The Open University... is closed for now

OU's first institution-wide strike aimed at improving working conditions for junior faculty; management calls decision premature.

open university 88 (photo credit: )
open university 88
(photo credit: )
The Open University in Ra'anana - the country's largest university in terms of enrollment - was indefinitely closed on Sunday, after the academic staff went on strike following a four month long labor dispute over working conditions. This is the first time an institution-wide strike has been held at the university, in which some 40,000 students are enrolled. The dispute is centered around continued attempts to gain improved working conditions for the university's junior faculty members, whose demands are based on a collective agreement similar to those which their counterparts at other universities and colleges have acquired. The strike, which is being undertaken by the entire academic staff, is aimed at changing employment patterns that may be harmful to workers into a foundation for fair labor conditions through a collective agreement, as was done six months ago at all the other universities in Israel, except for the Technion Institute in Haifa, according to Yaniv Bar-Ilan of the Koach Le'Ovdim (power to the workers) association, who organized the strike. "It is unacceptable that throughout the entire semester, a lecturer at the university doesn't know whether he will be employed the following semester," Bar-Ilan told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "If we're talking about a university, that calls itself, and is registered as, one of the country's official universities, why wouldn't they give their staff the same opportunities made available at other universities?" Even with the university's high enrollment, the institution only employs 70 full-time instructors. The rest of the teaching staff - roughly 1,300 people - are categorized simply as "instructors." These staff members are in effect dismissed after each semester and forced to renew their contracts at the start of every new semester, making any sort of job stability nonexistent. But Bar-Ilan told the Post that despite their seemingly-transient status at the university, the junior faculty did all of the actual teaching. "Listen, I'm not saying that the senior staff isn't important - they are, they do a lot of work," he said. "But the junior faculty does all of the teaching, and they're not guaranteed any stability, it's absurd." "Even on our pay slips, we were listed as 'others,'" Bar-Ilan, who is also a member of the junior faculty, continued. "But we were patient in our dealings with the university management, and we only took the step of striking when we saw that nothing significant was coming out of the negotiations. It's not like we woke up in the morning and just went on strike." The Open University has 50 branches throughout the country, and during this year's first semester, the junior faculty held strikes at three of the university's learning centers. On Sunday, the teachers' union decided to step up their efforts and declare a university-wide strike. "At this point, we feel that this is the only way to get things done," Bar-Ilan said. Bar-Ilan also accused the university management of sending out erroneous messages to the student body, informing them that classes were in fact being held at a number of university branches throughout the country when in fact they were not. "To our sorrow, it seems like the management is just trying to confuse people," Bar-Ilan said. "But if students want to know what's really going on with the strike, they can go to our Web site and check for updates." Still, university management on Sunday complained that the strike was premature, as negotiations between the junior faculty and the university had yet to be completed. "I don't see any reason for instructors' representatives taking organized action before negotiations have been completed," said Yossi Maori, the university's human resources manager. "And certainly not at the expense of the students."