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Students face uncertainty, join faculty on strike at Eastern Illinois University

Eastern Illinois University mental health master's students Natalie Roberson (second from right) and Amina Feder (right) urge drivers to honk in support of the faculty and staff strike on Monday, April 10.

CHARLESTON – Campus is quiet except for the sounds of picketers.

Most classes have been on hold at Eastern Illinois University while faculty and staff strike for better wages and hours — alongside faculty at two other public universities in the state.

“We love the professors in our department,” said student Natalie Roberson. “They tell us to take care of ourselves. And we want them to take care of themselves the same.”

Roberson is finishing the second year of a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. While anxious about the strike affecting her upcoming graduation date, she decided to protest with her professors.

She said her professors posted assignments and virtual activities so she can keep up with the curriculum.

“Who isn’t a little worried about how long this will go? Not only for [faculty and staff] health and safety, but we want to know when we’re going to graduate and is it going to happen?” Roberson said.

“But we have hope that as long as they’re fighting out here and being strong that the admin will hopefully, hopefully have to concede.”

Strike continues after Friday negotiations

The Eastern Illinois University chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois, Local 4100 (affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO) went on strike on Thursday after over a year of negotiating a new contract. The union represents 450 faculty members, counselors, lab coordinators and other support staff.

The union and administration spent all day Friday negotiating. According to an emailed statement, the administration felt it was a day of progress.

“We had a very productive session and resolved six non-economic issues during the course of the long day of bargaining. We look forward to our next meeting on Tuesday to make even further progress with the goal of reaching a mutually fair agreement between the university and our UPI partners as soon as possible,” the statement said.

EIU President David Glassman issued an additional statement on Monday about why administrators feel they can’t provide UPI members with the raises they have requested. He wrote the university has to balance providing some kind of raise with adding more staff members, fixing roofs and providing financial aid. 

The next bargaining session is scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m.

Some classes canceled, others carry on

Senior Anna Hone is on her way to the picket line.

Four of Anna Hone’s five classes have been canceled during the strike.

Hone is a senior majoring in hospitality and tourism. She supports the strike and thinks the faculty and staff demands are justified.

She said three professors used to staff her department. Of the two left, one is currently on sabbatical.

“The one professor has been taking on all the classes, and I can tell that it’s really been hard for her,” Hone said.

Business master’s student Emmanuel Ofori-Dankwah is on his way to class. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

Business master’s student Emmanuel Ofori-Dankwah was on his way to class. All three of his classes have met during the strike. One of his teachers even scheduled a pop quiz for Monday.

He is worried for his friends, though.

“This strike is going to shift things backwards, or is going to affect the course load or what we have to cover for the semester. So I don’t think it’s a good thing for us students,” Ofori-Dankwah.

He said he hopes faculty get their needs met.

Faculty demand better wages, hours

Business Associate Professor Tina Wang (right) marches with her five-year-old daughter.

Business Associate Professor Tina Wang brought her five-year-old daughter to the picket line on Monday. She is striking for better wages and hours for herself and her coworkers.

“We have lost some positions and don’t have replacements, so we are doing more service work,” Wang said.

History Assistant Professor Alonzo Ward leads chants at the picket line. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

Assistant Professor Alonzo Ward has been teaching history at Eastern for a year and a half. He says while he joined too recently to see much change, he doesn’t want the new contract to codify a larger workload.

“They’re actually trying to increase our workload with a new contract. And without giving us any type of substantial raise. We’re looking to keep pace with the economy that’s increased about 7% at least,” Ward said.

Before he went on strike, he emailed his students what assignments would be due when he returns.

As for when the strike will end?

“That’s the gazillion dollar question. Man, it would be great if this wrapped up before this week was out,” Ward said.

Negotiations resume on Tuesday afternoon.

Chicago State University faculty and staff have been on strike since April 3. Their peers at Governors State University in the south Chicago suburb of University Park plan to strike starting Tuesday. Strikes are also taking place at other universities across the country, including the Big Ten schools of Rutgers and the University of Michigan. 

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter@amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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