By SOPHIE DWECK
The sun was shining Thursday on the LIU Brooklyn campus and students were walking to and from class with their book bags as if it were just another day of school.
But this wasn’t an ordinary day for them, nor the faculty.
Outside the gates of the campus stood professors longingly staring into where they once taught.
And suddenly at 12 p.m. sharp, hundreds of students congregated in front of the Kumbol Theater entrance, having cut their classes to take a stand.
Students vehemently chanted slogans such as, “LIU, shame on you,” and “We’re students! United! We’ll never be defeated” in support of their faculty members. Passersby stopped to watch, record, and even join in the event unfolding in front of them.
It was clear: the students wanted their professors back.
This follows the LIU administration’s unprecedented decision to lockout its faculty after they failed to reach an agreement over new union contracts, making it the first lockout at a higher learning institution in American history.
The faculty was stripped of their benefits, like health insurance and pay, as well as getting shutout from their emails and access to blackboard systems after negotiations failed under the LIU president, Kimberly R. Cline.
“We can not teach our classes,” said Stacey Horstmann-Gatti, assistant professor of history. “President Cline has locked us out. We’re ready to go back to work. My syllabi are ready, they’re copied and in a bag. Many of my own belongings are still in my office behind these gates.”
In place of the professors, the administrators, many of whom are unaccredited and unqualified, are being forced to teach or else they’ll face losing their jobs. Substitute instructors also reportedly were hired.
Students and activists have been taking to Twitter using the hashtag LIUlockout. One tweeted, “The sub had the nerve to tell us to buy the textbook. I ain’t paying a dime till we get our professors back.”
The Twitter-sphere also exploded when it was revealed that the dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, David Cohen, was going to be teaching ballet.
“Classes were a disaster yesterday,” Sharda Mohammed, a sophomore, said. “Professors couldn’t find their classrooms and had nothing to teach. The music business substitute looked at me and said, ‘I’m not even in the music department’ when I asked him what was going on in the music room.”
She also said that she and many of her schoolmates haven’t even received syllabi yet.
“They [the administration] keep saying they have hired qualified teachers,” Stuart Fishelson, a professor in the media arts department for over 30 years said. “To me this is the biggest sin that they have done to lie about who’s in that classroom.”
Cline, who has been the private city university’s president for three years already, has been making big changes and the faculty is not happy.
“In three years, she’s reduced the staff tremendously, cut salaries, and cut scholarships,” said Fishelson. “And she’s showing the board that she’s saving money by just cutting people out. Not one union member on this campus has a contract.”
“She changed the culture the moment she walked in,” Horstmann-Gotti said
The students started to march through the gates, out of campus, and around Flatbush and Dekalb Avenues. As faculty joined in on the march with their signs and fliers, all while chanting, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Kimberly Cline has got to go,” an FDNY truck drove by, holding down its horn. The crowd erupted in cheers.
Professor of journalism and the Vice President of the Long Island University Faculty Federation, Ralph Engelman was shocked by these turns of events.
“It’s very hard to say when this all will end,” he said. “We’ve been suffering for 3 years.”
Faculty complained about how the board members of the diversified campus in Brooklyn are from Long Island, which makes it difficult for them to relate to the minority students. Additionally, teachers are paid more at the sister university LIU Post which has infuriated the jobless professors.
Engelman explained that the faculty senate, which is separate from the union and deals with the academic aspect, voted no confidence by “a huge margin” in President Cline.
Without a contract, professors have begun to file for unemployment, including the professors interviewed for this article.
“After all these years of dedication to Long Island University,” said Horstmann-Gatti. “To have to file for unemployment is an event I never imagined, especially under these circumstances.”
And not only are the staff and students frustrated, but parents are furious as well.
“My parents are really mad,” Alexis Rahner, a freshman, said. “My mom wants to pull me out. She wants me to transfer.”
Professors like Horstmann-Gatti, Fishelson, and Engelman, as well as many others, have been staying in touch with their current and past students.
“My main role is to teach and my students are what I care about, and they’re the reason I’m here,” he said. “If this continues, I’m going to hold classes somewhere else. I don’t care if I lost my medical insurance. My commitment is to the students.”
Students and faculty will continue to protest the hostile lockout Friday morning. Officials such as the American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, as well as many others will be giving a press conference outside the university.
Brooklyn News Service reached out to the LIU administration, but officials declined to respond.
Photo by Sophie Dweck