Illinois' budget woes have placed heavy constrictions on the state's higher education system, putting professors' contracts in jeopardy and portending layoffs.
The situation is nearing the boiling point at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus, where yesterday a fourth faculty union voted to authorize a strike at any time if the university does not rejoin the bargaining table. The campus, which enrolls 20,000 full- and part-time students, is located two hours southeast of St. Louis.
WISU, the university's public broadcasting radio station, reports that 83 percent of SIUC's Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association voted yesterday to authorize a teacher walkout, putting the union in line with its three sister organizations, including the SIUC Faculty Association, which cast a similar vote a week ago.
In April, the cash-strapped university imposed a one-year contract on its faculty members that would allow it to lay off tenured faculty members without declaring fiscal emergency. That contract, which was quickly rejected by the faculty union, followed a year of back-and-forth negotiations that had resulted in impasse.
Shortly after the contract was imposed, the university's chancellor made a statement seeking to calm the nerves of professors, indicating that SIUC's policy was to lay off professors only in the face of fiscal exigency. But the chancellor's message seemed only to raise the skepticism of the professors, who questioned why the fiscal-exigency stipulation was purposefully kept out of the contract.
On April 28, the university's four faculty/staff unions affiliated with the National Education Association announced plans to call strike votes. Two months later, the unions filed complaints accusing the university of unfair labor practices.
In a June article by The Chronicle of Higher Education, a university spokesperson called the complaints "just part of the process," adding: "We believe we were bargaining in good faith."
But earlier this week, Randy Hughes, professor of mathematics and president of the SIUC Faculty Association, told DailyIllini.com that the potential strike is a result of "uncooperative and unproductive" negotiations for a new contract.