Students join LIU strike — on the side the teachers

Students join LIU strike — on the side the teachers
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Students at Long Island University — where a heated faculty strike is underway — have a message for school administrators: Bring our teachers back or kiss us goodbye.

Students in leadership roles — many of whom remained “neutral” on the salary dispute until Friday — now say they’ll stage a “walk-out” if administrators don’t promptly resolve the conflict.

Instead of teaching, faculty has been on strike at the private university since Wednesday, stalling classes for students who pay between $30,000 and $40,000 for tuition annually.

Student body president Jermaine Isaac said the Student Government Association gave school honchos a deadline of Friday to reach a compromise with teachers, noting “students will start walking out” if the strike drags on any longer.

“We want answers,” said Isaac. “We all want to get back to class.”

The school sent e-mails on Thursday, explaining students are expected to attend class — even though professors are not there to teach — and noting administrators will serve as stand-in teachers during the strike.

But hundreds of students did not show up on Friday, saying they considered it a waste of time.

“I’m here to learn from a professor with a doctorate — not some administrator,” said Samantha D’Acunto, a senior history major. “Students are confused and frustrated.”

Indeed, the 11,000-student campus was nearly vacant on Friday: “Club Row” — a hallway where school organizations congregate — was locked and empty; the campus coffee shop desolate; and a lone student manned a welcome desk in the history department, looking bored.

“It’s a ghost town,” D’Acunto said.

Other students showed up simply to sign an attendance sheet and leave — while dozens of teachers waved signs and marched in a circle outside, demanding the school offer its 232 full-time staffers a better contract.

Administrators last week proposed a five-year contract that would freeze faculty members’ salaries for three years — and then grant two percent raises in the final two years of the contract, but only if tuition increases during the same period.

The new contract came after an old contract — which offered a five percent raise each year — expired on Aug. 31, but teachers mocked the proposed deal, saying that the school’s starting salaries of $56,000 for instructors and $63,000 for professors are already substandard.

School administrators countered that recession-era “fiscal responsibility” had caused them to dole out the less-attractive new contract, adding the university’s overall enrollment has dropped by seven percent in the past year.

The dilemma, administrators said, boils down to “whether the university’s scarce resources should go to faculty” or “scholarships and other student needs.” They sent students an e-mail detailing the same thing — which irked some students, who said it’s an oversimplification that pits them against their teachers.

“It’s a complete lie,” D’Acunto said, adding funds could be shuffled from other places.

More than 55 percent of tuition goes to administration, 22 percent goes to scholarships and 13 percent goes to faculty salaries — which is why teachers say the university should reexamine it’s priorities, citing a “bloated administration.”

“Faculty is the heart and soul of this institution,” said Ralph Engleman, a journalism professor.

Some students agreed, saying if the school’s emphasis on millions of dollars worth of capital projects — like a wellness center, new graduate dorms, fancy technology and an athletic field — should not come before quality educators.

“New plasma TVs and fields are nice and pretty —” said student Victoria Abolencia, adding the projects such as those are likely meant to attract more enrollment. “But more attention should go to the students and teachers who are already here.”

A spokesman for the school, Brian Harmon, said negotiations — between the workers’ union and the administration — are in the works and could be resolved as soon as Monday. Students won’t be charged for professor-deprived classes, which cost about $550 each, during the strike.

“We remain hopeful that an agreement will be reached soon,” he said.

But that wasn’t enough to appease some students, who were already planning speeches for the Monday rally.

“This has been a huge waste of my time,” Chelsea Stainback, who showed up for class on Friday, but found it empty. “I’m here to learn.”

Rally at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church (85 S. Oxford St. at Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene), Sept. 12, 3 pm.

Students have joined the fray, picketing at Long Island University on Friday in support of striking professors.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini