Why Faculty Lock-Outs Are Irresponsible And Inappropriate

In response to my post on Sunday making note of the lock-out of faculty at Long Island University (LIU), a Facebook friend wrote on my page:

So, I don’t understand. What makes university professors any different than people who work any other job? If you don’t like the pay, or don’t like the working conditions, simply go somewhere else. An employeer prohibiting someone from coming into their workplace who doesn’t agree to the terms of their employment is immenently fair. I’m sure the employeer (whatever, whoever, and for whatever industry) has made a calculated position to turn away their employees because they weren’t worth the compensation they demanded. The employees may not feel that way, and maybe they can come to an agreement, but maybe not and both sides go their own merry way.

Because students are people, not products; because education is not a commodity. That’s the short answer, and it should be enough. But let’s look a little closer.

The first part of the response above is eminently fair in one regard: faculty are workers who provide labor to employers; indeed, faculty organize themselves into unions precisely to make the point that they should be compensated fairly and that they deserve adequate working conditions in their workplace. Moreover, the possibility they may seek alternative employment or withholding labor (via a strike) is one their employer is aware of; these are tactics and strategies available to workers in labor negotiations.

So why criticize the employer for leveraging their power in their relationship with their workers?

Because, bizarrely enough, as just noted, there is the small matter of students and their education, the impact on which needs to be assessed when evaluating the appropriateness of any action taken by management or faculty. See, for instance, this post expressing concerns about how CUNY faculty should approach the decision to take a strike in case their negotiations with CUNY administration failed; at that stage, CUNY faculty had been without a contract for several years. That is, tactics and strategies which might compromise the education of our students were only to be resorted to as a last, radical measure when all other options had failed. (They included civil disobedience actions by faculty.) Management which took actions to compromise the mission of the corporation they managed would be looked upon very unfavorably by their shareholders; this is the situation we face at LIU. As noted in my post, LI management’s concerns seem to be exclusively financial–improving their ‘credit rating.’ Where are LIU’s students and their education in all of this?

In Long Island University’s case, there is no indication that management has these kinds of concerns front and center, no indication that management seems to understand the almost-fiduciary duty they have to their wards, their students: they have abruptly pulled the plug on contract negotiations, unilaterally declaring an impasse of sorts; they have hired inadequate, underqualified replacement workers, thus compromising the education the university provides. Just because an action is legally permissible does not make it responsible or appropriate. LIU management’s actions were not criticized in my post for being illegal; they were criticized for being grossly inappropriate to the situation at hand. LIU students have lost access to their teachers; this is very dissimilar to manufactured products losing access to their makers. (I hope this difference is clear.) LIU students have lost access to their education; this is the cost that must be reckoned with when assessing the worth of LIU management’s actions. From this teacher’s perspective, management’s actions are irresponsible and reckless, and provide clear evidence they misunderstand the nature of the work they are engaged in.

Long Island University’s Labor Day Gift To The Nation: A Faculty Lock-Out

Some university administrators manage to put up a pretty good front when it comes to maintaining the charade that they care about the education of their students–they dip into their accessible store of mealy mouthed platitudes and dish them out every turn, holding their hands over their hearts as paeans to the virtues of edification are sung by their choirs of lackeys. Some fail miserably at even this act of misrepresentation and are only too glad to make all too clear their bottom line is orthogonal to academics. Consider, for instance, the folks at Long Island University who have kicked off the new academic semester in fine style:

Starting September 7, the first day of the fall semester at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus, classes will be taught entirely by non-faculty members—not because the faculty are on strike, but because on the Friday before Labor Day, the administration officially locked out all 400 members of the Long Island University Faculty Federation (LIUFF), which represents full-time and adjunct faculty.

Yessir, what a fine Labor Day gift to the nation this makes.  When contract negotiations with your workers fail, well, you don’t continue trying to find an agreement in good faith; you just lock them out¹ and replace them with grossly under-qualified folks instead:

Provost Gale Haynes, LIU’s chief legal counsel, will be teaching Hatha yoga….Rumor has it that Dean David Cohen, a man in his 70s, will be taking over ballet classes scheduled to be taught by Dana Hash-Campbell, a longtime teacher who was previously a principal dancer and company teacher with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

As Deb Schwartz at The Nation notes–quoting Deborah Mutnick, a professor of English and a member of the union executive committee–LIU President Kimbery Cline’s administration has sought to “accrue a surplus budget,” succeeded by “firing people,” and is apparently guided by the principle that “the primary goal of the university is to improve its credit rating.”  That strategy sounds suspiciously familiar, as it should, for it is taken straight out the corporate playbook. Remember how we were told the productivity of American workers had increased in the 1980s? And then we found out it was because fewer workers were employed, and they were all working longer hours.

Such emulation of the corporate world is precisely what university administrators aspire to, of course. The same plush offices, the same air of self-satisfied importance, the same deployment of incomprehensible jargon spoon-fed to them by management consultants, the same glib throwing about of that reprehensible phrase ‘the real world.’

An unsafe worker in one workplace means unsafe workers everywhere; the wrong lessons are learned all too quickly by the bosses. LIU’s tenured and unionized faculty have been treated reprehensibly here in Brooklyn; this is a dangerous precedent and those who ignore the message it sends do so at their own peril.

Note #1:  Kevin Pollitt, a labor relations specialist with New York State United Teachers, notes that this is the first time that higher-ed faculty have ever been locked out, an achievement that LIU administration can brag about to their monetization-happy fans.

The New American Dream: Becoming An Academic Administrator

Go West, young man; or perhaps, go into plastics. And now, go become an academic administrator.

The City University of New York’s new chancellor, James Milliken, will soon be drawing upon his $670,000 salary. When he does so, he’ll be able to entertain guests in style at his $18,000 a month apartment on the Upper East Side in Manhattan–paid for by CUNY (they did set aside 3.7 million dollars for his housing budget). His predecessor, Matthew Goldstein, is still making $300,000 a year in his emeritus position; perhaps offering sage advice to future presidents on how to make sure they come away with a really good retirement package.

Meanwhile, tuition rises, our classrooms continue to decay, faculty remain jammed into small offices, often four at a time. Our network connections remain glacial; journal subscriptions are cancelled every year for lack of funds; book budgets shrink; travel funds for conferences are routinely denied to even those who make presentations.  Full-time faculty are being steadily replaced by part-time adjuncts who make slave wages, receive no health benefits, and do not have an office or a phone. And there has been a freeze on wages for four years–at CUNY–because the contract expired that many years ago. (At Brooklyn College, I share a two-room office with three other faculty members; we ask for staggered teaching schedules so that we can, when needed, conduct conversations with our students in private. A dirty pool of reddish liquid appears to have seeped into our office and despite two calls to facilities to clean it up, the stain remains. Meanwhile the Dean for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences works in a three-chamber, wall-to-wall carpeted office, complete with attached conference room and multi-person secretarial staff).

There is an old joke about private universities which continues to make the rounds: they are real estate companies and investment houses that award degrees on the side. Their rent-seeking disease appears contagious: public universities want in on the act. They want to raise tuition and hire ever more administrators, who delight in walking into meetings with faculty, armed with the latest anti-tenure, anti-liberal arts education screed penned by a management consultant wanna-be, and telling them what time it is.  They want to hobnob with the rich and famous; sometimes they invite those who only recently strode the corridors of power, hoping that they will build networks of influence that will secure them well-paid lectures on the speaking circuit.

The new career path for those looking to make some serious bucks in academia looks something like this: get tenure; slowly work your way into administration, taking on one of those responsibilities that grant you release time from teaching and research; build up a portfolio of administrative accomplishments; indicate your desire to do this work full-time; work your way up to becoming a provost or a dean, ideal springboards for more senior positions; make a lateral move to accomplish this if necessary; the big prize, a university presidency will hopefully soon be yours.

Normally, this state of affairs would be a scandal. But this is a new America: bloated and bureaucratic and too-big-to-fail.

Sweatshops below; swank above. USA! USA! USA!