Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GEO pickets shut down ...

Today around 1pm GEO shut down its picket lines to announce that the UIUC had agreed to the central demand that was driving the strike: tuition waiver security. The strike is still on until the appropriate GEO body can vote, but for now the pickets are suspended.

The GEO had planned a general membership meeting this evening to hear the progress of negotiations, so we should hear a result one way or the other soon. Faculty support of various kinds - department resolutions, canceling classes, picketing, etc. - has been important to this effort, and faculty should remember what can be done together. GEO is an inspiration to us all!

Friday, November 13, 2009

To the editor:

In recent days, University of Illinois administrators and spokespeople have made statements suggesting that graduate students are threatening to go on strike because they are not being given the raise they have requested at a time when “other employees of the university did not receive any raises at all this year” ( http://www.provost.illinois.edu/geo_negotiation_notes.html) .

I believe it is important for the university community and greater public to be aware of a very different perspective. In fact, some top university administrators, including Richard Herman and Chet Gardner (who ran the now defunct Global Campus, which will never recoup the millions of dollars the university invested in it), have received extremely generous raises. It is also worth noting that even though university administrators argue that they cannot afford to pay graduate student employees a living wage, the university paid attorneys $400,000 to represent it at the panel investigating the use of clout for university admission.

The reason graduate student assistants are threatening to strike is that the university administration has failed to negotiate in good faith with the graduate student union. For example, whereas the graduate student union presented the administration with a proposal on the first day of negotiations, university administrators did not present a counter proposal until 4 days before the old contract expired, and their proposal called for a 3 year wage freeze.

Howard Berenbaum

Dear Editor...

[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.

Susan Davis

CFA helping find alternate classroom sites

In the event of a grad employee strike next week, GEO is requesting that faculty show support by canceling classes. For those who feel they cannot do that, or can only cancel some, CFA is helping find alternate venues. Arrangements depend upon date and time, class size and other needs, and availability, so we can make no guarantees. The information [here attached as a "comment"] has been sent to all CFA members, but we can also assist others.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CFA supports GEO

A strike by the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) is likely to start as early as Monday November 16 and will impact many of the classroom buildings in the heart of the University of Illinois. This is a legal strike produced by the intransigence of university negotiators over the course of seven months and by provocative actions such as the continuing threat to eliminate some tuition and fee waivers. After working for several months without a contract and facing little if any movement in negotiations, GEO has finally decided that it must strike in order to protect the interests of its members. For these reasons, the Campus Faculty Association (CFA) supports this strike. We urge our members to honor the GEO picket lines and to support the GEO in any or all of the following ways:

  1. Buttons, posters, and verbal expressions of support. (Both buttons and posters are available through the GEO and CFA office on the second floor of the University Y on Wright Street.) Please do not under-estimate these symbolic forms of support for graduate employees, undergraduate students, your fellow faculty, and administrators.
  2. Letters of support for GEO, to the DI, deans, the provost, the NG, the Board of Trustees, etc. (Please see the attached for contact information and relevant data.)
  3. Department resolutions, especially with clear statements that the department will not report on grad employee activities or retaliate in any way. Many units have already passed such resolutions.
  4. Cancel your classes, especially if they are in picketed buildings. If you feel that you cannot do this for ethical reasons, arrange to move your class to one of the venues listed on the attached sheet. (This latter option will take some advance planning.) Other options would include providing on-line postings of lecture outlines and course assignments; employing pod casts; etc. The main point would be to stop business as usual and find some way to express solidarity with the GEO in terms of your own teaching routine.
  5. Join in the picketing of your own building in order to demonstrate support and to bolster picket lines. (You can simply show up or coordinate your actions by contacting GEO).

We also have a document suitable for posting and will shortly post details regarding available off-campus spaces to hold classes, should faculty feel this is necessary.

CFA members who still have questions regarding the on-going negotiations and the long process that has precipitated this strike may find further information at the CFA Facebook site (to be linked -- we're almost done with it!) and the GEO website.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On UI "furloughs" ... that is, pay cuts

For more than 35 years now, the Campus Faculty Association (CFA) has been working in the interests of faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The past year or so has been a particularly difficult time for our campus the admissions scandal and related problems, severe budget cuts in the units with more to come, the threat of a strike by graduate employees, and now the prospect of "furloughs" (that is, pay cuts) coming in the spring semester. The union has been working on this issue through established governance bodies, publicity, and also by beginning to map out a strategy for faculty in the event of such furloughs.

This blog is intended to be a space where faculty let us know their thinking regarding this particular issue and their ideas for how to respond. In order to prepare for this threat, we ask CFA members not only to share their own thoughts about it both on this blog and on the UI site but also to pass the blogsite URL on to colleagues who might also take part in this discussion. We all hope the financial crisis will not come to this drastic measure, but it is wise to plan. Please discuss the issue of furloughs with colleagues and encourage them to take part in this planning.

Jim Barrett, History