One Week and Counting: More Lessons from the #LIUlockout

BY DEBORAH MUTNICK

Day 7 of the LIU Brooklyn faculty lockout. Those of us in the maelstrom of organizing are exhilarated and very tired. We are caught up in the nitty-gritty of producing fliers, contacting press, and participating in the actions that we call students and supporters to attend. The entire LIU Brooklyn faculty has no jobs: we are all activists now. We are learning a lot!

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Yesterday bargaining resumed. No progress. The union team’s eminently reasonable proposal was rejected. We offered to extend the old contract for five weeks, return to the classroom to end the chaos on the inside, the “dark side,” giving our students the education they deserve, and continue to bargain.

Yesterday, too, while faculty participated in an action to register for unemployment en masse a few blocks from campus, the students walked out. See Hank Reichman’s roundup of video clips tweeted by the LIUFF.

As I was approaching the Brooklyn Commons on Atlantic Avenue to join my colleagues, a little late because I was working on today’s event, I saw dozens of them exiting. They had heard the cops were there, threatening to arrest the students.  A voice vote was taken and everyone left. About 80 of us walked back to campus.

As we approached the students, we heard a roar of welcome. Then they returned to chanting “LIU / Shame on you.”  Students are outraged. Wouldn’t you be? Paying as much as $51,682 a year, tuition, fees, room, and board?

Since I started teaching at LIU some thirty years ago, I have never seen so much student activism. What we are witnessing in students’ response to the lockout reflects a whole new layer of activist youth reacting to gross economic inequality and neoliberal policies of austerity and dispossession.

Not all of them would put it in those terms but they sure know when what it means to be swindled by a big private university. And some of them have already been radicalized.

For example, I met Carlos Jesus Calzadilla at the faculty rally on Wednesday, the first day of classes. A slender, boyish looking young man, he approached me and asked what he could do.

We chatted for a while and he told me he is a first year student from Florida. He had just arrived at LIU Brooklyn and leapt into organizing fellow students with activist clarity, knowledge and skills learned in part from working on Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

Kiyonda Hester, a leader of Students 4 Social Justice, and others, mainly female students of color who make up the majority of LIU Brooklyn students, are helping to set the student body in motion.

Like us, the faculty, the students are responding to the exigency of the moment. They are the actors who have been called into being by history. We are in communication with them but they are organizing themselves. I have never been prouder to be a professor at LIU Brooklyn. Which brings me to the lessons we are collectively learning—here at LIU Brooklyn and well beyond—from the LIU lockout.

First, a small minority of observers commenting on media stories has argued that the faculty union is at fault as much as administration. According to this perspective, faculty members who spoke out about losing pay and health insurance after the Labor Day lockout are selfishly placing our needs before the needs of the students. Someone even suggested we should agree to a “no strike, no lockout” clause in our contract. The LIU administration has tried in all its publicity to portray the lockout as a preemptive, “responsible” action to deal with a probable strike.

But as one of the speakers said at Wednesday’s rally, New York City is the labor capital of the world. We rallied for the CWA Verizon workers out on strike earlier this year. They will be at our teach-in today. So will the Electrical Engineers Local 30, working without a contract on the Brooklyn campus, with their inflatable rat. If we had gone on strike—which we never did and by the time we were locked out, ironically, had no intention of doing—that’s our right as workers.

Our predominantly female, nonwhite students are working people. Unlike their counterparts at LIU Post with higher median family incomes (although that changed after the crash in 2008), LIU Brooklyn students understand labor disputes. They side with the faculty not only because we are their professors but also because they know what it’s like to be squeezed by management. They have also been squeezed by this administration through cuts to stipends, scholarships, and assistantships.

Second, one of the dominant narratives I see in the media is that the lockout has shamed and disgraced LIU. The university will lose its accreditation. We need to reframe that narrative and make clear that the real university is the students and their faculty. It is the LIU administration—particularly President Kimberly Cline and the Board of Trustees that brought her in and continues to support her—that has disgraced itself in this unprecedented attack against its own faculty and students. We already filed two complaints to our accrediting body, the Middle States Association of Higher Education, and the AFT has notified the professional accrediting bodies.

We want their assistance. We need your support. We are fighting to win back our university, the real university—the one we are creating today outside the campus gates. And as Mark Naison posted on Facebook today in solidarity with LIU faculty, right now #WeareallLIU.

One thought on “One Week and Counting: More Lessons from the #LIUlockout

  1. Pingback: What Standing Together Can Accomplish – aaupwsublog

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