DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The fall semester at the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University begins Wednesday against the backdrop of a contract dispute between the university administration and the unionized faculty.
"It's the first time in history that an institution of higher learning is taking the unprecedented act of aggression and locked it's faculty out," said Dr. Jessica Rosenberg, an LIU professor and the president of the Long Island University Faculty Federation.
On Tuesday afternoon, the union unanimously voted down the university's best and final offer.
There were 226 no votes and only 10 for the contract for a 96 percent opposition rate.
The university says they were anticipating a strike by faculty members, so they triggered the lockout. They maintain it was a preemptive move in order to start class on time by hiring temporary teachers.
The 8,000 enrolled students are upset about the disruption and confusion. They feel they're caught in the middle.
"They just assured us somebody will be there, not actually telling us if they're qualified if they've taught at other universities they're just saying show up to class," said junior Bryanna Black.
"It's a little frustrating for me I'm taking 23 credits so all these classes will be filled by people I don't know are qualified or not," adds pre-med student David Goyette.
But Gale Haynes, LIU COO and University Counsel, assures students the substitutes are capable.
"There is anxiety from students but we have a staffing plan we've been working on in the last few weeks. Qualified, credible faculty members will be in place," said Hayes.
The existing contract expired August 31st. As of 12:01 a.m., Saturday, 236 full time and 400 adjunct professors have been barred from stepping foot on campus.
"We've always wanted to teach, we continue to want to teach, we hope to be back in the classroom. But we won't accept an administration that treats us like we can be discarded and replaced," said Dr. Rosenberg.
Union members say a key sticking point is the disparity in pay between faculty at the Brooklyn campus and those at LIU-Post on Long Island.
"They're looking to eliminate the parity clause. We see this as a whole package that in it's essence, is an attack on education," said Dr. Rosenberg.
But the school says over the years, they've issued fair pay raises and the fault lies with how the union distributed the increases.
"The University has provided the same base wage increases across it's Long Island University system," said Haynes. "Each union has had the ability to distribute that wage increase in the manner they felt addressed their best and highest needs."
Students just want to get on with the school year. Many blame the contract mess squarely on university officials.
They tell PIX11 each credit costs $1,300 and it's a $35,000 a year tuition.
"It's definitely not money well spent because no one is communicating with us and they don't think about how it affects us individually," said Bryanna Black.
The two sides have plans to meet again Thursday and hope to get back to the table in good faith.
"As for me personally, I will not be showing up to classes because I agree with my professors," adds Black.
Many of the students PIX11 spoke with are standing in solidarity with the faculty. So much so they're planning a rally outside the Main Building Wednesday morning on the first day of classes.