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Open Letter to top UI Administrators from the GEO

April 19, 2010

Repost from the GEO website

An Open Letter to top University of Illinois Administrators

From the Graduate Employees’ Organization

April 19, 2010

Dear Sirs and Madams,

As you know, the State of Illinois owes the University of Illinois system about $500 million, with a significant portion of that amount due to the Urbana campus. As the budget crisis has come to a head, we of the Graduate Employees’ Organization will continue to contribute our efforts to ensure the future of accessible and high quality education at the University of Illinois.

We are committed to ensuring that the University of Illinois remain true to its mission as a public land grant institution to provide education that is truly accessible to all, regardless of economic background.

Quality and accessible education at our University is under siege—class size is growing to untenable proportions, faculty are being furloughed, and budget cuts are affecting the education we are able to provide our students. Meanwhile, Interim President Ikenberry told the Daily Illini that a tuition increase of at least 9% may be necessary, indicating also that the university may not be able to maintain its status as a top institution.

Rather than accept the necessity of making this institution even less accessible to working class students in Illinois, we’re renting buses and going to Springfield with other members of the UC United Coalition, the same consortium of labor unions and student activist groups that brought us the March 4th rally to defend public education.

The GEO and UC United will join thousands of education employees to not only ask for the money currently owed this university by the state, but to demand that state lawmakers recognize the importance of funding public education in Illinois.  And we are saving you a seat on the bus.

So will you join us on April 21 to lobby in Springfield for accessible public education and fair treatment of University employees, and help us keep the University of Illinois at the top?

Let us know – we can be reached at, or 217-344-8283.


Stephanie Seawell

Kathryn Walkiewicz

Co-Presidents, Graduate Employees’ Organization, AFT/IFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO.


UIC Grad Employees’ Struggle

April 18, 2010

UIC Workers: Fair Contract or We’ll Strike

By Joe Iosbaker |

April 18, 2010
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UIC workers contract fight continues; protesters picket line.

UIC workers contract fight continues. (Jonathan Labe)

Chicago, IL – Voting was completed for the 1500 clerical workers at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, April 16. The committee of co-workers elected last summer to negotiate a new contract had called for the vote. On the ballot was one thing: Should the committee be authorized to call a strike if a new contract could not be gained at the bargaining table?

The answer from the union members was quite clear. 84% said yes – a fair contract or strike.

Regina Russell, a member of the committee and a customer service representative from the UIC Medical Center (UICMC), said before the vote, “Workers in my department, Patient Access, are ready to strike.” Russell explained that the number of patients they register and whose insurance they must verify every hour was doubled last year. UICMC reported $5 million in profit in the first quarter of this year. “We registered 500,000 patients last year. How much of that profit do we account for?”

The situation in Patient Access was the same wherever workers worked collectively or in large numbers, such as the Daley Library, Patient Accounts, Health Information Management or the clinics. Those workers voted in large numbers and support for the strike authorization was almost unanimous.

Many workers were upset because management offered no raises in the contract, but got really angry when management eliminated the anniversary raises as well. These are 2% increases for most clerical workers have always been a part of civil service employment. Jennifer Edwards, a committee member, noted that, “The price of gas has risen, our health premiums have increased, everything has gone up. Management gave themselves a 2% raise at the start of the year, but then came to the table to say there was nothing for us.”

Workers overcome fear

A significant reason for those workers who voted “no” was the fear of the economic crisis. “We just have to be thankful we have a job,” said a number of workers. Sirlena Perry, a retired worker and longtime leader of the union who came to help staff the table for the vote, responded to this. “That’s just what management wants us to think. We can’t let the bosses do our thinking for us.”

Workers also had to overcome intimidation by management on the days of the vote. Polling places had been set up in common areas in University Hall, Daley Library and the Student Services Building. Campus police were called and ordered the union staff and members to leave the buildings. Many workers missed their chance to cast their ballot as a result. In November, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) had staged a job action in the same common area in University Hall. With 80 people in that action, they filled the area for the entire day with their ‘work-in.’ The police allowed that protest to take place.

Urging workers to be strong, Perry told them, “We have made so many gains through the union, including when we won the struggle against the racist pay differentials ten years ago.” Perry was referring to the practice that the University engaged in from 1965 until 1998 of paying the mostly Black and Latino workforce in Chicago $1 or $2 an hour less than the mainly white workers in their downstate campus in Urbana. Local 73’s greatest victory at UIC was forcing equal pay rates for all campuses. “That was a huge fight, like the one we are facing now, and the lesson is clear – we can win if we fight,” she explained.

The other main issue in the negotiations is job security. UIC has replaced hundreds, perhaps over 1000 clerical workers in recent years with non-civil service, non-union staff. There has been a steady stream of layoffs largely as a result of this practice. Mainly these Academic Professional positions have occurred at the Medical Center and the College of Medicine. These are the wealthiest parts of the University, as the numbers of patients has increased almost 300% since 1991 and the growth in research grants has placed UIC as one of the top research institutions in the country. Plus there has been an explosion of enormous donations from wealthy physicians who have made fortunes through the system of for-profit medicine. The union’s demand that the employer make a commitment to end the erosion of union positions is the first priority in these negotiations.

Union Solidarity

Workers were also buoyed by the support they received from the members of Local 73 in two other contracts at UIC. Randy Evans, who works in Environmental Services at the Hospital, came in before his shift and began to help with turning out the vote. Also a member of the bargaining committee for 800 service and maintenance workers, Evans said, “Our negotiations are going nowhere also. We’re getting the same message, ‘Do more with fewer workers and no raises.’” Speaking for the service and maintenance workers, as well as the 400 technical workers in the hospital laboratories, Evans said that they are right behind the clerical workers.

The clerical workers are set to return to meet with management in federal mediation on April 28. Workers will rally outside those negotiations at lunchtime.

Maria Alvarez, a member of the committee and a worker in the Physical Therapy clinic, said, “We are going to win, just like the graduate employees did.” She was referring to the victory scored by the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at UIC the previous week. After GEO announced their preparations for a strike, management engaged in a last ditch, 13-hour mediation session. As the student newspaper reported, management “blinked” and made concessions in pay and job security to avoid that strike.

Willie English, a former employee and now staff for SEIU Local 73, joined the final rally to support the GEO, and later commented, “They had only 1400 workers. Local 73 has 1500 clerks, and altogether 2700 members at UIC. We can have confidence that we will win, because in our unity of our numbers, we have strength.”

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UIUC President and others Questioned by Senate

April 15, 2010

Ikenberry, other university presidents grilled in Senate

Repost from the News-Gazette Online
Thu, 04/15/2010 – 2:00am | Tom Kacich Contact Author

SPRINGFIELD – Tough budget times translated to tough questioning of three public university presidents in the Illinois Senate on Wednesday, and no one faced more difficult questions than Stanley Ikenberry, the interim president of the University of Illinois.

Ikenberry, who returned as president last Jan. 1 to succeed former President B. Joseph White in the aftermath of a UI admissions scandal, was grilled by senators about everything from the salary paid to a retiring chancellor at the school’s Springfield campus to his own salary and the university’s affordability.

Ikenberry, president of the UI from 1979 to 1995 – in much better budget days – grinned when asked about the reception he got Wednesday.

“I think this stacks up with the very best I can remember,” he said. “The tongue’s a little bit in the cheek, yes.”

The interim president said that the UI is owed $464 million, or about 56 percent of its current year appropriation, by the state.

“That is a frightening figure in its own right, but it becomes more perilous as one thinks ahead three months, six months, nine months and going into next year,” Ikenberry said. “This is a difficult time for us. I’m concerned the reputation of our state is being damaged during this period, and I’m concerned that our university may slip as well.”

More in Thursday’s News-Gazette.

Graduate Students’ Right to Unionize on Private Campuses

April 13, 2010

New NLRB Appointments Raise Hopes of Graduate Employees

Repost from AFT FACE Online

Tuesday, 13 April 2010
President Obama took advantage of Congress’s spring recess to fill 15 important positions that Republican senators have blocked for an average of 214 days. Two of those appointments were Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Highly qualified and respected labor lawyers, Becker and Pearce were nominated in July and received Senate Judiciary approval, but Senate Republicans blocked final approval. After health care reform passed, labor activists flooded the White House with calls, says the AFL-CIO, begging the president to act. The NLRB, a five-member board, has been below capacity for over two years and was down to only two members under Obama. It has a backlog of hundreds of cases. Even before, during the Bush years, the board has been decidedly pro-business and anti-union.

One group that is holding out high hopes for the new board is graduate employees at private universities. In 2004, the Bush board overturned precedent and ruled that graduate employees at Brown University (and by extension, at all private universities) were students, not employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act, and they did not have the right to bargain. However, as reported in Inside Higher Ed , NLRB chair Wilma Liebman gave remarks before an April 12th gathering of union and management labor experts that alluded to her dissenting opinion in the Brown case (check out our January 2009 video post in which she discusses her dissenting opinions) and indicated that the new board just needs the right case to come before it to reconsider and possibly change the 2004 ruling.

The grad employee unions are “buzzing,” says Heidi Lawson, president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “We think there’s a very good chance that we’ll be able to get the Brown decision overturned with these new appointments,” she says. “I know that there are several organizing campaigns that have been considering filing cases with the Board, including the University of Chicago.”

The appointments signal a long-overdue shift, AFT president Randi Weingarten says, “whereby workers, and not just bosses, will receive equal consideration in crucial matters such as labor disputes and elections. Giving voice to workers is good for the country. The anti-worker bias of President Bush’s labor appointments effectively deprived American workers and labor unions of fair hearings by the NLRB and other important bodies.”

Still, adds Lawson, “NLRB decisions are only as permanent as their Board composition. It would be nice to get a federal statute passed protecting graduate employees’ right to organize so that we don’t need to worry about a new NLRB overturning a favorable ruling again sometime in the future.”

Employee Free Choice Act anyone?

Smallest Raise for Faculty in 50 Years

April 11, 2010
April 11, 2010
Repost from NY Times online

Study Finds a 1.2 Percent Increase in Faculty Pay, the Smallest in 50 Years


Academic pay has been squeezed by the recession, according to the annual salary survey by the American Association of University Professors.

Over all, salaries for this academic year are 1.2 percent higher than last year, the smallest increase recorded in the survey’s 50 years — and well below the 2.7 percent inflation rate from December 2008 to December 2009.

The survey found that average salary levels actually decreased this academic year at a third of colleges and universities, compared with 9 percent that reported lower average salaries in the previous two surveys. Private and church-related universities reported shrinking average salaries more often than public institutions.

And the academic pay situation may be even worse than the survey indicates, according to John Curtis, the association’s director of research and policy.

“A lot of faculty are losing ground, and the data probably underestimate the seriousness of the problems with faculty salary this year, because we’re only looking at full-time faculty and, as we’ve seen for several years, there’s an increasing number of part-time faculty, who are not included,” Mr. Curtis said. “Also, the survey doesn’t capture the effect of the unpaid furloughs a lot of faculty were forced to take this year, because the numbers we have are the base salaries agreed on at the beginning of the year, not the actual payroll results.”

Over all, the average salary for a full professor was $109,843, compared with $76,566 for an associate professor, $64,433 for an assistant professor, $47,592 for an instructor and $53,112 for a lecturer. At every type of institution in almost every class of faculty, men were paid substantially more, on average, than women.

Generally, administrative salaries at colleges and universities have been increasing far more quickly than pay for faculty members.

Given the widespread distress about high college costs, shrinking state support for public universities and plummeting endowment values at private universities — and the fact that college tuitions have been rising far more quickly than inflation — some experts said this year’s small faculty salary gains were not unexpected.

“It’s a necessary thing,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability. “It reflects the real level of fiscal stringency in higher education and probably understates the magnitude of resource reductions for faculty, since one of the ways institutions have been saving money, where possible, has been to replace full-time tenured faculty, who are paid the most, with part-timers who earn much less.”

The survey found other evidence of universities scrimping in their support of faculty. About 14 percent of colleges and universities reduced their retirement contributions this year, and some ended them. In addition, some universities cut back on sabbaticals, travel budgets and research support.

Ms. Wellman pointed out that because the costs of benefits, especially health care, are rising so rapidly, total compensation is not slowing as much as salary growth. “Unless we get control over the growth in spending on benefits,” she said, “we’re going to continue to crowd out the resources necessary to get faculty in the classroom.”

UIC Graduate Employees Prevail

April 8, 2010

UIC Graduate Employees Organization scores victory

Repost from FightBackNews.Org
By Joe Iosbaker |

April 8, 2010
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Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) rally at University of  Illinois at Chicago

Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) rally at University of Illinois at Chicago. (Ben Seese)

On April 5, the members of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) prepared for a strike. Their bargaining committee went in for a last-ditch session with a federal mediator and the team from management. After 13 hours at the table, GEO scored a significant victory, emerging with a tentative agreement that protects tuition waivers and increases job security. They also won two years of raises to their minimum stipends and an increase in the university’s contribution for health insurance.

Fight Back! News caught up with Gina Gemmel, communications officer for the GEO.

Fight Back!: Why was the GEO preparing to strike?

Gina Gemmel: We were preparing to strike because the UIC administration had not guaranteed tuition waivers for graduate employees. The proposal we had received from them would have allowed individual departments to set tuition waiver policy, which would open up the possibility of departments granting only partial waivers or waivers only to certain types of students. We wanted to ensure that every graduate employee currently receiving a waiver would continue to receive one so they would be able to finish their degrees at UIC.

We were also concerned about skyrocketing tuition differential fees. These fees vary in amount, in some cases reaching up to $11,000 per year. We knew that a big, visible action like a strike was one of the best ways to make the university hear our voices.

Fight Back!: What had been done to prepare for the strike?

Gemmel: Throughout the year, the GEO has held events to both send a message to the administration about the issues we care about and to get our membership involved in the fight. Two of our biggest events were a work-in on the ground floor of University Hall in December and a rally with SEIU members and other members of the UIC community in January.

In order to prepare concretely for the strike, the GEO spent time visiting grad students in departments all over campus to explain the issues and listen to their thoughts on a potential strike. We prepared logistically with picket line schedules and by training GEO members to be picket line captains. Finally, we made our intention to strike if we were not able to settle our contract in mediation known to the campus community through our “Ready to Strike” posters and buttons, with which our membership flooded the UIC campus.

Fight Back!: What are the key parts of the agreement?

Gemmel: The key parts of the agreement are the guarantee of our tuition waivers and language that will allow for more transparency in tuition differential policy. We now have a guarantee that graduate employees will not be surprised by any reductions or cuts to their existing tuition waiver benefits, without which, in most cases, students would not be able to afford graduate study. We have also received a guarantee in our contract that the university will discuss tuition differential fees with the GEO, answering questions that have previously been ignored, such as where the money from these fees goes and who exactly determines their implementation and increases.

Other important agreements included guarantees that graduate employees would be paid on time, greater job security through stronger language regarding appointment and re-appointment criteria, a 2% increase to the minimum stipend in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2010 academic years, and an increase in the university contribution to health care costs from $100 to $250 per year.

Fight Back!: What are the lessons for the other workers on campus?

Gemmel: The biggest lesson from our year-long fight for a fair contract is that the most powerful tool we have to make sure workers are protected is collective action. The most movement we saw at the bargaining table happened in the mediation session after the university received our intent to strike notice, and of course, we were able to get our contract settled after our massive rally outside the site of mediation last Monday. When the university knows that we can collectively act to disrupt normal operations, they are compelled to listen.

The GEO’s slogan is “UIC works because we do,” and this slogan can really be applied to workers all over campus. When we show the administration how essential we are to the success of UIC, they must listen.

NY Times Attends to the Crisis in Higher Education

April 8, 2010

The Long-Haul Degree

Repost from the NY TImes online
Article written by PATRICIA COHEN
Published: April 8, 2010

Law students get a diploma in three years. Medical students receive an M.D. in four. But for graduate students in the humanities, it takes, on average, more than nine years to complete a degree. What some of those Ph.D. recipients may not realize is that they could spend another nine years, or more, looking for a tenure-track teaching job at a college or university — without ever finding one.

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As the recession has downsized university endowments and departments, the sense of crisis that has surrounded graduate education for more than a decade has sharpened. “What’s worse than desperate?” asks William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College, in Michigan, who writes a column for The Chronicle of Higher Education under the name Thomas H. Benton.

A graduate-school Cassandra, Dr. Pannapacker calls the graduate apprenticeship system bankrupt and warns students against the heartbreak of pursuing a Ph.D. While finishing his own degree in American civilization at Harvard in 1999 (another difficult job year), he helped organize a protest at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, an organization of scholars and professors of language and literature.

On a large reproduction of Goya’s bloody painting “Saturn Devouring His Son,” he wrote, “Enjoying your apprenticeship yet?”

First- and second-year Ph.D. students in, say, English literature may not face the same aching course load or backstabbing competition as their friends in medical and law schools, but they have a longer haul ahead. Doctoral students are expected not only to master a wide swath of material to pass general and oral exams, but to produce a nearly book-length dissertation of original research that, depending on the subject, may ultimately sit on a shelf as undisturbed as the Epsom salts at the back of the medicine chest. These students must earn their keep by patching together a mix of grants and wages for helping to teach undergraduate courses — a job that eats into research time. Third-year medical students may be bleary eyed from hospital rotations, but at least the work goes toward their degree.

This system of financing is partly responsible for the absurdly long time it can take to get a degree in the humanities, says Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools. In many countries, the government pays students to complete Ph.D.’s within a certain time frame, perhaps three or four years.

In the United States, given that most students take time off, nearly a dozen years can pass between receiving a B.A. and Ph.D. About half who enter a humanities doctoral program drop out along the way. The average student receiving a Ph.D. today is 35 years old, $23,000 in debt and facing a historically bad job market. Adjunct jobs — with year-to-year contracts, no benefits and no security — may be the only option.

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and another longtime critic of the Ph.D. production process, notes: “Lives are warped because of the length and uncertainty of the doctoral education process.” In his new book, “The Marketplace of Ideas,” he writes, “Put in less personal terms, there is a huge social inefficiency in taking people of high intelligence and devoting resources to training them in programs that half will never complete and for jobs that most will not get.”

In the spring issue of the Modern Language Association’s newsletter, Sidonie Smith, an English professor at the University of Michigan and president of the organization, resuscitated a proposal that had been swirling around blue-ribbon task forces and educational panels for years: to broaden the range of research options beyond the classic dissertation to include already-published peer-reviewed essays, research portfolios and digital publications and presentations. Aside from shortening the Ph.D. process, she argues, this would make scholarship less arcane and more relevant.

Despite high-level support for reform, educators say that wholesale change is not likely any time soon. For one, any meaningful transformation in doctoral requirements must be adopted universally, says Richard Wheeler, interim chancellor and former dean of the graduate college at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Who would want to attend a program that another university — and potential employer — doesn’t recognize as valid? “It hasn’t reached enough of a crisis point yet,” Dr. Wheeler says.

“It’s very hard to get through the graduate student experience,” he adds.

The union of graduate students at Illinois staged a brief strike in November over guarantees that their tuition would be waived. Dr. Wheeler attributes the protest to general discontent as much as specific employment issues. “There’s despair, anger, frustration,” he says. “A lot of people are unhappy.”

Dr. Wheeler, who received his English Ph.D. in 1969, took four years to finish. Graduate programs have since added more stringent requirements, he says, and expectations for what a degree holder is supposed to have accomplished have radically increased. He had not published anything when he was hired; today, applicants are expected to have a list of published research on their résumés.

The job problem has been brewing for years. In 1989, William G. Bowen and Julie Ann Sosa issued a widely publicized report that forecast a huge turnover in faculty and suggested the creation of a federal program to increase humanities and social sciences Ph.D.’s. Many students — Dr. Pannapacker included — took that advice to heart. Ph.D. production in English and American language and literature grew 61 percent between 1987 and 1995; history Ph.D.’s rose by 51 percent.

By the late 1990s, though, the spanking-new degree candidates discovered just how mistaken the Bowen-Sosa report was. The end of mandatory retirement and the increase in the use of part-time and adjunct faculty meant there were many more exceptionally qualified job seekers than jobs. The current recession has only exacerbated the problem, with many institutions imposing hiring freezes or layoffs. The M.L.A., for example, reported that its total job listings dropped by a quarter in the 2008-2009 academic year, the largest single-year decline in the 34 years that the organization has been doing job counts. And these numbers don’t include postings that were subsequently canceled because of budget cuts.

At the same time, the practice of hiring off-tenure teachers is growing. According to a new survey of humanities departments by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, half of the faculty members in English and foreign languages — more than any other department — are not on a tenure track. Part of the reason for the large number is that freshman composition classes, which are often required, are taught by those departments, and adjuncts.

Unlike in life science or engineering, the number of doctoral degrees awarded in the humanities — the pool of fields that generally include languages, history, philosophy, music, drama and archeology — has actually dipped in the last few years, with 4,722 recipients in 2008 (down from 5,112 in 2007), according to the National Science Foundation.

But more than a third of those degree-holders had no definite job (part or full time, off or on a tenure track) or any postdoctoral study commitment.

The number of degrees may dip further. Some major universities, including Harvard, Princeton, the University of Chicago, Emory and Northwestern, reduced the number of doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences they admitted this past year. Much more radical cuts would be required to bring the supply of graduates and the demand for them into balance, and that would be a solution that stirs up its own problems. If enrollment drops too low, there may not be enough students to justify courses in specialized areas.

Other practical reasons exist for resisting reductions. Doctoral programs bring prestige to a university and help retain faculty members who want to mentor the next generation of scholars. They also provide the staff for courses offered to first- and second-year undergraduates — a task many tenured faculty members resist. Even graduate students on full scholarships are cheap labor if they are teaching enough tuition-paying undergraduates.

Dr. Wheeler would like to reverse that practice, at least. “Putting as many faculty in front of undergraduates as possible,” he says, would not only improve the quality of education but would also increase the demand for more tenured faculty members over time.

Funding to hire the professors in the first place has to be there, however.

Dr. Pannapacker has rebuked graduate schools for perpetuating a culture in which unattainable academic careers are portrayed as the only worthwhile goal, and for failing to level with students about their true prospects. With more transparency — if every graduate program published its attrition rate, average debt of its students, time to completion, and what kind of job its graduates got — undergraduates, he says, could make more-informed choices.

“Academe encourages students to think of what they’re doing as a special kind of calling or vocation which is exempt from the rules of the marketplace,” he says. Those who look to work outside the scholarly world are seen as rejecting the academy’s core values. “They socialize students into believing they can’t leave academe or shouldn’t, which is why they hang on year after year as adjuncts, rather than pursue alternative careers.”

A bad job market, too, tempts graduate students to stay even longer, since being out on the job circuit for more than a year tends to taint candidates.

As the number of tenure-track jobs shrink, Ms. Stewart of the Council of Graduate Schools says, the profession needs to address these failings.

“Humanities Ph.D.’s have focused exclusively on the academic job market,” Ms. Stewart says. “They don’t have anyplace else to go, or they don’t perceive that they have anyplace else to go.”

Patricia Cohen is a culture reporter for The Times