Labor struggles on college campuses are heating up. The current flash point is Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. In an unprecedented move, LIU administration has locked out the faculty just days before classes were set to begin. Both faculty and students are conducting a vigorous fight-back.
The faculty union—Long Island Union Faculty Federation—was in the midst of bargaining a new contract when about 400 faculty and adjuncts were told they would be locked out and replaced. LIU administration blocked faculty from campus, cut off their health benefits, and hired scabs to teach classes, most of whom were completely unqualified to teach.
This is likely the first lockout at a U.S. university and comes as LIU attempted to put through drastic pay cuts that would widen wage disparities between faculty at the Brooklyn campus and LIU’s other campus, LIU Post. Faculty qualifications and tuition ($35,000-54,000 per year) are identical at both campuses, but Brooklyn serves a much more diverse student population.
LIU is attempting to break the union, which has a long history of struggle and has waged several strikes in the past. Advertisements for scab faculty went out over the summer on Monster.com, even as the union and university continued to pass proposals. LIU administrators have been assigned to teach classes in subjects they know little about, including a botanist teaching ballet and a political scientist teaching yoga. In many cases, the scabs have simply taken attendance and let the students go.
Professors’ health insurance as well as their e-mail accounts have been cut off. Besides the breakdowns in class instruction, LIU students have been left with no mental health services as a result of the lockout.
Faculty and students are fighting back. The union has protested, picketed and filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. It also took an overwhelming “no confidence” vote in LIU President Kimberly Cline, who has refused to sign contracts with any of the schools’ four unions. Students are maintaining an ongoing walkout and daily rallies in support of their teachers.
More negotiations are scheduled this week as the union pushes for a fair contract that would equalize pay between the two campuses and enable LIU faculty to return to class to serve their students. The American Federation of Teachers has set up a solidarity fund web page here. The faculty and students at LIU Brooklyn deserve the widest support.