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Professors locked out of classrooms over labor dispute

Posted September 13

— Students at the New York City campus of Long Island University say they have begun the school year with classes being taught by replacement teachers of questionable quality after the administration locked out their regular professors as part of a bitter labor dispute.

About 400 full-time and adjunct members of the faculty at the private Brooklyn school were barred from their classrooms and had their email accounts and health insurance cut off just days before classes were scheduled to begin on Sept. 7.

The university, which has about 8,000 students, has remained open, but some students say they have arrived for classes that were taught by replacement teachers who only took attendance or didn't know their subjects.

Caroline Ortiz, a sophomore majoring in chemistry, said she commuted one hour from Queens for classes that lasted only 10 minutes, with the instructor leaving after taking attendance.

A biology class last week, she said, "was taught by a pharmacist. I don't think he's in the biology field."

She said the laboratory session scheduled after the class was cancelled because whoever runs science labs is required to have a safety certification.

Some students have been joining locked-out faculty on picket lines. In one demonstration Tuesday, students chanted, "You say lockout, we say walkout!" as they gathered outside the main entrance. Some students were looking to enroll at other colleges, and some professors said they were looking for other jobs.

Long Island University officials said they were acting in the students' best interest.

"Our first priority is and always has been our students." said Gale Haynes, the university's chief operating officer. "We maintain an unwavering commitment to ensure that students continue their studies without interruption and that tuition remains affordable. This has been demonstrated by the University capping annual tuition rate increases at two percent or less from 2014 through 2020, an unprecedented commitment."

The professors, represented by the Long Island University Faculty Federation, have rejected a proposed contract that would cut salaries for new adjunct professors and decrease the number of hours they can teach, university spokeswoman Jennifer Solomon said.

The university is offering existing faculty average raises of about 13 percent over five years.

Another sticking point in negotiations, according to the federation, is that tenured professors at the university's Brooklyn campus are already paid less than its Long Island campus, LIU Post.

Solomon said the differences in salaries between the Brooklyn and Long Island faculty is a result of salary structures requested by the union in previous contracts.

Susan Ziegler, who teaches a visual arts course at the Brooklyn campus, said some of the replacement teachers are administrators from the Long Island campus who have never before taught the courses they were assigned.

Biology professor Carole Griffiths, who has been at the university for 18 years, accused LIU's president, Kimberly Cline, of "trying to break down the unions."

"We wanted to work without a contract while the negotiations were going on, and she said no," she said, adding that the person teaching her class is an administrator with a B.A. in biology, "but that's it."

Nashrin Akter, 19, a nursing major from Bangladesh, said she skipped a Muslim holiday on Monday to attend classes that were not taught by "real teachers."

With tuition at about $35,000 a year, "I'm very disappointed. What I'm seeing is not supposed to happen in America," Akter said.

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