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Why Are We Striking?

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Why are we striking?

I will try to keep this short; but, there a many complex issues involved in the faculty strike Tuesday and Wednesday. I do not pretend to understand fully all of the complex pension issues.  I will make two points on which I have strong feelings.

Point A.  You have two categories of teachers.  (1) The traditional tenured [or tenure-track] faculty and (2) the non-tenure track, part-time, adjunct faculty, sometimes called lecturers.

(1) In short, tenure is based on a probationary period (5 years) where PhDs must produce a high level of scholarship…publish or be fired.  After tenure, it is difficult to be fired.  I am part of that system.  In plain language, the tenure system ensures that I can say and teach whatever the hell I want in my classroom.  Students can demand the truth and tenured professors need not be worried about getting fired for challenging the status quo.  After all, “the truth don’t always rhyme.”  This is what higher learning is all about.  This is academic freedom.  I am part of that traditional system.  I earned tenure almost 20 years ago.

(2) One the other hand, there are non-tenure-track instructors (lecturers, adjuncts, usually part-time).  These are teachers who are hired for a single course,  a semester, or for an academic year.  They are both part-time and full-time and they are NOT eligible to be promoted with tenure.  They have no job security.  They can easily be discarded; they simply are not offered a job the following year.

Students often do not know the difference.  We all have PhDs and students call all of us Dr. or Professor.

Today there are fewer tenured and tenure-track professors.  This is a national trend in the increasing corporatization of higher education.  For example, in 1969, “78 percent of…college…teachers were tenured or tenure-track professors, with non-tenure-track making up the rest.”  “By 2009, the figures had nearly flipped, with a third of faculty tenured or tenure-track and two-thirds ineligible for tenure.”  Today, adjunct/part-time instructors “make up about 75 percent of ALL college instructors…” Many do not have health insurance.  “They work for low pay and under conditions that hinder their efforts to help students.”  Many of the lecturers at UIC are paid $30.000 a year.

Our Union is asking UIC to guarantee lecturers a decent wage and multi-year contracts.  Think about it: we ask someone to come teach at UIC (sometimes uprooting their families) and usually do not offer them multi-year contracts.  Talented instructors with whom you take classes during your freshman or sophomore years are usually no longer around during your senior year when you need a letter of recommendation.  Can you blame them for moving on to a new job with better benefits and more job security?  They deserve decent contracts.  You deserve professors who are not worried about having a job next semester.  Instructors who do not have to leave UIC and rush to their second or third job.

Point B. The tenured faculty, the tenure-track faculty, and the lecturers ALL want more money.  Plain and simple.  We have received only one raise in five years.  But, at the same time, UIC is constantly hiring more and more administrators?  Full-time tenured and tenure-track positions are disappearing as administrators keep hiring more “suits.”  Since 2007, YOUR “tuition at UIC has increased more than 30%; there are fewer tenured professors teaching, but the number of well-paid administrators on campus has increased by 10%, none of them active in classroom teaching. Over the same period, enrollment has increased by 13% and the student-to-faculty ratio has increased by 10%.”   The administration is charging the students more, offering students fewer classes, and paying the faculty less?

Two years ago we formed a labor Union to address these issues.  Our Union, Faculty United, has been negotiating for 18 months, almost 60 bargaining sessions.  We have gotten almost nowhere.  So, the faculty are striking tomorrow and Wednesday.  I cannot promise that we will not strike again later in the semester.  Another strike, or a prolonged strike, might make it difficult for some students to graduate on time. That would be terrible for students!

This is a bad situation.  I have two daughters (Dabney and Kelsey) who recently graduated from college (Stanford and Howard) and my son (Ryan) currently attends Urbana.  Both my wife and I incurred real debt in college.   I know first-hand that your education is costing you a fortune and many of you will be repaying loans for decades.  You should not have to deal with a faculty labor dispute.  You should be pissed that we are striking tomorrow…but pissed at who?

You should also know that not all faculty joined the Union.  Not all faculty will strike.  I will not cross the picket line tomorrow, I will be ON the picket line tomorrow.

By Any Means Necessary

Professor Lyles

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6 Comments

  1. […] strike at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The underlying reasons for the strike are described nicely here the press release from the union is here. But the basic part is the uncertain futures of the […]

  2. Pedro Ramirez says:

    God I never knew it was this bad. How disrespectful can the administration be not only to the faculty but the students.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for explaining this. I highly respect your decision.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You’re an inspiration, Professor Lyles.

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