Today marks the start of Long Island University’s fall semester, but outside of the university’s Brooklyn campus, faculty are not allowed in. Instead of teaching, they’re protesting what some are calling “hostile and destructive” measures taken by the administration during contract negotiations. The university has locked more than 400 full-time and adjunct professors out of their jobs.
Faculty were also told that after September 2nd, their wages and health insurance would be cut. They can no longer enter the campus to collect personal effects or access their university emails and teaching aids. Labor experts say a lockout like this is unprecedented in American higher education.
This morning, students and faculty marched down the corner of Dekalb and Flatbush Avenues, waving signs that read, “Let us teach,” and “Support the fight for faculty and students!” At 8 AM, the crowd was small, but fierce, chanting along with a small marching band and soliciting honks from passing cars.
“It’s scary to wake up with no job, no wage, no health care,” Emily Drabinski, a librarian at LIU and secretary to the faculty union, Long Island University Faculty Federation, tells the Voice.
Melissa Antinori, an Assistant Professor of English and part of the faculty’s negotiation team, adds, “A lot of us are feeling betrayed by the university. We’re angry.”
In the meantime, students paying upwards of $35,000 per year will have their classes taught by non-faculty, some of whom seem to be severely underqualified last-minute replacements. The Nation had previously reported that LIU’s Provost, Gale Stevens Haynes would teach a yoga class, while a dean in his 70s was slated to teach a dance class taught by a former Alvin Ailey principal dancer. Haynes told the New York Times that those were errors that have since been corrected.
Christina Gotitsas and Stephanie Fermin are Speech Language Pathology graduate students at LIU Brooklyn. Today is the first day of their last semester, but they’ve chosen to march with faculty instead. “We can’t learn from administrators or the people they’ve hired,” Gotitsas said. “We picked this campus because we know our professors, how they teach, and we’ve built a relationship with them.”
Fermin adds, “We’re leaving so many people behind, we’ve told so many of our friends to come here from home, and it’s like, ‘What are we bringing them to? What do I have to be proud of?’”
Contract negotiations between administration and the Long Island University Faculty Federation, which represents full-time and adjunct faculty, had been underway since April. The existing contract was set to expire on August 31st and historically LIUFF has negotiated with the university through Labor Day. However, when administrators made their best final offer on the 31st, they threatened faculty with the September 2nd lockout — well before LIUFF’s traditional vote on the Tuesday after Labor Day.
After cutting health benefits for staff, the school’s administration took to Facebook and Twitter yesterday, urging LIUFF members to vote on the plan’s “merits, not the distracting emotionally-charged rhetoric.” 226 faculty members voted to reject the university’s offer; only ten voted to accept.
Michael Pelias, member of the Philosophy department, has been on the LIU executive committee for almost 25 years and has seen four actions by LIU faculty in his time at the university.
“I think the university is attempting to bust the union,” Pelias says. “I think this is part of an overall strategy by the neoliberal administrative class trying to say teachers aren’t worth a damn, education’s not worth a damn as long as it’s for the dominant ideology, and that we are expendable, we don’t really deserve living wages.”
The university, however, believes it’s the faculty union getting in the way of education. Haynes released a statement yesterday saying, “It’s disappointing that the LIUFF has rejected a contract offer that the University believes is generous and highly competitive. The University will continue to bargain in good faith, with the goal of welcoming its valued faculty back to the classroom upon timely resolution of the contract. During this timeframe, we will remain laser focused on our students beginning to the Fall semester with little or no disruption to their academic studies.”
Antinori remains hopeful. If the administration ends the lock out, a sign of good faith will be restored and LIUFF would be willing to attempt negotiations. “We’re going back to the negotiation table tomorrow. We just want to be in the classroom with our students.”