BY DEBORAH MUTNICK
Guest blogger Deborah Mutnick is a long-time professor at Long Island University’s Brooklyn, NY campus.
As of 12:00 a.m., Saturday, September 3, my colleagues and I were locked out of our University in the midst of contract negotiations between our faculty union and management. The letter I got from the administration told me I have “to cease performing services for the University.” Saturday morning the first thing I did—and I suspect many of my colleagues did as well—was to try my LIU email account. Locked out. The union-busting tactics we all feared have now come to pass.
The idea that faculty and students are the heart and soul of a university is in jeopardy everywhere of late, it seems, in higher education. But for the past three years, Long Island University has strayed so far from this ideal that we barely have a seat at the table anymore. The faculty and few remaining longtime staff members, who once worked together collegially, if not always efficiently and effectively, are survivors of a destructive campaign waged against us since President Kimberly L. Cline’s appointment in September 2013.
In this era of corporate-driven, administratively bloated higher education, Cline made clear from day one of her administration that she believes in “disruption.” Her first year in office, she recklessly restructured the University and brutally fired dozens of low and middle level staff members. In addition to those she fired, many longtime employees left because they were no longer comfortable working at LIU, resulting in an appalling loss of institutional memory.
Locking us out is an aggressive, hostile move on the administration’s part that “may be unprecedented,” according to the American Federation of Teachers. Although management claims it is responding to the strike authorization vote taken last May by the union, they know it is a pro forma part of the process and many successful contract negotiations have not involved strikes.
To quote from the lockout letter, “as the commencement of classes grew closer, and with the historical likelihood of a strike approaching, the University was forced to make the difficult decision to impose a lockout …” They preempted a strike they did not know would happen, and they took actions all summer long to prepare for it.
They “deactivated” classes—not cancelled, just bizarrely removed from the schedule—without notifying deans, chairs, or affected faculty. They posted erroneous materials on course management websites. And they placed ads for replacement workers on Monster.com while scrambling to assign Brooklyn administrators as well as those at LIU Post to teach our classes.
One young staff member is assigned to teach a Master’s program class in which she is enrolled as a student. An undergraduate who wants to minor in French found out that unbeknownst to her an advisor had dropped her French tutorial and given her a physics class. Administration is holding “on boarding sessions” for the replacement teachers. Everyone is miserable. The faculty is fighting not only for a fair contract but also as much if not more so for the future of our university, our diverse, working class students, and the four other campus unions—secretaries and staff, carpenters, engineers and building maintenance workers, and janitorial staff—that have been working without contracts.
On Tuesday, September 6, the faculty union will meet to vote on the University’s proposal and discuss our options in response to the lockout. If the membership votes against ratification, and if we continue to be locked out on Wednesday, September 7, the first day of classes, we plan to hold a protest rally outside the University at the corner of DeKalb and Flatbush Avenues.
That they locked us out on Labor Day weekend is indeed an irony, one I doubt ever crossed the minds of Kim Cline and the other members of her team—at least until they started seeing the press coverage. Instead of waiting to see if a settlement could be reached—which obviously could have been the outcome of the contract negotiations—they revealed their true union-busting colors, forcing a crisis and a new opening for us to organize. Happy Labor Day!