Labor Talks Falter as Junior University Faculty Step Up Strike

Some 10,000 faculty members protest employment conditions, which they say render them contract workers with no job security.

The strike by junior faculty members at all the universities except for the Technion and Bar-Ilan continues for the second day Monday, after talks with the Council of University Presidents broke off Sunday with no progress.

Some 10,000 junior faculty members, who are responsible for around half of the instruction hours at their respective institutions, are protesting their employment conditions, which they say render them contract workers with no job security.

junior faculty members universities strike
Moti Milrod

The Coordinating Forum of Junior Academic Staff Associations, which represents teaching assistants, research assistants, instructors, adjunct lecturers, teaching fellows, language teachers and teachers at pre-academic programs, is demanding a stop to the hiring of members on a semester-by-semester basis. It is also demanding that NIS 60 million be allocated to improve their employment terms and provide for their advancement.

Since the fall semester opened, the junior faculty has been holding strikes at the various universities, for a few hours or a day at a time. This time, they say, the strike is open-ended, and will conclude only with the signing of an agreement.

Council of University Presidents chairperson Prof. Rivka Carmi of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev sent letters to the senior faculty and students throughout the country explaining her negotiating stance: "The strike, aimed at exerting pressure, is superfluous; it will not advance the negotiations and only hurts the student population for no reason," she wrote.

In the missive to the students, Carmi wrote, "The primary the demand by the junior faculty committee to make a dramatic and impossible change in the employment of teaching fellows and their inclusion on the tenure track as part of the institutions' senior faculty, without requiring them to meet the academic standards this demands.

"Responding to this demand by the junior faculty will come at the expense of the future hiring of new faculty members, some of them students currently pursuing advanced degrees at the universities, and will significantly harm the level of future research at the universities."

A similar letter to the senior faculty said that responding to the demands would "make it impossible for the universities to deal with changing instructional needs."

Dr. Daniel Mishori, head of the junior faculty negotiating team, called Carmi's letter "as ridiculous as the way the negotiations are being handled. This manipulation basically says 'what was is what always will be, and if anyone tries to change anything it will be at the expense of the students or the senior faculty.' This is an effort to cast a wedge between the senior and junior faculty, who are meant to be natural allies.

"The primary obstacle right now is the terms of employment through these extra-budgetary programs," said Mishori. "They are stubbornly refusing to extend the employment agreements to cover these programs.

He added that he didn't see the strike ending soon.

National Students Union head Itzik Shmuli said the students support the junior faculty demands.

"The fact that they instituted a comprehensive reform [of the higher education system] and didn't take them into account is not acceptable," Shmuli said. "But we also cannot accept a situation in which students must pay the price of this ongoing dispute.

"Our demand from the academic establishment is to resolve this crisis now," he said.

The Committee of University Presidents said it had "offered the junior faculty, who already earn hundreds of shekels per hour of instruction, solutions estimated at tens of millions of shekels as well as suitable solutions to the job security issue. This strike is an unjustified flexing of muscles."