The Daily Illini

Students should back nontenure-track faculty strike

By Gabriel Costello, Columnist

The non-tenure-track faculty union is on strike, an action that comes after 18 months of contract negotiation with the University’s administration.

More than 500 University faculty members are without tenure. This means that their employment is up for grabs at the conclusion of each academic year — an unstable reality for anyone, let alone those with families and children. They are paid wages that pale in comparison to their tenured colleagues. Speaking from experience, there is no discernible difference in the quality of instruction offered between these two groups. Non-tenured faculty members run labs, grade papers and most importantly educate peoples. 

What they are asking for, job security, is directly in the interest of the student body. Non-tenured faculty members cannot prepare classes for the upcoming semester when they do not know whether or not they will have a job.

The demands they have set forth, asking the administration to extend two-year contracts to non-tenured faculty who have taught here for five years and three-year contracts to non-tenured faculty who have taught here for ten years, are reasonable.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson stated the University’s position on multi-year contracts in a Massmail.

“Multi-year contracts should be awarded based on performance, evaluation and merit, not centrally mandated and automatically granted based on the amount of time someone has worked here,” said Wilson.

However, Wilson’s response makes little sense. If the University retains a staff member for 5 or 10 years, it’s obvious their performance is acceptable. The contract the union has proposed mirrors a contract approved for the University’s Chicago campus. It seems illogical that a deal accepted by the administration at UIC cannot be accepted here

Certainly, this is not an ideal situation for students in the short term. We miss out on a few days of classes at a critical time during the semester. That said, in the long run this strike is definitely in our interest. As I said previously, non-tenured faculty members enjoying job security allows them to be more engaged with course material and the students they are teaching.

Keeping this in mind, I would urge all of my fellow students to not cross picket lines this week. I would hesitate to call this institution great when it treats as disposable many of the hard-working professionals who staff its classrooms. It is a mistake for students to be angry with their professors for striking when the University has left them without many other options.

A showing of solidarity by the student body would demonstrate to the administration that the wishes of the non-tenured faculty — a more secure future and the ability to offer a better education to the student body — are also the wishes of the students.

Gabriel is a sophomore in LAS.

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