UPDATE: Strike draws crowd to Quad
UPDATE 1:45 p.m.
URBANA — Striking nontenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois hit the picket lines around 8 a.m. outside the English Building on the UI's main Quad. By 9 a.m., at least 60 union members and their supporters were marching outside all four entrances, shouting “No contract, no peace” and carrying signs reading “Education Under Attack.”
Inside, classrooms were mostly dark, though employees reported as usual to administrative offices and at least one engineering class there went on as scheduled. Signs posted on the entrances, and outside classrooms, asked students and employees not to cross the picket lines if possible. Union members also handed out solidarity armbands to those who had to work.
An enthusiastic noontime rally drew about 300 faculty and supporters, including graduate students and some tenured professors. They represented a variety of departments, though a count of classes canceled was not immediately available. Afterward, marchers took several laps around the English Building.
"I'm here because I think the negotiationshave been protracted in a way that I think reflects bad faith," said English Professor Curtis Perry, a former department head and associate dean.
Addressing the crowd, lead negotiator Kay Emmert said the faculty were working against the "corporate war on learning and labor."
"We aren't here to change the system - we are here to change the direction of education," she said.
During the rally, the campus sent out a mass email about the strike and negotiations from interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson and interim Provost Edward Feser. They noted that the two sides have reached agreement on 14 items and that the union chose to strike after just two meetings with a federal mediator.
Wilson and Feser said they support the union's goals for more multi-year contracts, a role in shared governance and guarantees of academic freedom. But they said those should be achieved through new policies providing for multi-year contracts and the university's statutes and existing governance processes.
"Although we continue to believe a strike is not in the best interests of our specialized faculty members, our students, or the campus, we respect the right of each specialized faculty member to decide whether or not to participate. Our goal has always been, and continues to be, to work with the NTFC to reach a fair and equitable contract," they said.
A 5 p.m. rally was scheduled outside the Swanlund Administration Building.
URBANA — Thousands of undergraduates at the University of Illinois could get some unexpected free time today, with nontenure-track faculty starting a two-day strike.
Picketing was scheduled to start around 8 a.m. outside the English Building on the UI's main Quad and continue all day, concluding with a 5 p.m. rally at the Swanlund Administration Building, according to the Nontenure Faculty Coalition Local 6546.
Union President Shawn Gilmore said instructors also canceled classes in other parts of campus and would be joining the picket line at the English Building. The union announced the strike on Monday.
"This is our chance to show our united strength and value on our campus," Christina De Angelo, chairwoman of the union's strike committee and an instructor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, said in a Facebook post.
The union represents almost 500 lecturers, researchers and other faculty members who are not part of the tenure system, though not all have joined the union.
Nontenure-track faculty — also known as "specialized faculty" — teach nearly 40 percent of all undergraduate courses. But it's not clear how many classes will be affected by the strike.
The campus says 400 members of the bargaining unit hold teaching jobs, and Gilmore, an English lecturer, said most were scheduled to teach two or three classes during the course of the strike. But some union members don't plan to strike — international faculty, for one, fear losing their work visas.
And interim Provost Edward Feser said the campus had encouraged departments to find other professors to teach the courses affected, if possible. It's challenging, he said, because departments didn't necessarily know who planned to strike ahead of time. The union said members were expected to inform their students that classes would be canceled today and Wednesday.
"We don't expect it to be a dramatic stoppage," Feser said, as the union called only a two-day strike.
But he added, "Especially at this point in the semester, it'll be a disruption we'd love to avoid. Students in many cases are winding down and getting ready for final exams. I would consider any work stoppage to be disruptive to our students."
Strike? What strike?
Aileen Lopez, a UI freshman, said her rhetoric teacher canceled class today, which is also when a research paper was due. Students can simply turn their papers in online, Lopez said, but she worried the strike could mean "we wouldn't get feedback as quickly as we had hoped."
Still, Lopez and other students signed a petition supporting the faculty.
"If I were in their position, I would probably do the same thing," said UI senior Jocelyn Martinez, sitting with Lopez outside the English Building on Monday afternoon.
Martinez said her Latino/Latina Studies class was canceled today, but it was ahead of schedule anyway.
"We want to see the faculty do well," she said. "I feel it serves as an inspiration, because they're fighting for something they believe in."
Several students interviewed had no idea about the upcoming strike, including Naif Mansury, a junior in molecular and cellular biology. He said most students would "definitely not" mind missing a class or two.
"With this nice weather I doubt people would be upset," Lopez said, "unless they had some sort of exam that they'll have to reschedule."
Union members authorized a limited job action during a strike vote in early April. More serious measures — such as an extended walkout or withholding grades — would require further approval.
CFA: 'We're with them'
Some tenure-system faculty planned to join the picket line in solidarity today, and others who teach in the English Building moved classes to other buildings during the strike, said Susan Davis of the Campus Faculty Association, which is trying to form a union for tenured faculty.
"We're with them all the way," Davis said Monday. "Many of us are going to be talking with our students about the reasons for the strike."
The Nontenure-Track Faculty Coalition is trying to settle its first contract with the UI; negotiations began in October 2014. A mediator was brought in last month, and both sides have said they are willing to continue negotiating.
But lead union negotiator Kay Emmert said 29 sessions produced little progress, and the union felt a strike was necessary. "Enough is enough," she said.
Union members, who mostly work on year-to-year contracts, are asking for improved employment security with multiyear contracts, opportunities for promotion and professional support, and the protection of academic freedom.
"Many of us have been 'temporary' faculty for over 20 years," said Dennis Dullea, a senior instructor in English and vice president of the union. "It's time to prioritize our students' learning experience. Multiyear contracts mean faculty are able to focus on teaching and preparing their courses rather than on wondering if they will have a job in the fall."
National union to join in
University administrators, however, say they feel progress has been made in the negotiations, noting that initial contracts often take months to hammer out.
Feser said the campus is implementing procedures established in 2014 to allow for multiyear contracts and promotional opportunities for nontenure-track faculty, based on merit and performance; and updating policies to provide a stronger voice for them in departmental and college governance.
"We don't disagree on the goal. Both sides have legitimate views on how best to get there. We recognize that one can have legitimate disagreements. I just think we have to keep talking about it," Feser said.
Four more negotiating sessions are scheduled, with the next on April 27.
Less than three weeks of classes remain in the spring semester. The last day of classes is May 4 and finals begin May 6.
National union leaders planned to attend rallies on campus during the two-day strike. In a release, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said that the UIUC problems mirror what's happening on campuses nationwide.
"Across the country, universities are increasingly relying on contingent faculty, but these dedicated educators aren't being treated fairly," he said.