Since Long Island University locked out the roughly 400 members of the faculty union from its Brooklyn campus on August 31, printmaking professor Hilary Lorenz has not been able to ride her bicycle. It’s locked in her campus studio, to which she’s been denied access. Also held hostage in the studio are two of Lorenz’s own printing presses and a 20-year archive of her personal work.
The lockout at LIU, which began right before the start of the fall semester, marks the first time in US history that higher education faculty have been barred from campus by their employer. It came in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations, three days after the union’s contract expired. With the lockout, the administration is attempting to pressure the union, LIU Faculty Federation, into accepting a contract that would cut adjunct professors’ salaries, among other undesirable terms. Daily faculty protests and student walkouts, complete with inflatable rats, have not yet led to a solution.
For Department of Visual Arts faculty, most of whom are also working artists, the lockout has not only barred access to their classes, but also to their own private studio spaces on campus. “My first thought when I got the email about the lockout was, ‘I need to get my materials and tools out of my studio so that I can continue work on a commission for Brooklyn Bridge Park, due October first’,” Lorenz, who’s been a full-time professor at LIU since 2001, tells Hyperallergic. “Without teaching, the commission is the only [form of employment] I have going right now.” Given 48 hours notice before the lockout, she loaded up the work-in-progress in a cart and took it home, but didn’t manage to remove the rest of her studio’s contents in time.
“I’m really worried about my art archive,” Lorenz says. But her artwork, bike, and printmaking equipment are the least of her immediate worries. When the lockout began, faculty union members’ health insurance was immediately cut off. If a locked-out faculty member wanted to enroll in COBRA to remain insured through the university, it would cost $1,267 a month out of pocket, according to Lorenz — money she doesn’t have, as she’s now unemployed.
Locked-out professors are also concerned about LIU students, who are currently being taught by “scabs.” “I was rather shocked that these ‘scab’ artists did not stand with us in support,” Lorenz says. “I naively believed that most artists have a very strong social conscience and would never cross a protest line to take others’ jobs.”
Many of these replacement professors are unqualified, according to Bob Barry, the chair of the art department and a ceramics professor. “They’re assigning administrators to teach art classes,” Barry says. “I think it’s fraud for the university to tell students that they’re going to get qualified experts as teachers and then not provide that.” Barry’s ceramics class is being taught by an administrator in the research grants department. The Administrative Assistant to the Dean of Pharmacy at LIU — who has a masters degree in International Policy Studies and no art background — is teaching drawing and painting. “One student said they went into class and the person [filling in] just read to them,” says Susan Ziegler, a locked-out adjunct art professor.
Locked-out professors have also accused the administration and replacement teachers of intellectual property theft. “The administration has stolen the locked-out professors’ syllabi, taken our names off them, and given them to students and replacement teachers,” Barry says. “I think that’s really wrong.”
The replacement currently filling in for Lorenz, teaching Introduction to Printmaking, spoke of the difficulty of finding a decent art teaching job in New York City. “I applied for teaching job at LIU because I was looking for more sustainable income, and teaching art is often [the] best job you can have as a practicing artist,” says the replacement instructor, who spoke to Hyperallergic via email on condition of anonymity. Apparently, LIU was seeking replacement professors as early as July, which was when he was hired, without being informed of the contract negotiations in progress. He didn’t learn of the lockout until it was announced, but decided to take the job at LIU anyway after a brief email exchange with Lorenz. On the first day of classes, he walked through crowds of picketing professors and students to enter the campus.
“It was an awful experience, it not feel good,” he says. “But I also thought someone has to be there on the first day and discuss the situation in order to ease the transition when the actual teachers come back.”
When he was accused of being a “scab” and an “intellectual property thief” by an anonymous poster on the LIU Brooklyn Visual Arts Program’s Facebook page, “I was bit shocked,” he says. “I was in touch with the teachers right before the lockout, and we all knew that it would happen. [Professor Lorenz] knew I would use her syllabi instead of mine, because we hoped she would be back. This whole mess makes me sad and angry.”
Two weeks in, the situation at LIU Brooklyn remains unresolved. To show support for the locked out faculty, artist Anne Sherwood Pundyk postponed the September 8 opening reception for her exhibition, Unconditional Paint, at LIU Brooklyn’s Salena Gallery. Curators Fintan Boyle and Matt Freedman also postponed the opening of their show Fish Tank at the LIU Humanities Gallery. “The show sits ready, adjusted, lit, and fully installed, in its shiny glass tank — looking very beautiful when last we saw it — pining for an audience that the school’s administration brutishly denies it,” Boyle and Freedman wrote in a statement. “When a settlement commensurate with the needs of the faculty union has been reached we shall announce a revised date for a reception/opening.”
Contract negotiations between the union and LIU administration resumed today. In the meantime, while Lorenz waits for a solution, a friend has offered to let her use his studio on the Lower East Side. There, she’s working on her installation for Brooklyn Bridge Park, a linoleum block printed and cut paper installation that will be over 50 feet long.
“As a tenured professor, I never thought I’d lose my job,” Lorenz says. “Now, I’m having a midlife crisis. I’ve lived in New York for 23 years. And I’m tempted to maybe leave [if this situation is not resolved]. Maybe take it as an opportunity to do something completely different, to live somewhere more affordable. I could dedicate much more time to my studio work and not have to worry about the high price of rent. I’m giving it serious thought.”
But some of Lorenz’s colleagues are still hopeful a compromise can be reached. “I feel really committed to the students at LIU,” Ziegler says. “It’s hard for me to imagine walking away. It’s not easy finding teaching work as an artist in New York City. I hope this administration won’t fall apart and that the community and faculty can rebuild the institution.”
UPDATE, September 15, 2016, 06:40am ET: News is circulating that the lockout is now over. One professor informed us that they received the following message:
The administration will end their unprecedented lockout effective 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, September 14. We will be reunited with our students and can resume our professional lives. Our collective bargaining agreement is extended until May 31, 2017.
According to PIX11, the LIU Faculty Federation reached a contract agreement with the university administration on Wednesday night, clearing the way for professors and instructors to return to work on Thursday. The Wall Street Journal reports that the union and administration agreed to extend the recently expired faculty contract through May 31, 2017, to allow time for further negotiations with the help of a mediator.