How to Destroy College: The Long Island University Method


The lockout of faculty at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus continues despite almost universal condemnation. From a quirky response to the end of a contract that nobody in the press seemed to even notice, it has become something of a cause celebré. Following a story in The Nation on September 4th (two days after the lockout began), The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly and more started noticing. Before then, only Inside Higher Ed seemed to have been paying attention earlier.

Oh, and the Academe blog. We’ve posted eleven articles on the lockout since September 1.

None of the articles that I have seen anywhere has lauded the LIU administration for its action.

Yet the university, rather than bringing its lockout to a swift conclusion (the faculty union, LIUFF, even offered to accept a temporary contract extension but was turned down), seems to be determined to follow a path that (as I am sure they know) could change America higher education forever.

Which must be what they want.

Writing between the World Wars, Canadian Stephen Leacock envisioned his ideal college:

If somebody would give me about two dozen very old elm trees and about fifty acres of wooded ground and lawn—not too near anywhere and not too far from everywhere—I think I could set up a college that would put all the big universities of to-day in the shade. I am not saying that it would be better. But it would be different.

I would need a few buildings—but it doesn’t take many—stone, if possible—and a belfry, and a clock. The clock wouldn’t need to go; it might be better if it didn’t. I would want some books—a few thousand would do—and some apparatus. But it’s amazing how little apparatus is needed for scientific work of the highest quality: in fact ‘the higher the fewer.’

Most of all I should need a set of professors. I would only need a dozen of them—but they’d have to be real ones: disinterested men of learning, who didn’t even know they were disinterested. And, mind you, these professors of mine wouldn’t sit in ‘offices’ dictating letters on ‘cases’ to stenographers, and only leaving their offices to go to ‘committees’ and ‘conferences.’ There would be no ‘offices’ in my college and no ‘committees,’ and my professors would have no time for conferences, because the job they were on would need all eternity and would never be finished.

My professors would never be findable at any fixed place except when they were actually giving lectures. Men of thought have no business in an office. Learning runs away from ‘committees.’ There would be no ‘check up’ on the time of the professors; there would be no ‘hire and fire,’ or ‘judge by results’ or standards or norms of work for them: nor any fixed number of hours.

But on the other hand they would, if I got the ones I want, be well worth their apparent irresponsibility: and when they lectured each one would be, though he wouldn’t know it, a magician—with such an interest and absorption that those who listened would catch the infection of it, and hurry from the lecture to the library, still warm with thought.

It must be understood that the work of professors is peculiar. Few professors, real ones, ever complete their work: what they give to the world is fragments. The rest remains. Their contribution must be added up, not measured singly. Every professor has his ‘life work’ and sometimes does it, and sometimes dies first.

This has been the vision of the ideal college—and ideal professors—for well more than a century. Within it is the vision of Academic Freedom so cogently articulated by the nascent AAUP in 1915.

But this is not what the LIU administration imagines, even though we all know that this vision is the spark that lit the movement that allowed American universities to shine so brightly for the past century. At LIU, administrators feel, I suspect, that the time of the professors is over, that a new model, one based on top-down administrative oversight, assessment and control must be developed. To them, the university is the institution, and that is represented best by those who run it (something that, once, faculty were involved in; alas, shared governance, though still an AAUP principle, is almost no more).

The university must be run, under this new model, as a business. And, furthermore, a business governed by ‘right to work’ principles.

There is no place for a union, for tenure, or for any of the rights faculty have come to expect. Faculty are simply workers, each instantly replaceable by another from the shelf of the unemployed.

If LIU succeeds in destroying the LIUFF and its faculty, administrators everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief. All of us on faculties across the nation will find ourselves on the path to contingent status. No longer will we tenured (and tenure-track) full-times be trying to bring contingent hires and adjuncts more firmly into the faculty fold—but we will be joining those others in their uneasy and, ultimately, untenable status.

Faculty across the country (and the world) need to be rising up in support of the LIU faculty. The success of this lockout will be the defeat of all of us.

5 thoughts on “How to Destroy College: The Long Island University Method

  1. Excellent post, Aaron. President Cline has certainly made LIU Brooklyn more fiscally sound, but as the lockout attests to, the working environment is one that is none to friendly, and is proving detrimental to student learning, and to the university’s ability to function as an academic institution. Administrative personnel are being compelled into teaching classes, and warned against speaking to students of the lockout, with immediate firing the result if one does so. Those “scabs” (yes, some are non-university staff, but many are already with the university) have no choice but to teach, if they want to keep their jobs–they are not unionized. They do not get extra pay for teaching upwards of four classes on top of being required to maintain their daily staff duties. Previously, staff that taught were given adjunct pay for teaching. They must work overtime, and have been told that “if” they get paid for what they are doing, it will be at minimum wage. Moreover, despite VP Haynes’s assertion to the NYT that staff are qualified for the classes they teach, while some may be, many are not. A person teaching CPR certification is not certified (and this person told the university this prior to having to teach the class); another with a math degree is teaching a philosophy course, and is struggling with the material. Still another sat quietly for twenty minutes at the start of class, then said, “well, I guess I should show you something,” and spent five minutes going through a powerpoint. Another bluntly told the class that they were not qualified to teach. Yet they are, because they must. Or lose their job. They are being coached by HR to now discuss their qualifications with students as they teach, to bolster the impression that they are qualified, even if they are not.

    LIU Brooklyn has some excellent programs, and excellent faculty and staff. But this lockout is compromising all of it. President Cline is ruling with fear and an iron hand. She is destroying the university, one which has struggled with meeting enrollment and graduation numbers, but one which nevertheless has at its core serving students. Faculty and staff are passionate about doing so, but with this lockout LIU Brooklyn may be on the decline, instead of continuing its climb upward, which, prior to September 4th, was happening.

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