-President, Teaching Faculty United, SEA/SEIU

Mark Flynn, President, Teaching Lecturers United, SEA/SEIU

Nicholas Helms, President, Plymouth Union Caucus/Vice-President PSU AAUP

Photo by PartTime Portraits on Unsplash

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