Hundreds of University of Illinois at Chicago faculty members began striking Tuesday to demand pay raises and protest a failure to reach an agreement with the administration on a contract.
Joe Persky, president of the 1,200-member University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty union, said the school is refusing to pay professors what they're worth, despite higher tuition and a big reserve fund. He said the university and union bargained all weekend, but the union concluded its core demands won't be met without the walkout, which is set to continue Wednesday.
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"They take more of our students' tuition money, and even with hundreds of millions in profits each year and more than a billion dollars in reserves, they refuse to pay professors what they're worth," Persky said.
Persky, an economics professor, said the 70 or so nontenured, full-time lecturers who earn a $30,000 annual minimum deserve a $45,000 minimum. He said the university is offering to boost pay to the mid-$30,000s, beginning in the next academic year. The union is also seeking a 4.5 percent merit pay increase for the current academic year.
Persky said the administration is offering a 3.25 percent pay increase for the current academic year, with no guarantees for future years. Some of the other unresolved issues in the contract include better classroom conditions, merit-based promotions and compensation, and a living wage for nontenured faculty.
UIC Provost Lon Kaufman said the university isn't in a position to increase again to meet the faculty's demands.
"We don't know the future of the state and its budget," he said. "We can't raise tuition any higher than we already have, even in the face of budget cuts."
English professor Virginia Costello said she has taught at UIC for seven years and despite her Ph.D. earns the minimum $30,000 salary for nontenured faculty.
"It's embarrassing, quite frankly, and in one sense this strike is a little bit of a relief, because now it's out in the open," she said.
UIC lecturer John Casey said if he weren't constantly worried about money, he'd be a better teacher.
"They're receiving a good education, but they are not getting as much of my attention as they would if I were earning enough to not have to worry about, 'Can I pay the bills at the end of the month, or do I need to take on another job?"' said Casey, who teaches writing.
Many students expressed support for the faculty walkout.
Industrial design major Nick Greenen said he was "a little irritated" by the strike, adding that his art history professor spent 10 minutes of class time explaining the dispute.
"I was kind of thinking, 'OK, I'm here to learn,' but I still support (the strike)," Greenen told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Persky said the walkout will continue Wednesday, with both sides expected to resume talks Friday.