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UIC students confront a third day of canceled classes as faculty strike continues

A group holds up white signs
Faculty and supporters hold signs during a strike at the University of Illinois Chicago on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023, the first day of the walkout. The UIC Faculty United union is demanding higher salaries, mental health support for students and improved job security. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Students at the University of Illinois Chicago who just started their winter semester are facing a third day of canceled classes on Thursday as many instructors continue to strike.

Talks between members of the faculty union and administrators failed to yield a contract agreement during bargaining Wednesday. The two sides have been at the table for nine months. The union said no additional bargaining sessions have been scheduled.

UIC’s 900-member faculty union is pushing for higher minimum salaries and more investment in student mental health services. Administrators have said they are limited by tuition revenue and state funding.

The work stoppage has students like Makayla Hamilton scrambling to learn course material on their own. The junior is studying math and computer science and said she’s been asking classmates and teaching assistants for help. She’s also tried YouTube and Khan Academy videos.

“I’m worried about my grades, especially this first exam that’s going to be coming up next month,” said Hamilton, who was hanging out at the UIC student center on Wednesday. “Since we just got into our material, I’m worried that I won’t be able to do everything that’s on the exam.”

Makayla Hamilton is a junior majoring in computer science and math at UIC. Since the strike began she’s been watching YouTube and Khan Academy videos to try to learn her course material on her own. Lisa Philip / WBEZ

Hamilton is one of nearly 22,000 undergraduates enrolled at UIC. One in three are first-generation college students.

Hamilton said she values the teaching experience her professors bring to the classroom.

“So I kind of need them to come back soon,” she said.

Sam Phillips agrees. The freshman psychology major was out picketing on the first day of the strike in support of faculty. The Near West Side campus has been busy with faculty picketing and rallies.

“I hope it doesn’t go on too long,” Phillips said as she took a break from demonstrating to eat a doughnut. “But we’re willing to stick it out with our teachers and professors, however long it takes.”

Phillips grew up outside of Aurora and sometimes saw teachers there working the same part-time gig she worked as a high school student. She said educators in general, and especially her professors at UIC, need to be paid more.

“Our teachers are going to do a better job if … they have enough money to be able to put their time into it,” she said.

Phillips, who has been diagnosed with depression and a learning disability, said she appreciates how the faculty is advocating not only for higher pay, but also for increased student access to mental health services.

“That’s the kind of stuff I personally need … to even be here at a university,” she said.

The faculty’s focus on student mental health is big for sophomore Andre Reynolds, too. The business management major said the faculty is right to fight for UIC students to get the same mental health services provided to University of Illinois Urbana Champaign students, specifically free neuropsychological tests for struggling students for conditions like ADHD, autism and depression.

“I think that’s crucial, especially in today’s environment, where going into the real world is really stressful, and a lot of students aren’t necessarily prepared and are struggling with things mentally,” Reynolds said. “And at the end of the day, if you’re fighting battles mentally, you’re not going to be able to put out your best self and present your best self into the real world.”

Reynolds, who just started his first semester at UIC, said he hopes the union and administrators come to an agreement soon so he can get back to class.

“It’s making things a little bit difficult, just because we’re having to learn all this content on our own and not really getting any review,” he said. “But there have to be sacrifices made for progress to be made as well.”

Lisa Philip covers higher education for WBEZ, in partnership with Open Campus. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @LAPhilip.