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Teachers Push For Fair Contracts, Voice Concerns Over Quality of Education at NEIU Rally

By Igor Studenkov and Matthew Von Moss
On March 28, 2011

Students and Faculty gathered together Thursday March 17, 2011 to rally in support of the contract negotiations between NEIU labor unions and the administration. The rally began in Village Square, where supporters held signs and chanted loudly. A number of professors spoke to the crowd, urging them to stay together and remain strong.

The rally marched to the administration building chanting "What do we want? A fair contract! When do we want it? Now!" and "Union busting is disgusting." Even though the wind was strong enough to rip a poster out of one marcher's hand, the supporters went outside and didn't break their stride. The rally concluded at the steps of the library. The faculty gave encouraging words before heading to a private meeting in the library basement.

The contract negotiations have been at an impasse for almost three years, and the situation has gotten to the point where the prospect of a teacher strike is a very real possibility. The rally was organized in order to put the pressure on the administration to act before the strike becomes a reality.

A professor who wished to remain anonymous explained that the way the administration shifts the workload for the non-tenured professors is unfair and unbalanced. He explained that they do not offer adequate compensation for instructors as well as other staff. The non-tenured professors have not been receiving as many credits per class as tenured professors, nor have their salaries been increased to keep up with the workload. The faculty hopes to end this discrepancy. As Dr. Mary Joe Readey, one of the speakers at the rally, explained, NEIU President Hahs and Provost Frank refused to take the faculty's position into consideration and insist on "stonewalling" negotiations. While many administrators are willing to negotiate, it is a few "high ranking" members who are behind the refusal to see fair negation take place. Many in attendance voiced displeasure in the leadership of Hahs for either ignoring critical issues or relying on committees to resolve critical problems. According to the professors, those committees only meet 1-2 times a month, and the meetings usually end without resolving the issues. Finally, some professors at the rally pointed out that the "high-ranking" administrators want to raise the administrative salaries and keep the faculty salaries frozen. The entire faculty hoped that the administration would be willing to listen to their position and move towards a fairer contract.

The contract negotiations are not exclusively the concern for professors. Supporters at the rally made it clear that the outcome of the contract negotiations has a direct effect on the students. NEIU student Kevin Brown insisted that the issue affects the quality of education that the professors can provide. If they are stuck with increased workload without the salary increase, they would not have the incentive to adequately address the students' needs. Jessica Holdsman and Erin Vandemore were even more blunt, insisting the teachers got "screwed over" and, indirectly, so did they. Another student said that if the teachers wound up going on strike he would support them. While he agreed that the strike would negatively affect students in the short term, he insisted that the quality of the education he receives at NEIU is far more important.

As the contract negotiations enter a critical phase, the faculty and staff show no sign of backing down from their positions. Dr. Readey evoked the memory of Ronald Williams, the NEIU president for whom the library was named after. She described how Williams worked to improve the university even though it was perceived as a "minority," lower-echelon school. Quality of education was his legacy, and Dr. Readey and the other members of the faculty are determined to preserve it.

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