[Submitted to the News-Gazette this morning by one of our Executive Committee members - ed.]
As a member of the Campus Faculty Association at the University of Illinois I support the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) and their strike for a better contract:
In recent years we've heard a lot from the U. of I. administration about their goal of creating better jobs for Illinois. Now, in the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, University leaders seem committed to lowering the wages and working conditions of some of their hardest-working employees. Despite the administration's sketchy figures, most graduate teaching assistants make below the university's own minimal figures for what it costs to live in Champaign or Urbana. Good jobs for Illinois?
The University has been starved for state funds for more than a decade. Staffing has been reduced, buildings neglected, equipment is out of date and there are not enough janitors to clean the classrooms properly. Students sit in classrooms with broken furniture and trash on the floor. Most faculty members work more than 60 hours a week, and we are about to be told to take unpaid furlough days. Meanwhile, the administration pours millions into public relations, consulting firms, stadium sky-boxes, bonuses for disgraced administrators and ill-advised gambles like the Global Campus.
Driving down the wages and raising the tuition of the teaching assistants, who provide nearly a quarter of instruction to U of I undergraduates, might make for a good corporate bottom line -- but is not going to encourage the state legislature to better fund the University. It's not going to improve undergraduate education, or draw excellent graduate students to Illinois.