STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today marks the 17th day of a faculty strike at Wright State University near Dayton, Ohio. Union leaders say the strike is over benefits not pay. The university contends that cuts in benefits are needed to stabilize the school's finances. April Laissle of our member station WYSO reports that students just want their professors back.
APRIL LAISSLE, BYLINE: For Wright State's 15,000 students, this semester is surreal. Campus entrances now host picket lines. Striking professors have been replaced by substitutes. Some classes have been canceled altogether. Senior Sarah Cavender says as the strike enters its third week, frustrations are boiling over.
SARAH CAVENDER: You're paying to get a degree. And you're paying to get the experience. If you don't have the professor there and you don't have the education there, you're not getting what you pay for.
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LAISSLE: On the picket lines, faculty members, like psychology lecturer Marty Gooden, are carrying signs and protesting the university's position. Gooden's sign reads, health care cuts don't heal.
MARTY GOODEN: If people have to be concerned about the quality of health care, that's going to create an added stressor as they work. And if we're stressed while we work, if we are feeling threatened, we're not going to be in a position to provide quality attention to our students.
LAISSLE: The 500-member faculty union objects to a university proposal to shift professors into a different health care plan. University officials say it's necessary to ensure the school's financial sustainability. Wright State has been burdened with a financial crisis caused by years of overspending and declining enrollment. Talks with faculty began more than two years ago. Besides health care, the two sides have clashed over furlough policy, merit pay and workload. Union leaders have repeatedly criticized the school's handling of the budget crisis. Labor disputes like this are becoming more common on college campuses, according to higher education bargaining expert William Herbert. He says recent high-profile public school teacher strikes could be playing a role.
WILLIAM HERBERT: What has been transpiring is the pushing people to the limit of necessitating either strike threats or actual strikes to improve their salary and benefits.
LAISSLE: Wright State officials say they'll keep operating the school during the strike and recently began advertising job openings for long-term adjunct instructors. Student Peyton Clark says, as the strike drags on, she's more than a little worried.
PEYTON CLARK: I'm due to graduate in May. So I'm worried with all these cancellations or supplemental instructors that aren't teaching our syllabus, if it's going to allow me to graduate on time.
LAISSLE: The two parties last met to negotiate on Saturday. Further talks have not yet been scheduled. For NPR News, I'm April Laissle.
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