DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Carrying signs reading “Let Us Teach” and marching before a giant inflatable rat, unionized professors at Long Island University rallied on the first day of classes after being locked out of the school last week when their contract with the administration expired.
Students and other supporters joined faculty members Wednesday at LIU’s Downtown Brooklyn campus in protest of the lockout, which began Friday night.
The union, the LIU Faculty Federation, is trying to negotiate for a new, three-year contract that would increase wages for professors, making the minimum salary at the Brooklyn campus equal to that of the one at its Post campus on Long Island.
As part of the administration's latest offer, salaries for professors at the Brooklyn campus would be on par with salaries at the Post campus after five years, the union said. On average, LIU Brooklyn professors earn about $10,000 less annually than those at the Post campus, the union said.
The offer also includes the loss of seniority payments and office hours, as well as a reduced workload, for adjunct professors, who teach the majority of classes at LIU Brooklyn.
On Tuesday, union members rejected the administration’s latest offer by a vote of 226 to 10, according to the union. The faculty senate then voted 135 to 10 for no confidence in President Kimberly R. Cline and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Kane.
Now, faculty members have been left without salaries and health benefits, and other staff members from LIU's Brooklyn and Post campuses are taking over teaching duties.
“I think what they did is inconceivable and they completely disregarded our position, they completely disregarded the students,” said philosophy professor Maksim Vak, 53.
French and Spanish professor Carole Maccotta, 48, emphasized that the professors are not on strike but instead trying to negotiate a new contract to be able to get back to the classroom.
“We’ve been working hard all our life, all summer to prepare for back to school,” Maccotta said. “We want to be back in the classroom. We have the students’ best interests in mind always.”
A 24-year-old speech pathology student said she worries about the long-term effects of the lockout.
“If the professors aren’t qualified and we lose our accreditation then my degree will mean nothing,” said Lauren S., who declined to provide her last name. “All I want to do is continue my education, and to me that doesn’t mean going and sitting in a class with a placeholder professor.”
Professor Tempii Champion, chair of the Communication Sciences and Disorders department, said the lockout has left her department missing two key components needed for accreditation by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: professors with Ph.D.s and a program director.
“Our accrediting body says we need to have a program director, but right now our program director is out on the street,” Champion said.
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo joined protesters in support of the teacher’s union, saying a university is nothing without its faculty.
“Today you have been given the greatest insult and slap in the face to your entire existence — to be locked out of the institution that you have helped to build, that you have helped to cultivate,” Cumbo said. “Our young people should not have to come to school and see their faculty out on the street like riff-raff. You deserve better and they deserve better.”
The school said it was forced to bring in replacement teachers after five out of the last six contract negotiations with the faculty union ended in strike votes.
“In the interest of providing stability for students and remain[ing] steadfast in our commitment to tuition affordability, the University was forced to develop a contingency plan — bringing in a qualified and temporary teaching staff to ensure classes could start as scheduled,” said university Vice President Gale Haynes in a statement.
“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.”