When classes started at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus last Wednesday, students were missing one rather important thing: their professors. Around 400 faculty members had their access to the school’s facilities revoked after contract negotiations between union members and administrators failed miserably. The teachers’ union was originally trying to negotiate a new contract guaranteeing that the professors teaching at the Brooklyn campus would have the same minimum salary amount as that of professors at LIU’s main campus. The Brooklyn professors make, on average, about $10,000 less than their colleagues. However, once their request was denied and their contract was terminated, the situation escalated quickly, eventually resulting in student walkouts at LIU and protests throughout the city. This continued for one week and by the Sept. 14, the dispute had garnered enough media attention that the administration caved to pressure and ended the lockout.
This whole fiasco started with one very simple request — that professors should be treated with respect and given the benefits they deserve. Instead, LIU put forward a counter proposal, which not only denied the professors’ requests, but also introduced a number of new financial cuts to paid office hours, adjunct benefits and seniority payments. The administration’s severe overreaction over an issue as straightforward as pay equity is not something to be taken lightly. In fact, it seems like the LIU incident is unfortunately yet another example of the effects of the growing corporatization of American universities.
Nationwide, colleges seem to be shifting their priorities from providing a holistic educational experience at any cost, to merely providing the best educational experience at the lowest cost. Most professors are severely underpaid, overworked and unhappy with their employment opportunities, and adjunctification is slowly but surely becoming the university standard, rather than the exception. However, this crisis does not solely affect faculty members. Unsurprisingly, these conditions — especially when viewed in conjunction with nationwide tuition increases — do not lend themselves to a conducive learning environment for students.
All of this has resulted in a culture that is not simply detrimental to the educational experience, but one that is directly antithetical to it. Conflicts like the LIU incident demonstrate the all-too-chilling reality that administrators are unfortunately capable of forgetting the very purpose of their job: to facilitate learning. This was the first lockout to ever occur within a higher education system. And while it is somewhat comforting that community protests brought change to this particular situation, it is still deeply disconcerting that this was necessary to merely resume the act of education at a university. The mere fact that these events occurred in this day and age — that courses and educators were sacrificed before budgets were — is an ominous harbinger of dark times ahead.
This article initially appeared online at Washington Square News