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Professors at University of Illinois Springfield Go on Strike

NPR Illinois WUIS
UIS professors take to the picket line

Nearly 170 tenure and tenure-track professors at the University of Illinois Springfield went on strike Tuesday.

The school and the UIS United Faculty union have been  trying to work out a contract for 20 months. While salaries have been part of the discussion, the sticking points include issues of promotion and tenure. 

"We did not want it to come to this, but Chancellor Koch and the U of I administration forced the strike by dragging its feet and playing games at the bargaining table," said Kristi Barnwell, a History professor at UIS. "Our students deserve this to be settled and we hope that management will change course and agree to a deal that's fair to the faculty, our students, and the community."

Hear an interview with Lynn Fisher, president of UIS United Faculty.

Around 40 professors, union supporters and students began picketing Tuesday morning by marching and chanting in front of University Hall.

It was easy to spot Richard Funderburg as an academic. White-haired and wearing a tweedy blazer, the public administration professor carried a hand-written sign that read, "I'd Rather Be Teaching" as he marched with dozens of colleagues, union supporters, and some students in front of University Hall.

"I'm out here in support of the union for a fair contract. As an assistant professor going up for tenure, we have grave concerns about job security in the future, and we're fighting for our right to be protected by the union just as other universities are,” Funderburg said.

The tenure process has become a sticking point in negotiations, with the administration insisting it should not be part of the contract and faculty insisting that it should.

Lynn Fisher, a professor of sociology and anthropology, and president of the union, says the University of Illinois has a history of resisting such demands.

"So what we're looking at is the third strike at the U of I — the third faculty strike in four years including 2014 University of Illinois Chicago, 2016 University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and now University of Illinois Springfield.."

Back when it was called Sangamon State University, the Springfield campus had a faculty union. But since joining the University of Illinois system in the mid-1990s, professors have been without a bargaining unit. For almost two years, they’ve been at the bargaining table with the administration. A strike was authorized in April, although no date was set at that time.

UIS Spokesman Derek Schnapp responded to the strike in a prepared statement, "This is disappointing, but progress is being made in negotiations, and our campus will carry on in pursuit of our core mission. Students are at the forefront of all we do, so the work to reach a satisfactory agreement must continue.”

The next negotiating session is set for Friday.

In the meantime, the university is telling students to attend class. If a professor is not there, students are being asked to wait 15 minutes before leaving.  Those who are teach but are not part of the union are still expected to come to work.   Students are told to direct questions to their instructor or the academic department.