As students cram for finals, UIS faculty go on strike over tenure
Faculty members at the University of Illinois-Springfield (UIS) went on strike today after contract negotiations broke down.
The turn of events comes after months of back-and-forth between the faculty’s collective bargaining unit and the administration and occurs right as students are preparing for finals and graduation.
Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) said the strike is unacceptable.
“I think it is not an opportune time for students,” he told the Sangamon Sun. “This is what I thought this (college) was supposed to be all about. Perhaps it is not all about students. Again, this is not an opportune time because, it was my understanding, that they were here to help students graduate and get jobs.”
Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), a 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, appears on the union’s Facebook page, “standing in solidarity” with the striking faculty members.
According to the faculty bargaining unit, UIS United Faculty (UF), the strike is in response to the administration's lack of movement on contract provisions that outline processes designed to protect faculty in personnel decisions.
“We walked into a bargaining session this morning hopeful, believing that perhaps the chancellor and administration was willing to bargain in good faith,” a Monday blog post signed by the UIS UF Executive Board and Negotiating Team stated. “They don’t believe we have any fight in us. We do."
In a letter to union members, the negotiating team said negotiations have centered on reappointment, tenure and promotion procedures.
"After lengthy conversations on Friday, we thought we had found a solution that protects our faculty in what is the most important milestone in an academic career," the letter stated. "We proposed a committee made up of faculty and administrators from within UIS who would examine cases where the personnel policy has been violated in cases of reappointment, tenure and promotion. Administration left us Friday with the impression that some version of this would be amenable, with the details to be worked out (Monday)."
After going several more rounds, the union said, the administration returned to the table with an option the union refused, calling it "a worse arrangement than they started with."
UIS UF also proposed a series of grievance procedures for policy violations in tenure reviews but this was opposed by the administration.
“This is disappointing, but progress is being made in negotiations, and our campus will carry on in pursuit of our core mission,” UIS spokesman Derek Schnapp said in a statement. “Students are at the forefront of all we do, so the work to reach a satisfactory agreement must continue.”
The next bargaining session is scheduled for Friday.
In a set of questions and answers put out by the UIS human resources department, the university explains its position on the contract's sticking point: the Faculty Personnel Policy.
"The university’s position is that the FPP, while not included in the union contract, will continue to stand within the policies and procedures of the university and within the current structure of shared governance," the university stated. "There are several reasons the University cannot include the FPP in the union contract. ... Including the tenure and promotion process in a union contract would open such decisions to grievance procedures involving outside judgments by an arbitrator who may have little or no knowledge of the university and whose participation could potentially undermine the Board of Trustees’ ultimate responsibility for confirming such decisions. The UI believes these decisions belong squarely in the hands of the faculty and administration of the University and that the application and refinement of tenure and promotion matters should continue in the existing process via the channels of shared governance."
The union encouraged faculty members to notify their classes of the situation, saying tenured and tenure-track faculty will be on strike beginning Tuesday until further notice, and professors will be unavailable through email or office hours.
On April 27, Clarice Ford, vice chancellor for student affairs, published a statement to the students admitting that a faculty strike was expected.
“Though we are doing everything possible to avoid a work stoppage, we also must be prepared and we want you to know how a possible strike could affect your classes, your grades, and – for those who are graduating this spring – the completion of your degrees,” Ford wrote. “Should there be a strike, we will work to minimize the disruption of instruction and to ensure that you can continue to make timely progress towards your degrees, meet your course objectives and receive your grades in a timely fashion.”
Finals week for UIS students begins May 8. Commencement for the university will is May 13, at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in downtown Springfield. The conclusion of the strike remains unclear.
According to 2015 data, the University of Illinois system has more than $5 billion in its operating budget, with tuition and fees serving as the biggest funding source at 20.1 percent.