Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Classes Have Begun + The LIU Brooklyn Lockout (UPDATED)

Labor Day has come and gone, and in its wake the school year is off and racing. In addition to chairing African American and African Studies again this year, I have a graduate English seminar on my slate. Last Thursday I taught my first class meeting for this course, which runs under the rubric "Topics in Literature," with the subtitle "Postmodern: Beauty, Ideology, Power." What I'd envisioned was a course exploring key aesthetic concepts, both old and new, as means of apply critical pressure to a wide array of late 20th and 21st century works, in the genres of poetry, fiction and drama, that fall broadly underneath the category of post-modern.

Some of these will be by writers visiting Rutgers-Newark's Writers at Newark reading series this fall: Rickey Laurentis, Robin Coste Lewis, Eileen Myles, Chinelo Okparanta, Kristin Váldez Quade, and Ocean Vuong. Other works include texts that I have taught before, like Adrienne Kennedy's Alexander Play The Ohio State Murders (I love this work!) and poetry by Kenneth Koch, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, as well as books I have never taught before but long wanted to, including Peter Weiss's (in)famous play Marat/Sade, Cormac McCarthy's award-winning and popular dystopia The Road, Bret Easton Ellis's masterpiece of visionary satire, American Psycho, and Nnedi Okorafor's stunning novella Binti.

Of course for every text I chose there were many handfuls I had to forgo, but I am teaching an undergraduate African Diasporic fiction class this upcoming spring, so I am going to be aim to include some of the works I could not use this fall in that class--while also being mindful not to overload those students. I hope to post a bit more about the in-class discussions as the semester progresses.


As the New York Times reports, LIU Brooklyn's faculty lockout has finally ended, after 12 days, on September 14. The university's administration and its faculty union agreed to extend the existing contract, which had expired on August 31, to May 31, 2017, or the end of the current academic year. During this period administrators and union officials will negotiate a new contract and the faculty union will not authorize a strike. The end of the lockout averts what was quickly becoming a fiasco for LIU Brooklyn's hardline president and the university, as students staged walkouts and public demonstrations against the policy. Chalk up one loss, however temporary, for the ongoing neoliberal corporatization of American colleges and universities.

While Rutgers-Newark faculty and most of our colleagues are back in classrooms or will shortly be, unionized faculty at Long Island University-Brooklyn find themselves locked out by their current administration. Since their contract expired on August 31, LIU president Kimberly Cline has kept all 400 members of the faculty union off campus. In addition to cutting their pay, Cline and the university have also cut blocked their campus email accounts, dropped their health insurance, and replaced them with temporary scab teachers. Although Cline pledged to students that the lockout would not cause disruptions, it has allegedly transformed LIU-Brooklyn into a site of chaos, with some classes being led by faculty members lacking expertise in their assigned subjects and other classes barely being taught, if at all. In one particularly egregious case, Democracy Now reported, LIU's Chief Operating Officer, Gale Haynes, a political scientist, was slated to teach a yoga class; the university has since called this an "error."

The chief point of contention centers on LIU's new proposed contract for its Brooklyn unionized faculty, which would not only lower their pay and benefits relative to their colleagues at LIU's C. W. Post satellite campus on Long Island, but also gut pay for adjuncts. Once their contract expired, LIU-Brooklyn's unionized faculty barely had time to read and vote on the contract, and probably would have struck for better terms, as they had in the past, but Cline preemptively locked them out when the contract expired. When they voted roughly a week later to reject the contract, Cline did not reopen dialogue, and has given no signal that she or the administration plan to back down, leaving LIU-Brooklyn students, who pay anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 per year confused and enraged. COO Haynes claims that the university is negotiating in good faith, though neither she nor anyone else in the administration has yet officially proposed more equitable terms. The Long Island University Faculty Federation has filed a complaint over unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board, and, according to a report in Common Dreams, the LIU Faculty Senate has issued a no-confidence vote for Cline.

Were the faculty to accept the current contract, they would be ratifying a two-tier system not just for themselves in relation to their colleagues at C. W. Post, but especially for new Brooklyn faculty members, and in particular, adjuncts. Cline, however, has yet to sign a labor contract with any of the unions at LIU, and rejected outright the possibility of extending the previous contract for five weeks while the university and union negotiated the new one. Instead, as publications such as Common Dreams, The Nation and The Atlantic have pointed out, Cline's goal since becoming president appears  slashing costs at any cost, and cementing neoliberal, anti-labor policies to improve the school's financial picture and credit rating in the short term. The danger for the institution is manifold: its reputation is taking a serious hit; it will be hard, even at a time of academic job scarcity and precarity, to field quality faculty in the future; and it may be driving away current and future students, and alienating alumni. Two hundred LIU students protested yesterday, and there have been rolling protests since the lockout began. Perhaps Cline's goal is to shut the campus down for good in favor of the wealthier Long Island branch, which would be loss for Brooklyn and New York's academic ecology. Right now, though, that doesn't seem such a far-fetched idea.

Democracy Now: "Everything Was Immediately Cut at LIU"

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