Hundreds of Long Island University students walked out of their classes at noon on Thursday to protest the administration's continued lockout of their professors, a move they say has compromised their education and the rights of students and teachers alike. Many said that classes—taught by an interim staff—were as disorganized this morning as they had been on Wednesday, the first day of the semester.
— Sharda Mohammed (@S_MohammedX) September 8, 2016
"We aren't planning to go back to class at all until our professors are back," said Sharda Mohammed, 18, a sophomore studying philosophy. "Today I walked into my English class and the guy gave us a syllabus and told us we could leave. He couldn't even pronounce the names of the books."
"They are charging us full tuition for this, and they're not teaching us," she added. "I was in class for five minutes today."
Gina Pacifico, a 19-year-old sophomore from Queens, said she had a two-hour organic chemistry lecture in which the instructor left after an unproductive 40 minutes. “He didn’t teach,” Pacifico said. The business school seemed to be less affected by the lockout. Business major Gabriel Torres, 27, said his business classes were “fine, so far." While Shelleyanne Esquilin, 17, said her professor was running between rooms, essentially trying to teach two classes at once.
Some students indicated that they were considering withdrawing their enrollment. According to LIU's website, students have one week to withdraw for full compensation. As recently as April, there was a two-week allowance for a full refund, according to a screen-grab from the Wayback Machine.
"I have a $28,000 loan just this year alone," Shelley Drucker, a freshman on the field hockey team, told us on Wednesday. "So it's not really something to be playing around with. If the teachers file for unemployment people are going to withdraw their tuition, no doubt."
"At the end of the day I play a sport, but I could play it anywhere," she added. "I came here because they have good programs. My teachers aren't here, so why am I going?"
LIU said Thursday that un-enrollment numbers are holding steady with previous years, but did not provide any figures.
— LIUFF (@LIU_FF) September 8, 2016
LIU decided late last month to bar the entirety of its unionized teaching staff from campus. Over Labor Day weekend, about 400 faculty members were informed that they will not be welcome on campus until an agreement is reached on their five-year contract, which expired on August 31st. Their health insurance was suspended, and they were locked out of their e-mail accounts.
One of the union's goals is to secure higher starting wages for full-time and adjunct professors, equal to those at LIU's C.W. Post campus in Nassau County. Brooklyn professors worry that their campus, which serves more black, Latino and low-income students than C.W. Post, is undervalued by the administration. Tuition is the same at both campuses—$34,352 per year.
Interim teachers have been recruited from other schools. While LIU described these professors as "adjuncts with advanced degrees," students said some are teaching assistants, and that many don't seem qualified. Some work in administrative offices at LIU, according to the Long Island University Faculty Federation (LIUFF), LIU Brooklyn's teacher union.
On Thursday night, the American Federation of Teachers sent letters to 14 accreditation agencies, which set academic standards for colleges and universities in fields including physiology, social work, and nursing. The letters allege that LIU has replaced its professors with unaccredited teachers, potentially jeopardizing the students' post-graduate job prospects. LIU denied these allegations.
— AFT (@AFTunion) September 8, 2016
LIU Vice President Gale Haynes stated on Thursday that the protesters are a vocal minority.
"LIU Brooklyn serves over 8,000 students and feedback from them has been overwhelmingly positive," she said. "All the temporary staff has been vetted by the same standards as every other faculty member."
Also on Thursday, LIU rejected a proposal from the union to suspend the lockout and extend the current contract for five weeks of additional bargaining. Union professors met at nearby Commons Cafe on Atlantic Avenue with their laptops, to file for unemployment benefits en masse.
"We have no idea how long we'll be unemployed, so a lot of us want to sign up," said Emily Drabinski, an associate professor and university librarian. "I need to be paid. I have an eight year old. I live in Brooklyn, New York, and I have a mortgage payment on an apartment I bought last year. Unemployment doesn't come close to the cost of living in Brooklyn, and this administration does not care about that."
"Unfortunately, [LIU President] Kim Cline would rather lock out trained and dedicated professors and put students’ education at risk," said LIUFF President Dr. Jessica Rosenberg in a statement.
LIU countered that accepting the teachers' five-week extension would force them to let go of their interim staff, and possibly lead to further chaos if the teachers ultimately decided to go on strike, as they did most recently in 2011.
"Surrounding students with the uncertainty of five more weeks of bargaining, which could still result in a strike—as has been the pattern in five out of the last six contracts with the Brooklyn faculty union—is not in the best interests of our students," said Vice President Gale Haynes.
Eric Wilson, 18, a freshman from Far Rockaway, said that the past few days have made him question his choice in schools. "I haven't been to class. What's the point?" he said, adding that he's considering withdrawing "if the problem is not going to be fixed."
"I know this is a good school," Wilson said. "I just want to see it."
Additional reporting by Josh Keefe.