HARRISBURG - The union representing faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania's 14 state-owned universities has overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike if contract negotiations with the State System of Higher Education break down.

More than 80 percent of the professors and nearly 75 percent of the coaches voted over three days last week. Ninety-six percent of those professors and 98 percent of the coaches supported a strike authorization, union officials said yesterday. The union represents 5,500 professors and 350 coaches. Neither group has ever staged a walkout.

The current contracts expire June 30, so July 1 would be the earliest strike date if the union's executive council deems it necessary, said Kevin Kodish, spokesman for the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.

The sides continue to meet, and system officials still hope to reach an agreement with the union by June 30, system spokesman Kenn Marshall said. "We're doing everything we can, in every way possible," Marshall said. - AP