Monday, October 31, 2011

Introducing Our New Blog Editor, Inger Stole

We are introducing a new blog editor, Inger Stole, who will be collaborating with Susan Davis in keeping us posted with CFA news.

Inger is a member of the CFA Communications Committee, and she not only has great ideas for writing about working and learning conditions at UIUC, but she’ll be doing interviews with faculty at unionized campuses.

Inger is Associate Professor of Communication at UIUC, and she is an expert on the history of advertising, war-time propaganda, and consumer culture. Welcome, Inger.

My past few days have been spent in the academic blogosphere where good news is a rarity, at best. Tales of expanded workloads, shrinking benefits, expanded class sizes, and elimination of “cost inefficient” courses and programs seem to dominate the discourse. All of these issues seem inter-linked in a race to the bottom for our working conditions and our students’ learning experiences. Demanding work conditions and stresses that traditionally have been part of adjunct professors’ burden are now trickling up to assistant professors. Those in more established careers have been less affected by the new “austerity measures” but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that tenure is a protection against future administrative quests for efficiency.

It is true that in Illinois, with its grievous economic situation, we never seem to be able to offset the dwindling income from state and federal sources. The administration is eager to show the Board of Trustees and Springfield that it CAN cut its way to a leaner University. The question is for whom and for what purpose. Programs that are less attractive to outside corporate funders are particularly affected by the ongoing “austerity measures” while the administration itself seems to have missed (or not read) its own memo about saving money.

As faculty members emphasized at the recent meeting with the President and Chancellor, many are frustrated by the lack of fiscal and decision-making transparency. We can only guess about the administration’s ultimate goals, but it looks as if the tough economic times have given it a golden opportunity to change the university’s future in much more privatized, corporate direction. Surely I am not alone is having noticed that no one from the administration promises better times, improved benefits, and better working conditions once the “economic crisis” is over. As Norman Denzin said at the faculty meeting, the administration offers no vision or dream for the public university, no big idea we can hang on to about education’s role in a good society. But I think we the faculty can offer one.

Only faculty, be they tenure track or non-tenure track, know what it is like to teach at this university. We are the closest to the students and their learning experience. It is up to us to push the academic administration to join a dialogue about public higher education and its future.

So, I hope this blog can be a place of meaningful discussion about learning and working at the UIUC, and what we can do to improve it. Techno-fixes in the form of “I-clickers” and other ways of digitally managing students are not the answer. Neither do we need to commission new (and costly) image campaigns. The people of Illinois already hold their public university in high esteem. Thus, we need to protect the institution and improve it through our own ways of taking back responsibility for its shape and direction, and make it financially affordable for students to attend.

What is happening in your school or department? What does that mean to your students? How would you improve it? What are you doing in the classroom or laboratory or community that helps your students learn, rather than merely pass assessments?

And specifically, I want to ask: what difference a union would make to faculty at all levels, and to the University as a whole?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Illinois Education Labor Relations Board Refuses UI's Application for a Stay

Big News from Chicago!

The Illinois Education Labor Relations Board (IELRB) last week refused the UI Administration’s request for a stay in collective bargaining and contract negotiations with UIC Faculty United, the Chicago campus union that was certified last spring.

The board wrote:

We find that granting a stay in this case would be contrary to the public policy that supports a duty to bargain. In addition, we find that there is not a reasonable likelihood that the Employer will succeed on the merits. Therefore, the Employer has not shown “good cause” for granting a stay.

Congratulations to all who are plugging away for a contract that includes tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty! This is really good news. There is a duty to bargain.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What's Wrong with this Picture?

"What's Wrong with this Picture?" is one in a continuing series of posts about academic life. Here, from Claire Potter's wonderful blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education, is a description of the work life of a new, tenure track professor...somewhere in Missouri, we think. What's wrong with this picture?

It was my dream to get a tenure-track job. However, I am only in my second year in a humanities department and my dream has become a nightmare. The semester is not even half over and I am exhausted. My classes are over enrolled by about fifteen students. I am behind on my grading: last week my students asked when they would get their papers back and I heard myself saying that I had left them on a bus and that the Transit Authority Lost and Found was closed for Rosh Hashanah. I barely have time to review the reading I have assigned my students. Confession? Sometimes I don’t even read it.

Every time I think I have protected a little free time someone schedules a meeting: worse, our university now uses Meeting Maker, so I get an email informing me that a meeting has already been scheduled and I am expected to attend. Not infrequently, I have already made a plan for that time — seeing a students, meeting with a colleague — and that something has to be rescheduled into whatever diminishing time is left in the week.

I don’t have time to go to the gym, or to pack my own lunch — two things I swore I would do this fall to maintain my mental health and not gain back the weight I lost over the summer. I see talks and events come and go and don’t do any of them because I am already scheduled to do something else or I am so tired all I want to do is go home. Worse, I have so much to do that I am not sleeping well and I forget things constantly. Keeping up with my writing? Ha! I have deadlines coming due that I can’t even imagine I will keep.

My partner, who moved with me so I could take this job, seems to think I’m not much fun either. Help!

Wow. What's wrong with this picture?

Friday at Noon

Looking forward to Harriet Murav's talk on unionization, Friday at noon. Thai food available, too!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ruin and Rebirth: Save the Date for Chris Newfield's Talk October 24

The Innovation Conspiracy: Ruin and Rebirth in the American University

A talk by Christopher Newfield

Sponsored by the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory

October 24, 2011, Levis Center, 3rd Floor, 8pm

Why is the American university system in crisis? A central reason is the financial pressure put on colleges and universities by the "innovation economy," pressure which has led to rising student debt, less personalized instruction, and growing research funding deficits. The lecture shows that the leading response at public universities to this pressure -- large tuition increases and other attempts to replace public with private funds -- has made the budget problem worse. Now that we are stuck with a failing public university funding model that no one would have designed on purpose, how do we fix it? The bulk of the talk proposes as a solution a new public purpose (and funding structure) for universities, one enabling mass access to new individual capabilities for a "post-innovation society."

Christopher Newfield is professor of English at UC Santa Barbara and author of Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle-Class (Harvard, 2008). He maintains the terrific Remaking the University blog at

He is one of the most insightful current critics of the structure and prospects of American public higher education.

For background readings by Newfield you may go to the Unit for Criticism’s website:

The event is free and open to the public.

Coming Up: CFA President Harriet Murav Speaks on Unionization

CFA President Harriet Murav will speak at the University YMCA at noon, Friday, October 14.

Her talk is titled “Verticalization and Unionization: What's Better for Education?”

Professor Murav explores “the national trend in university administrative practices, which rely on vertical models of assessment and outcomes, numerical evaluations, and other policies that fail to take into account the educational significance of face to face dialogue among students and professors, professors and their colleagues, and students with students.”

Unionization of the faculty offers the possibility of sounder ways of assessing teaching and learning in higher education, she argues.

This talk is part of the Friday Forum at the YMCA. Free and open to the public.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

GEO Wins Tuition Waiver Decision

The Campus Faculty Association congratulates the GEO on their victory preserving tuition waivers and affordable graduate education at the U of I.

CFA would like to see less money spent on avoiding contractual obligations, and more attention paid to the high-stakes hard work that grad employees do on our campus.

The following, from a GEO press release October 3, lays out the issue and the describes the independent arbitrator's decision.

"The Graduate Employees' Organization at UIUC has won a landmark arbitration ruling in a contract dispute with UIUC administrators over tuition waivers.

An independent arbitrator has ruled that an attempt by University of Illinois officials to reduce tuition waivers for some incoming graduate employees represents a clear violation of the contract between the union and the Illinois Board of Trustees.

Tuition waivers are a benefit of employment, which represent no cost to the University. Preventing reduction of tuition waivers will preserve quality of education at Illinois, organizers say, while protecting vital labor standards.

In November 2009, over 1,000 Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) members went on strike to prevent the reduction or elimination of tuition waivers for graduate employees. This was the fifth largest work stoppage in the United States in 2009. They GEO won contract language protecting tuition waivers for current and future Teaching and Graduate Assistants at UIUC.

In the Summer of 2010, the GEO learned of a policy change affecting tuition waivers for incoming graduate employees in several departments in the College of Fine and Applied Arts (FAA). Effective Fall of 2010, incoming graduate employees in these departments were no longer granted waivers for out-of-state tuition. Even with temporary scholarships, many Fine and Applied Arts graduate employees, earning between $7,000.00 and $9,000.00 per academic year, were left with additional fees totaling up to $1,000.00.

This change in tuition waiver policy was a clear violation of the GEO's contract with the Illinois Board of Trustees. In 2010, the GEO filed a grievance alleging a contract violation, while GEO members launched a public awareness campaign that included email and letter drives, communication with elected officials, testimony to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, and other events.

By attempting to charge incoming graduate employees tuition in clear violation of its contract with teaching and graduate assistants, administrators have cost the University of Illinois as much as $100,000.00. This is yet another example of flawed budget priorities at UIUC, where the most vulnerable members of the University community are frequently asked to shoulder the burdens of budget shortfalls.

After an arbitration hearing in mid-July, an independent arbitrator on September 20 declared the University's tuition waiver policy in violation of its contract with the GEO. The arbitrator ordered the U of I administration to make whole any harm done to graduate employees.

The arbitration victory marks a significant achievement for GEO members. According to GEO communications officer Rodrigo Pacheco-McEvoy, "not only does the ruling secure tuition waivers as a benefit of employment for graduate employees, which is absolutely necessary to maintain accessibility to public higher education at UIUC; it also helps protect the arts from budgetary cutbacks."

While the GEO has much cause to celebrate, the story of tuition waivers and the arts at UIUC is not over. The GEO is entering another bargaining year. According to GEO Co-President Miriam Larsen, "our members are fully committed to protecting the tuition waivers that make a high quality graduate education accessible to a diverse student body.” "

More information can also be found on the website at