By DEBORAH MUTNICK
Week 2 of the LIU Brooklyn lockout. I imagine her holed up in her office in Nassau County on Long Island, far from the Brooklyn campus she seems to be destroying, yelling at administrators to do a better job of pretending to be professors or dictating orders to a secretary sitting at her side taking notes on the next round of attack on the LIU Brooklyn faculty she locked out of the university.
President Kimberly R. Cline. There’s a part of me that wants to let out all my pent-up rage from the past three years of her “managed university.” But after a lot of thought—and I can think of very little else but the lockout and its ramifications—I’ve not only decided it is counterproductive to rant but also started to question the refrain that we are dealing with an irrational individual.
At last Friday’s LIU Lockout Teach-in/Speak-out, AFT President Randi Weingarten accused the university administration of “Trumpism.” Of course, it is Trump’s irrational behavior that has returned the Goldwater Rule—the resolution of the American Psychiatric Association in 1964 to refrain from evaluating anyone not personally assessed—to national headlines.
How is the LIU lockout Trump-like? It is a belligerent, ruthless, bullying tactic that assumes LIU is a business that must be better managed than it was in the past. According to this point of view, the possibility of a work stoppage by the faculty union was unacceptable. And while the idea of replacement workers in practice has been disastrous, in theory it enabled the administration to claim that it locked out its faculty to avoid the disruption of a strike in the best interests of the students.
Once I—we—begin to understand that the irrational “bad actor” explanation of the lockout is at best incomplete, we can begin to clarify both the key issues and the larger context in which the lockout is occurring.
I agree with a colleague who argues that the president is “an instrument of a ‘rational BOT leadership.'” It doesn’t negate her problematic character or necessarily mean that the Board fully understands its own ideological position, but it clarifies the problem. This past week I talked to two members of different faculties with the same story about very nice, decent, reasonable academic leaders who have created excellent working conditions that effectively derailed unionization efforts.
The forces driving LIU administration/board decisions are structural; they are the same forces faculty must contend with—here at LIU, nationally, and internationally—and that is what makes our collective dilemma so difficult to resolve. My president is a worst-case manifestation—a caricature—of neoliberal tendencies throughout higher education (and other sectors).
Ultimately, she is a “bad actor,” not because her goals are essentially different from those of her counterparts at other universities but because of poor interpersonal skills, narcissistic tendencies, insecurity, and so on. In other words, as is usually the case, it’s not either/or but both/and: she is an instrument of a rational BOT and what Weinstein called a “the worst of America.” As I said, the same ends are achieved elsewhere in much nicer ways, keeping workers unorganized and relatively content even as their institutions are corporatized.
Here I sit, one week into the lockout, wondering what transpired in last night’s bargaining session. We all want to go back to work. Our students need to get on with their education. Right now, LIU is in the national spotlight. The publicity and support we’ve received make clear that we are not alone and that our situation is alarming to colleagues across the country.
It may indeed be precedent setting, and we need somehow to send a message to university presidents and BOTs that they cannot lock out their faculties. But we also need to work, teach, and learn. Thousands of lives have been disrupted, and if the lockout goes on long enough, it could do severe, possibly irreparable damage to my campus.
So I am hoping we can turn to the larger structural issues together and begin thinking about ways to organize across disciplines, institutions, and regions. We need a national, activist coalition to reclaim higher education in close alliance with K-12. None of us can do it alone. It’s really hard, exhausting, unnerving work. But if we join in collective struggle with other labor and emerging movements for social and economic justice, we can begin to resist and reverse the logic of the lockout.