'Gutting the University': No End in Sight for Unprecedented LIU Faculty Lockout

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'Gutting the University': No End in Sight for Unprecedented LIU Faculty Lockout

Long Island University's Brooklyn campus locked out 400 faculty—suspending wages and benefits—right before classes started, despite ongoing contract negotiations

LIU students walked out of class in solidarity with their professors.

Long Island University students staged a walkout to protest the administration's actions and stand in solidarity with their locked-out professors. (Photo: MiamiGator/Twitter)

The Friday before Labor Day, mere days before classes were due to start, the Long Island University (LIU) campus in Brooklyn took the unprecedented step of locking out its faculty—"in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations and in the absence of a strike, apparently in order to coerce faculty members into accepting the administration's last offer," as the American Association of University Professors writes.

Students, appalled by the university's actions, joined their locked-out professors for an ongoing student walkout that began on Monday.

And on Tuesday, the faculty union filed an official complaint of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations board.

The LIU lockout marks the first time in American history that higher education faculty have ever been locked out by their employer.

"To no one's surprise, contract negotiations between the administration and the faculty union stalled this summer when the administration put a dreadful proposal on the table and then refused to budge," explains University of Hartford professor Warren Goldstein in the Huffington Post. "'It was strike bait,' according to English Professor Jonathan Haynes, even though the union leadership and negotiating team opposed a strike."

"President Kimberly Cline's true bad faith—she has yet to sign a contract with any of the four unions at her institution—became even clearer when the university began planning to hire scab professors as early as July," Goldstein adds.

And this past Thursday, when the faculty proposed that the university extend their previous contract for an additional five weeks so that professors could return to the classrooms and teach their students while negotiations continue, the university rejected the idea outright.

It is unclear what the future holds. Despite sustained and widespread public outcry, the university hasn't budged on its position.

"The [Long Island University Faculty Federation, or LIUFF] negotiating team continues to work tirelessly toward a resolution to the lockout," wrote the faculty union on Facebook on Tuesday. "At the conclusion of nearly six hours of bargaining last night, no resolution was reached. Bargaining will resume Wednesday, September 14th, at noon."

The surprise lockout cut off wages and benefits to all the faculty in the university's American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union, and in response the University Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly for a "no confidence" vote in the administration and its president, the profit-oriented Cline.

"[President Cline] wants to corporatize and monetize the university—she wants to turn us into a candy store, and she's alienated everybody."
—Deborah Mutnick,
LIU Professor of English

Cline has been singularly focused on improving LIU's finances through firing longstanding employees, as the Nation and the Atlantic have both pointed out.

The Nation writes:

When Cline arrived [in 2012], the school was in bad shape financially, its credit rating approaching junk status. [Deborah Mutnick, a professor of English and a member of the union executive committee,] points out that when Leon Botstein, then president of Bard College, found himself in the same position, he essentially said "so what?" Botstein was far more concerned with the school's ability to be a force for public good than its credit rating. "Cline and the LIU board of trustees have had the opposite view: that the primary goal of the university is to improve its credit rating," said Mutnick. "We feel like we're the poster child for austerity and neoliberalism in higher education. She wants to corporatize and monetize the university—she wants to turn us into a candy store, and she's alienated everybody."

"I think that what the administration is doing, and has done from first day of the current president's administration, is gutting the university and creating the archetype of the corporatization of the university, where the interest is not in education, but is purely financial," said Arthur Kimmel, a longtime adjunct professor, to the Atlantic.

And the lockout has angered not just the faculty, but the university's alumni as well as students—who are still paying over $30,000 a year for an education that is now in jeopardy.

The students were especially outraged to discover that the administration has tried to fill the 400 now-empty faculty positions with administrators, many of whom are extremely unqualified to teach the subject assigned to them.

"Rumor has it that Dean David Cohen, a man in his 70s, will be taking over ballet classes scheduled to be taught by Dana Hash-Campbell, a longtime teacher who was previously a principal dancer and company teacher with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater," as the Nation reported.

And administrators were also reportedly not given a choice when it came to teaching these classes. Sam Schreiber, an LIU administrator who worked in student services, "was told to include teaching two three-credit courses in his 40-hour work week" despite the fact that his salary would remain unchanged, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

To make matters worse, Schreiber discovered that he'd be replacing a fiction professor whom he considered a colleague and a friend. After consulting with a labor lawyer, "I was informed that there was no law, no real labor rules, that protected me or my colleagues from being asked, and, I'll use the word, to scab," Schreiber told the Chronicle. "And there was no rule against them firing for refusing to do so."

"I think this administration thinks it doesn't matter who's teaching in the classroom,” said Emily Drabinski, the coordinator of library instruction and secretary of LIUFF, to the Nation. "I think they think that teaching and learning is about a production of commodities, that it's about delivering something to students, filling a student with learning that they will then go out and use to make money, and that's not what higher education is about."

Drabinski also wrote on her blog about the heartbreaking experience of helping a fellow locked-out math professor file for unemployment "and asking him his start date: September 1, 1965."

"I never thought something like this could happen in America," the professor told Drabinski.

Democracy Now was on the ground Monday as professors protested and marched alongside outraged students. Watch here:

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