BY HANK REICHMAN
The horrific Labor Day lockout at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus has emerged, for the moment, as a front-line battleground in the fight for the future of higher education. If you haven’t yet joined the letters campaign in support of the LIU faculty initiated by the American Federation of Teachers, please do so now at this link.
Already this lockout is teaching faculty members at LIU and everywhere important lessons: first, that our professional standing and qualifications notwithstanding, higher education faculty members, tenured or not, are, in the end, vulnerable. While we may, by comparison to many, live a somewhat privileged life, whatever advantages we may enjoy, our status is ultimately dependent on the power held by a few. The lockout is also teaching the corollary to this lesson: that we have no alternative but to organize, and that organizing is not only a necessity — it is a liberating activity.
But I couldn’t say it better than LIU faculty member Emily Drabinski has on her website. I will assume she won’t object to my reproducing her post here:
The #liulockout has so far meant many things, and many of those have to do with affect, something I might write about in a theoretical way if I was currently being paid to be a scholar and a teacher, but instead am experiencing acutely right now. This is terrifying. We talk a lot about privilege in my circles, and the way that privilege insulates people like me from encounters with raw, brutal power, how terrifying and total it is, how people in power can make the difference between living and dying in instants. This is one of those encounters with brute power and its capacity to overwhelm and kill you on a whim. I live a pretty privileged life, I walk about the world as someone who really belongs in it. The police really do want to protect my well-being and my property, and with each passing year of accumulated middle class wealth, the entire economic system seems invested in ensuring my leisure class pursuits of marathoning and working toward medallion status on my preferred commercial airline. Until it doesn’t. It’s a different thing to know in your body what that means. I am learning a lot this weekend.
I am also learning a lot about organizing. I love my job, I need my paycheck, I want to get back to work. Our power is collective power, and we build collective power by organizing. That turns out to mean sending a lot of email, calling people on the phone, making lists of people willing to send a lot of email and call a lot of people on the phone. It’s pretty social work, I feel like I’m making a lot of new friends and connections, and it has been amazing to realize how many friends and connections I already have. The librarians have come through the way librarians always do, sending cash for donuts, spreading the word, calling and texting to make sure I know they have my back. I am not alone. Our members are not alone. Management has power, but so do we.
Another important lesson of these events is the role played by students. For decades now some college and university administrators have sought to pit students against faculty. But when push comes to shove, our students need and support us. This is evident from comments to be found on the website of the LIU Faculty Federation:
This is unacceptable. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars, moved my entire life from across the country to achieve my degrees here only to have it all threatened by some half-ass replacements? Paying 50,000$ a year should be worth more than was already offered, not less. — Tom
It is very upsetting to find out about this. As students we shouldn’t be concerned whether or not we will have a professor in the classroom on our first day back. With as much tuition as we pay our professors should be paid decently to share their knowledge and should not be kept out of campus. — Kassandra
How can this happen one week before classes start? We pay this much money for what? We need good professors and not administration to teach us. Classes are picked money is paid and this is when you let us know that there are problens with faculty members? Was planning to stay for pharmacy school here in LIU, but if I do not get professionals to teach me, I better pay money to a different school. Which respects its faculty members and us! Very disappointed!!! — Ana
I am an alumni of LIU Brooklyn and support the Long Island University part-time and full-time faculty’s efforts to negotiate a fair contract. I hope the administration ends the lockout and returns to the table soon. The students deserve the faculty that makes LIU what it is! — Jeff
And here’s what some students told Deb Schwartz, author of an excellent article on the lockout in The Nation:
“You expect to get what you’re paying for,” says Hakim Sulaimani, a 22 year-old Brooklyn native majoring in psychology. “You’re paying upwards of 40 grand for a certain level of education and you’re expecting a quality education. I selected certain professors because they’re very passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects. I expect to be taught by the guy I signed up for and not some guy who just popped up two weeks ago.”
Halim Nurdin, a 24 year-old history major and Marine Corps veteran from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is skeptical of the administration’s claims that the faculty are demanding more than their share. “I didn’t want to be biased against the administration, but since the new president took over she cut the yellow ribbon scholarship for veterans and I have friends who are athletes and coaches and they told me that money is being pulled out of athletics. I think I’ve sent her about 15 emails and I’ve gotten no response. I told her how it’s unfair to the students who are paying a high-end price when some of the replacements who are coming in aren’t even qualified to teach their subjects.”
Catherine Garibaldi, a 26 year-old student from Suffolk County, already carrying debt from her undergraduate days on the Post campus is paying over $42,000 for the two-year master’s microbiology program. “It’s extremely disruptive, especially on the graduate level where there’s so much material to cover in a 13-week semester. One of the classes I signed up for is a really tough class but I know the professor, and I know that she’s going to teach it well.”
“I do feel personally like we’re fighting for something much bigger than this contract,” Deborah Mutnick, a professor of English and a member of the union executive committee, told The Nation. “What’s happening in higher education, what kind of country are we going to become? There is no public anymore, there is no educational context for this, it’s all about money.”
And power, which faculty and students need to build at LIU and everywhere.