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The conflicts between the bureaucracies and the citizens affected by their new policies arise quite frequently. However, in the higher education sector, these issues are relatively novel. McCann and Perez-Pena (2016) describe the strike started by the faculty members of Pennsylvania state educational institutions: “Thousands of faculty members went on strike Wednesday at 14 Pennsylvania state colleges and universities — a rare escalation in higher education, but one that reflects increasingly widespread tensions between administrators and their faculties” (para. 1).
They stress that the walkout situation is entirely new to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and is also “one of a handful of faculty strikes around the country in recent years” (McCann and Perez-Pena, 2016, para. 2). The strike and its consequences can be used to illustrate the core concepts of public administration, such as bureaucracy, bureaucratic power, and accountability.
The primary cause of the walkout was the unfairness of the working conditions of the faculty members. For instance, as McCann and Perez-Pena (2016) explain, unionized faculty members have been working without a contract since the end of June 2015. However, when new contracts were reached, the education workers found the new conditions unacceptable: low pay and benefits and the high price of health insurance were among the newly proposed conditions (McCan and Perez-Pena, 2016).
As a result, “more than 5,000 professors and coaches at 14 institutions across the state with a combined enrollment of more than 100,000 students” (McCan and Perez-Pena, 2016, para. 5) went on strike for three days, until the tentative agreement was reached. In the end, even though “the union would not get raises as high as those of other unions representing state workers that recently settled contracts” (Mele, 2016, para. 6), the strike still managed to grant employees some raises and new ways to save on health care costs.
So, how do the concepts of bureaucracy, bureaucratic power, and accountability apply to this example? As a structure that administers the workings of educational institutions on a state level, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is a bureaucracy. It has a certain sector of expertise (education), as well as governmental support, and thus it has bureaucratic power, which gives the System the right to enact new policies and regulations that affect the state education system and its citizens.
Finally, accountability is defined by Milakovich and Gordon (2013) as “a political principle according to which agencies or organizations, such as those in government, are subject to some form of external control, causing them to give a general account of, and for, their actions” (p. 59). Clearly, the State System is accountable to higher administrative levels, for instance, the state government. However, it is also answerable to the citizens affected by its policies and regulations. Despite the fact that the citizens do not have any formal control over the State System, they can still influence its decisions, as we have seen in the example above.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education aims to expand and improve the field it administers, and sometimes weak strategies, such as cutting the faculty members’ benefits in order to save budget, are employed to achieve its goals. However, the accountability of the State System to the affected education workers provides some protection against those decisions and, thus, facilitates a smoother working of the bureaucracy.
Milakovich, M. E., & Gordon, G. J. (2013). Public administration in America. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
McCan, E., & Perez-Pena, R. (2016). Faculty Members at 14 State Universities in Pennsylvania Go on Strike. The New York Times. Web.
Mele, C. (2016). Faculty Members at State Universities in Pennsylvania End 3-Day Strike. The New York Times. Web.