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Working In These Times

Monday, Apr 18, 2011, 7:52 am

Northeastern Illinois University Professors: Still Fighting After All These Years

BY Kari Lydersen

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CHICAGO—After three years of bargaining, faculty at Northeastern Illinois University are still struggling for “a fair and equitable contract” that addresses issues including disproportionate workloads, part-time designations for non-tenure-track professors and pay that is considered the lowest at a state university in Illinois.

Members of Local 4100 of the University Professionals of Illinois are also angry administrators are, they say, ignoring school policy by failing to talk with faculty about major decisions including the controversial move to institute ROTC classes and to cut a program serving women and adult students.

On April 7, the 998th day of negotiations, students and professors gathered outside a board of trustees meeting at the 12,000-student public university in Chicago to demand a level of respect and pay more equivalent to tenure-track and tenured professors. This Labor Beat video captures the scene:

Only a handful of professors were allowed inside the meeting. Students and professors locked out pounded on the doors and chanted “let us in.” Board meetings are typically open to the public and held in a hall that seats about 400 people, according to union members, but this meeting was held in a room with space for only about 40. 

As documented in the Labor Beat video, justice studies professor Nancy Matthew portrayed their “local struggle” as part of the ongoing efforts to protect union rights across the country:

Even though we aren’t under the same kind of attack as Wisconsin — they’re not trying to take away our collective bargaining rights — our bargaining rights ARE being whittled away under the guise of an economic crisis. We have to hold the line and let our leaders know – both our local administration and the people who give them some of their money – the state of Illinois – that this is not acceptable.

Art professor Pam Padgginski noted that she has the same course load and teaches the same content as professors on the tenure track, yet she is considered only 50 percent employed compared to their 100 percent. 

Non-tenure-track professors are typically expected to teach eight credit hours per year, a very heavy load, according to union members. “For the administration, this is about money, but for me this is about equality,” Paddginski said. “It’s about our integrity as an institution.”

Psychology professor Therese Schuepfer said the administration has tried to portray the union campaign –including a number of rallies in recent months -- as driven by a “couple of crazies.”

“In our time it’s now crazy to care about equal treatment,” she said. “We’re crazy because we don’t want the administration to exploit more vulnerable people.”

Last fall, the faculty senate and the student council passed resolutions of no confidence in the university president and provost. Along with the non-tenure professors’ labor concerns, students and professors are angry tuition has increased steeply in recent years while top officials have gotten hefty raises.

At the April 7 rally, labor leader (and In These Times Board of Directors member) James Thindwa described a double standard:

If you ask a CEO why they make $50 million or $100 million a year, their typical response is [that] that’s how you incentivize excellence…That’s their principle, but it doesn’t seem to be universal, it doesn’t apply to teachers. With teachers and professors, we expect excellence, that’s the national discourse right a time teachers are increasingly being asked to do more with less. Teachers are expected to produce excellence at the lowest pay possible.

Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist and instructor who currently works at Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99 Percent. She is also the co-author of Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun and the author of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis. Look for an updated reissue of Revolt on Goose Island in 2014. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at [email protected]

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