The Community College of Philadelphia's faculty union has called on the college to sever ties with the Marcellus Shale Coalition after the industry trade group pledged $15,000 to the school's new Energy Training Center.
The Faculty and Staff Federation's governing council approved a resolution Tuesday opposing the college's association with the industry group after the college announced last month it was creating a center to prepare students for energy jobs, including some related to the state's shale-gas boom.
"The idea of an energy center is good, but we didn't like its association with the fracking industry," said John Braxton, the union's co-president.
"We're not telling our students what jobs to take or not to take, and we're not trying to cut ourselves off from all natural gas jobs," said Braxton, a biology professor. But he said the faculty objects to the "free public relations job" for shale gas.
Stephen M. Curtis, the college's president, defended the school's acceptance of $15,000 in scholarship money from the coalition.
"We seem to be making associations that aren't here," he said in an interview on Thursday.
The college said the center's aim is to respond to the growing number of energy-related jobs in the region, including some associated with firms that supply the shale-gas industry and other businesses that transport or use gas as a raw material. Few Philadelphians are expected to migrate to rural areas to work directly for gas producers.
"Any discussions we've had with the coalition has been with the supply-chain people," said Curtis.
The scholarships are part of the coalition's effort to improve its profile in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where it launched a "Learn About Shale" initiative in September.
"Any educational institution that aims to serve its students and its broader community will need to establish its role in the industry's extensive supply chain," the coalition president, Kathyrn Z. Klaber, said in a statement Thursday. She praised the community college for "establishing itself among the state's leading institutions" by offering the energy program.
The faculty vote places the college into the center of the shale gas wars, which pit activists who regard drilling as an environmental and health threat against supporters who hail the economic benefits of domestic energy production.
The community college has accepted funds from local oil refiners and chemical producers in the past without prompting faculty protests, but Braxton, the union president, said shale-gas development represents a more significant threat.
The faculty resolution was initiated by Margaret Stephens, a professor of environmental conservation and geography, who likened shale gas to the tobacco industry in a news release Thursday.
The faculty also objected that the college created the center without consulting the teachers. Curtis, the college president, said that initially no new academic certificates would be offered that would require faculty approval.
Braxton said about 45 members of the union's representative council approved the resolution by acclamation. The union has 1,300 members.