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Hundreds of teachers, students and other supporters picketed the University of Illinois’ at Chicago campus Tuesday as part of a two-day strike called by UIC United Faculty, the union representing more than 1,100 tenured and nontenured faculty members.
The walkout, which featured teachers and their supporters picketing and distributing flyers in front of campus buildings for much of the day, is the first to take place at the university. Despite more than 60 bargaining sessions over 18 months—which were joined by a federal mediator in November—the administration and UICUF has not been able to come to an agreement.
“State universities have been turned into businesses, business corporations with a focus only on the bottom line,” said UICUF's President Joe Persky. “This must change. A university must devote its resources to guaranteeing our student body a first class education every bit as good as Champaign-Urbana.”
Faculty at UIC are striking to demand an increase in wages for both tenured and nontenured professors, as well as multi-year contracts and “control of governance and curriculum.”
Inside the historic Jane Adams Hull-House (which was turned into a temporary center for the striking teachers) Patricia O’Brien, a teacher in the college of social work said:
“I feel there’s no other way the administration will take us seriously. Our respect, our concerns, that our both for retaining solid faculty for excellence and teaching our students. What we have seen in the last few years is increasing numbers of students who are enrolled here, increasing tuition, while the value of how we are compensated has dropped almost proportionally to the increase in tuition.”
O’Brien was among scores of faculty and their supporters who passed through the strike center where dozens were gathered at any given time making signs, having a quick snack or briefly warming up. For O'Brien—a tenured teacher—the strike was less about a more salary and more about respect and a stronger voice.
“We are asked to continue to make sacrifices in terms of not getting raises and not being considered as having a voice within our university governance,” she said. “It’s not so much about a number as it is about governance and about being fully respected for the work that we do.”
Students also came out in support of their striking teachers. Speaking at a large afternoon rally in the quad, "Dana," an undergraduate majoring in biology and psychology said:
“Would I be standing here if it wasn't for my professors? How come my professors are getting paid less than McDonald's managers? I'm sure you all know the university has been making $250 million in profit every year for the past four years. Why can't just five percent of that go to our professors?”
She also criticized the $1 million the university spent on a house for its chancellor. The Chicago Tribune reported in October than it costs the university $100,000 a year to maintain the house, meant to be used to host university functions, though is rar ely used for that purpose. For students like Dana, that’s money that could be going to other resources.
For John Casey, any increase in wages would mean a lot. Casey, an English teacher with a PhD said yesterday he makes $30,000 a year before taxes. “If you're in my position and you're working just this one job, you find yourself with about $100 dollars a month to pay the bills.”
Faculty and their supporters plan to picket throughout the school through the afternoon. Another bargaining session is scheduled for Friday.