Solidarity to Save Jobs

At Eastern Illinois, a faculty union that includes tenured and tenure-track professors agrees to extend a contract and put off a raise to save the positions of 29 people who teach off the tenure track.

August 6, 2015

At Eastern Illinois University, tenured and tenure-track faculty are stepping up in the midst of a budget crunch to help those not on the tenure track keep their jobs.

Unionized faculty members at the state institution have agreed to extend their contract for one year, delaying a 1.5 percent across-the-board raise, for which they had already negotiated. Those funds will be used to save the jobs of 29 annually contracted faculty, whose letters of intent for the upcoming semester were rescinded last month.

Now those faculty members will be able to teach for at least one semester. All faculty at the university are represented by the University Professionals of Illinois, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

On many campuses hit with deep budget cuts, adjuncts have had their jobs eliminated. It appears that Eastern Illinois would have been no exception, but for the union vote.

Jonathan Blitz, the president of the Eastern Illinois chapter, said those faculty members received notice that they would not be teaching in the fall around July 10, with not enough time to secure new positions somewhere else for August. Of the affected faculty, 26 would not have returned to teach at all. Three would have seen their course loads cut in half.

Blitz said the university has a new president, David Glassman, who is taking on a difficult financial situation during his first year in office. Funding for higher education in Illinois has been cut severely over the past few years and significant drops in enrollment have also dealt a blow to Eastern Illinois’s finances.

Blitz said that faculty members were more than willing to give up the pay raise if it meant saving the annual contract positions and that roughly 80 percent voted in favor of extending the contract and delaying the raise.

“When I approached the president with this, he looked at me and said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You’re going to get strung out,’” Blitz said. “I told him it wouldn’t likely be a problem.”

Blitz also noted that this was the new president’s first experience working with a unionized faculty and he was “very pleased” that they were able to negotiate an agreement. Glassman was previously provost and vice president for academic affairs at Bradley University in Illinois.

Glassman announced the agreement in a memo sent to all university employees earlier this week and praised the union’s actions to prevent the cuts to faculty positions.

“The action by EIU’s outstanding faculty and academic support professionals is a testament to their support of their colleagues and willingness to be part of the solution in the vital budget adjustments taking place on campus,” he said.

If the contract faculty had not had their letters of intent reinstated, Blitz said the union would have filed a grievance against the university. Contract faculty at Eastern Illinois typically teach a full course load, sometimes more than tenure or tenure-track faculty teach, and receive roughly the same pay per course, but they lack job security.

These faculty cuts were among several reductions happening across the university, although tenured and tenure-track faculty have not yet been impacted. Administrators and staff in several departments have already been laid off and those working in civil service are anticipating cuts as well.

Ann Brownson, a reference librarian at Eastern Illinois and a representative to the University Professionals of Illinois House of Delegates, called state funding in Illinois “a mess” but said she was happy that the contract positions weren’t eliminated. Her position is considered to be tenure track.

“I think we feel really positive about what we did,” she said. “It’s what a union is really about -- we take care of each other and stand up for each other.”


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