DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The fall 2016 semester began at LIU-Brooklyn Wednesday. But the first day of classes was marred by a heated protest and rally outside the main building on campus.
The University administration locked out its faculty. The two sides have been embroiled in a contract dispute.
As of 12:01 a.m., Saturday, over 600 unionized professors have been barred from stepping foot on campus. Their email accounts have been shut down and their health insurance canceled.
LIU has hired temporary faculty to teach courses while the full-time and adjunct professors are locked out.
Wednesday morning, hundreds of faculty members picketed outside the main building. They carried signs like "Let us teach" and "We're fighting for faculty voice." A giant inflated rat, symbolizing union busting, was front and center facing Flatbush Avenue.
This is believed to be the first time an institution of higher learning has locked out it's faculty.
"It's heartbreaking we were locked out and all we want to do is be in front of our students teaching them," said Michelle Horne-Findley, who teaches in the accounting school.
Horne-Findley is also an LIU alumnus. "All we want is fairness, we're not asking for anything else that CW-Post doesn't have."
A key sticking point, faculty members say they want pay equal to what their counterparts at LIU-Post Long Island are receiving.
"This campus has to be treated fairly, we are not the stepson or stepdaughter," said Dr. Tempi Champion, Chair of the Dept. of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
Students are outraged about the lockout, blaming LIU leaders. "I feel it's a cutthroat move on behalf of our president," said student Carlina Smith.
While Wednesday's faculty protest was reserved, the student one was not.
Chants of "Students are the ones to pay when faculty gets pushed away!" and "Shame on you LIU! Shame on you!" filled the Downtown Brooklyn campus.
At one point things got heated when a group of chanting students tried to enter the main gate but was met with resistance by security. Cooler heads prevailed when the students were allowed in after showing ID. Beyond the gates, they staged a sit-in.
Students are upset about the substitute professors, saying some are unqualified and their specialities are in other courses. Adding, of the stand-in professors who are qualified, they are unprepared. The students were vocal about being in solidarity with their teachers.
Tuition at the private university is $35,000 a year.
"It's not right, it's not fair, this is not what we paid for as students we are furious we're upset and we are out here we are going to stand by our faculty 100 percent," said Grad student Sylvia Sanon.
The contract with union members expired August 31st. After failing to reach an agreement on a new deal, the university claims they anticipated a strike by the faculty so they took a preemptive move to lock them out.
Gale Haynes, LIU COO and University Counsel says the unprecedented move allows them to hire temporary professors and start classes on time.
However, just one day in, students are not happy with the substitutes.
"She took attendance and we briefly discussed the course and then we left so on paper it looks like there's someone to teach the course, but the truth is no one is actually teaching," said Sheiri Mekhaiel.
The University and union leaders go back to the bargaining table. Their next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 8th.