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Long Island University Faculty Lockout Spurs Mass Walkout by Students

By Alexandra Leon | September 14, 2016 5:53pm
 Students walked out of Long Island University's Downtown Brooklyn campus Wednesday in solidarity with professors who were locked out of the school after their union contract expired.
Students walked out of Long Island University's Downtown Brooklyn campus Wednesday in solidarity with professors who were locked out of the school after their union contract expired.
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DNAinfo/Alexandra Leon

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — A week after the first day of class at Long Island University, students at its Brooklyn campus staged a mass walkout in solidarity with professors who have been locked out of the school due to their union contract expiring.

Hundreds of students walked out of classes Wednesday afternoon chanting, “Let us learn!” while unionized faculty members called back, saying, “Let us teach!”

As the faculty union, the LIU Faculty Federation, and university work to negotiate a new contract, staff members and administrators have been pulled in as replacement teachers — many of whom the students called unqualified.

Senior Giavanna Vaccaro, 23, said many of her replacement teachers have come to class unprepared and without a syllabus during the first week.

One of her replacement English teachers, a woman who works in the school’s lunch room, has no background in the subject, noted Vaccaro, who is a health science major.

“It sucks that I’m not getting my full education, especially the last semester,” the student said. “There are some important classes that I was looking forward to, but I’m not going to withdraw.”

Vaccaro said the staff members who have been placed in substitute teaching positions sympathize with the faculty members but have been told they will be fired if they don’t teach the classes.

Many students have decided not to show up to class, and some classrooms have sat completely empty, Vaccaro added.

Despite the low attendance, registration and enrollment patterns have been consistent with previous school years, an LIU spokeswoman said.

Graduate and doctoral students say they’ve been hit the hardest by the lockout, since many chose the school in order to work with specific faculty members.

“We’re mad. When you choose a [doctoral] program, you go there for the faculty,” said Rachel D., a 29-year-old clinical psychology student. “I have an independent study course to work with a faculty member of mine. I’m paying for it, and there’s no one there.”

The doctoral candidate said her education has hit a brick wall as unqualified administrators take over graduate-level classes.

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“Without [the faculty], our learning is really at a standstill,” she said. “People have dissertations proposed. That’s at a standstill.”

Many faculty members, who have been unpaid and denied health insurance during the lockout, have been meeting with students outside the school, while some have staged teach-ins. 

“The university said they could replace us and get qualified teachers to teach, but that’s not true,” said Dr. Tempii Champion, chair of the school's Communication Sciences and Disorders department. “It’s not really teaching. They’re just going into the classroom, taking attendance and leaving.”

Students say they’re worried the school could lose its accreditation, making their degrees worthless — along with its reputation.

“It’s making the university look so bad,” 20-year-old speech pathology student Nadine Elhanafi said. “The students and professors have such close relationships. It’s a community at LIU, and what they’re doing is pitting us against each other.”

The professors in the union were initially locked out of the school over Labor Day weekend.

The union is trying to negotiate 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.

The latest negotiations between the administration and the school were scheduled for Wednesday evening.