Given my distinguished colleague’s recent post, I thought it might be instructive to take a look at what one of our sister universities has done to combat draconian course cuts. At Northeastern Illinois University, a number of adjunct faculty are taking—at great risk to themselves—a leading role in both organizing efforts and mobilizing students to protest arbitrary and capricious course cancellations by their administration. Much of what follows will be familiar to Chicago State students and faculty.
Last November, Northeastern Illinois students, faculty and staff sent the following letter to their administration and Board of Trustees:
"Board of Trustees, firstname.lastname@example.org
Office of the Ombudsman, Bradley R. Ginn, J.D. email@example.com
Northeastern Illinois University
5500 North Saint Louis Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
Dear Board of Trustees Office and the Ombudsman of Northeastern Illinois University:
The Provost of NEIU, Richard Helldobler, attempts to justify his policy of cancelling selected course enrollments early in the registration process by claiming that “only” about 45% of our students work. As a consequence, he says that NEIU need not offer a wide range of courses at a wide array of times. This “enrollment strategy” strikes at the very heart of the university, forcing our core constituency of mature, working, non-traditional students to go elsewhere. The Provost’s policy has led to an enrollment decrease of 5%, thus far.
Moreover, this cancellation policy has disrupted teaching assignments already agreed to by scores of full- and part-time Instructors, and placed undue financial hardship on their families. Because of the Affordable Care Act, the university is threatening faculty, staff, and work study students with termination if they work over 28 hours per week, since that would require NEIU to cover healthcare costs that the administration claims it cannot afford. Meanwhile, NEIU President Hahs earns about $330,000; top administrator salaries average $185,000, and NEIU has added 16 new administrators since 2002.
The Board of Trustees has stamped their approval on this campaign, fundamentally changing the mission of our university: a commuter state school originally created to educate students from area neighborhoods and suburbs, empowering and encouraging those students to return to their communities upon graduation.
Many instructors are graduates of NEIU who have returned to give back to our students what we ourselves received from our teachers before us. Just because we may not have tenure does not mean we are not valuable members of the university, or that we are not part of that same university which has provided so much for our graduates. Why do you think Northeastern ranks with Harvard, Princeton, MIT and Stanford in Newsweek’s Top Ten best investments? Instructors have made important working connections in area schools, businesses, law offices, and state and local governmental agencies.
We are asking you, the Board of Trustees, to end enrollment strategies that hurt teachers and students, and to keep courses open as long as possible and, more importantly, reinvest in the instruction of our students by creating better and more secure working conditions for the instructors at Northeastern Illinois University. We look to you as the stewards of this great university to remain true to our vision and mission."
The persons spearheading this effort to get another unresponsive university board to listen to their concerns delivered at least 95 signed letters to their Board of Trustees. According to one of NEIU’s faculty members, “the word is they were disposed of and they were never read,” although the Ombudsman apparently responded to those tenured and tenure-track faculty who provided e-mail addresses along with their signatures.
In addition to these efforts, NEIU faculty surveyed students about their views on the Fall course cancellations. More than 200 students responded and their comments paint a portrait of a university administration operating with scant regard for the needs of students, a practice that mirrors what happens here at Chicago State.
It is up to us, working collectively, to save our institution. In that spirit, I invite students, staff and faculty to express their thoughts on this year’s course cancellations here at Chicago State. If you wish to respond, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com. As always, the identity of respondents will be held in strictest confidence.
Also, if you are interested in the goings-on at NEIU, I will be happy to put you in touch with someone on that campus. Here's a photo taken of three of the persons who delivered the letters to the NEIU Board. Anyone look familiar?: