September 16, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
Brooklyn, NY – The unprecedented lockout of professors at Long Island University’s downtown Brooklyn campus is over. The administration informed the Long Island University Faculty Federation late in the evening of Sept. 14 that it would end the lockout at 11:59 p.m., allowing about 240 full-time professors and 200 to 300 adjuncts to return to work the next morning.
“We think this is a big victory,” English professor Deborah Mutnick, a member of the LIUFF’s executive board, told LaborPress. “We were beginning to prepare for the worst. Some people thought we’d be locked out for the whole semester.”
The LIU administration extended the union’s current contract until May 31, 2017 and agreed to hire a professional mediator for future talks, LIUFF Secretary Emily Drabinski wrote in a message to members. The administration will reimburse faculty for health-care costs incurred during the lockout, she added, and the union will continue to pursue its unfair-labor-practice complaints relating to the lockout and its arbitration on pay parity with LIU’s C.W. Post campus on Long Island.
The lockout was the first ever of faculty at any U.S. college or university, according to LIUFF President Jessica Rosenberg. It began Aug. 31, after the union’s contract expired. The administration expected that the union would reject its “last, best, and final offer,” as it included a two-tier system with lower pay for new adjuncts; lowered the maximum workload for adjuncts from 12 credits a semester to 9 (from four courses to three); and also restricted full-time professors from teaching more than 24 credits a year.
The intent, Mutnick explains, was to enable the university to save money by using more adjuncts at lower pay. “This is all driven by a very corporate mentality,” she says. “The university is a business, and the union is an obstacle to running a tight ship.”
The administration cut off professors’ access to their LIU email accounts on Sept. 3, she adds.
In response, the union held demonstrations on campus, drawing support from local elected officials including State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblymember Walter Mosley, and City Councilmember Brad Lander—as well as from among LIU’s roughly 8,500 students, who pay $36,000 a year in tuition and fees and didn’t like the idea of being taught by administrators and temporary replacements instead of real professors. “I was supposed to have a sociology class this morning. Nobody showed up. Every time I go into a class, they greet you for five to 10 minutes, and they leave,” student Virginia Rodriguez, a single mother with two children, told the Democracy Now! radio show Sept. 12. “This is just really disappointing, because I pay a lot of money to come to this school.”
“We think we’ve won in the court of public opinion,” says Mutnick. “I think they [the administration] had no idea we’d be able to mount such an effective campaign.”
The union’s next step may be pressuring LIU president Kimberly Cline to resign, “to send a signal to the world that you can’t do this,” says Mutnick. The faculty at LIU’s Post campus passed a no-confidence resolution against her Sept. 8, saying that the lockout and other actions damaged the university’s reputation and reflected a disinvestment in academics and student needs.
They also saw the lockout as a test case for preserving higher education and workers’ rights nationally. “It’s an attack on the faculty, the students, and all of organized labor. It’s an attack on all of us,” Rosenberg told LaborPress during the New York City Labor Day parade Sept. 10.