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Thursday, May 11, 2017 12:01 am

UIS strike ends

 The University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and United Faculty union reached a tentative agreement on May 7, ending a five-day strike.  

A joint statement released by UIS Chancellor Susan Koch and United Faculty President Lynn Fisher expressed relief that both sides came to a resolution. “After a productive weekend of good faith negotiations, we are pleased to report that a tentative agreement between the university administration and the new UIS faculty union has been reached. The strike is over,” the statement read. “As a result of leadership on both sides and a shared commitment to progress in the interest of our students, the work stoppage that began last week will not continue. Final exams will proceed as scheduled.”

Starting May 2, professors, students and supporters gathered outside the University Hall Building on campus, protesting against the administration for failing to promote professors that the union thought deserved to be tenured. The strike came as the spring semester at UIS drew to a close, with finals week and graduation looming.

“We did not want it to come to this, but Chancellor Koch and the U of I administration forced the strike by dragging its feet and playing games at the bargaining table,” Kristi Barnwell, associate professor of History at UIS, said before the strike. “Our students deserve this to be settled and we hope that management will change course and agree to a deal that’s fair to the faculty, our students and the community.”

Dr. James Bonacum, associate professor of biology, was among the protesters. “It’s been extremely frustrating,” Bonacum said in an interview before the settlement. “I’m actually part of the bargaining committee, and I wanted to participate because I’m a big believer that unions and the administration should work together for the greater good of the university.”

However, Bonacum recalled occasions where the administration refused to compromise with the union. “We would ask the administration to take our proposals and cross out what they don’t like and substitute their language, and they said they were going to do it, but rarely did they ever do it,” he said. “It was so frustrating that after a year, we requested a mediator to come in and facilitate the process.”    

Derek Schnapp, UIS director of public relations, in a press release denied that the administration was trying to eliminate tenure or change the promotion process through the negotiations.

“There is absolutely no intent on the part of the University of Illinois administration or the UIS administration to undermine or change the current robust tenure and promotion process,” Schnapp said before the settlement. “The union’s position to date during negotiations has been that the Faculty Personal Policy (FPP) must be part of the union contract. The university’s position is that the FPP, while not included in the union contract, will continue to stand within the policies and procedures of the university and within the current structure of shared governance.”

Lizzie Roehrs, a sophomore at UIS, joined the demonstrators in solidarity. “I wanted to support UIS professors because they have given a lot to me and they deserve a fair contract,” Roehrs said.  “If the administration didn’t undermine the current process, they should’ve given professors a fair contract in the first place.”

Roehrs said that she had concerns as a student with finals this week, but added that the well-being of her professors was just as significant. “As a student, my grades are important to me, but teachers’ rights are as equally vital as my education. That said, this strike didn’t undermine any of my grades.”

Alex Camp is an editorial intern for Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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