Respect Campus Workers! Protect Grad Employee Rights and Tuition Waivers!

Come out in support of grad student rights! Tuition waivers and assistantships are under attack. We’ll hear from some students in the Masters of Computer Science (MCS) program who do not have waiver-generating appointments and have been unable to meet with the administration to discuss the appointments. We’ll also hear from other GEO members and allies about ongoing issues of transparency between campus workers and the administration.

The rally will begin at the Alma Mater at Noon. After hearing several speakers, we’ll march.

Join us for the GEO GMM! Food and childcare will be provided.

General Membership Meeting & Officer Elections (nominations wanted)
When: Thursday, September 18th, at 6:00PM
Where: University YMCA 1001 S. Wright Street

The GEO’s General Membership Meeting will take place on September 18th in the YMCA building. We will provide notice of the specific room at a later time.

The meeting agenda will include an election of officers. Nominations are being accepted for Co-President and Communications Officer:

The Co-President presides over Coordinating Committee meetings, develops reports on the status of GEO, supports staff activities, and other duties outlined in the GEO constitution: http://www.uigeo.org/constitution/ (see Article VIII).

The Communications Officer supports GEO internal communication processes (including skills in design, email list management, & website experience) and chairs the GEO’s Communications Committee which is responsible for the instigation and maintenance of all external communications, i.e. with the press and with the public at large.

***All members are eligible to run for any office and nominations will be accepted up until the General Membership Meeting on the September 18th.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization strongly condemns the decision of the Board of Trustees and Chancellor Wise to rescind Prof. Steven Salaita’s offer of employment. Such actions set a frightening precedent for our research and teaching environment and will only serve to make the University of Illinois a less desirable institution for academic learning and development. We find the administration’s statements rationalizing such decisions extremely questionable and contrary to both academic freedom and free speech rights. Therefore, the G.E.O. demands the reinstatement of Prof. Salaita with immediate effect, as per the contract he was offered by the American Indian Studies faculty, with full compensation for missed days of work. The statements made by the administration reveal a stark ignorance of academic culture, intellectual integrity and the ability of students, faculty and fellows to sensitively approach contentious discussions. After a prolonged silence, Chancellor Wise has recently expressed concerns about “disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them” Similarly, the email from the Board of Trustees accused Prof. Salaita of “disrespectful and demeaning speech that promotes malice”, besides upholding the word ‘democracy’ and the apparent interests of a “system that so many have made such great sacrifices to defend.”

What such statements elide is the fact that speech concerning opposing viewpoints is a common and celebrated facet of academia. Vibrant and open debate often demands frank disagreement, something that we, as graduate students, teaching assistants, research assistants and fellows are very well aware of. In our everyday work at the University, we are extremely careful and contextual when we teach and read texts which are scathing in their criticisms of established ideas. We teach intellectual freedom, even in the case of banned books, so that they may be preserved for posterity. The “system” and democracy, in other words, is defended by us, not the Board of Trustees, each and every day of our graduate careers. This university works because we make it work, based on our principles of academic freedom and the standards of our pedagogy and research. We have practiced academic freedom in our seminars and classrooms, without ever needing the administration to intervene. We see no need for it now.

Prof. Salaita was hired on the basis of his commendable research and glowing class evaluations in his former university. Firing him in our name, on the basis of lobbying by Zionist interests, is an act of administrative interference in academic matters which we thoroughly condemn. This event comes in the light of decreasing annual numbers of under-represented minorities at the University of Illinois, and the firing of Prof. Salaita flies in the face of the discourse of ‘Inclusive Illinois’ that the Chancellor upholds. We consider the disregard for the faculty at American Indian Studies and the use of racially-charged terms like ‘civility’ against Prof. Salaita to be insensitive and extremely detrimental and contradictory to the University’s practices and claims of diversity.

The faculty of the University of Illinois has been, once again, disrespected in a manner very similar to the actions taken against Prof. James Kilgore. In light of such events, we reiterate our long standing commitment to the formation of a faculty union of tenured and non-tenured faculty, which can help the faculty have a voice in the way key decisions are taken at the University. A faculty union at the University of Illinois would reduce the potential for structural abuse and conflict between the university and the workers, improve the working conditions throughout the campus, and ensure departments their autonomous power to build their departments into intellectually curious, scholar-producing, and most importantly, diverse worlds of research.

The administration’s direct attempt at censorship effectively destroys the potential for solving some of the world’s most pressing crises and restricts learning spaces for students and faculty at all levels of academia. The Chancellor’s statement reveals that she will perceive any free speech, even outside the context of university employment, as grounds to dismiss potential faculty and alienate global scholars and academic networks. This is directly opposed to any reasonable definition of academic freedom. Such double standards are evident in only specific cases, such as the occupation of Palestine, even though many members of the University community have possibly made other intemperate statements in the past. The G.E.O. unequivocally opposes such actions which police our freedom of thought.

As a union of students, researchers, and teachers, the Graduate Employees’ Union refuses to stand by the flagrant abuse of academic freedom and free speech by Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees. We stand in solidarity with Prof. Steven Salaita and demand that Chancellor Wise immediately reverse her decision and reinstate both Prof. Steven Salaita and free speech to the University of Illinois. We stand united in struggle against this blatant hypocrisy and abuse of power that damages the academic reputation and morality of the students, workers, faculty, and staff of our university and the Champaign-Urbana community.

The republican gubernatorial candidate, Bruce Rauner, delivered the keynote address at the Champaign County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Celebration on May 10th.  Outside, the GEO, along with a number of other unions and community groups, protested his strongly anti-union policies.

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Rauner, a private equity manager who is personally contributing large sums of money to his campaign,  has frequently spoken in support of “Right to Work” labor policies, and has pointed to Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, as a role model.  He is strongly against public sector unions, and strives to erode labor rights in Illinois.

The G.E.O. will be holding New Officer Elections beginning April 21.

New GEO Officers will be elected at the next General Membership Meeting on Mon, Apr 21, at 5:30PM at the University YMCA.  Voting will also be open on Tuesday, April 22, between 10AM and 6PM, and on Wednesday, April 23, between 10AM and 6PM.

All members are eligible to run for an officer position, and to join committees!

Officer Positions, and the Committees They Chair:

  • 2 Co-Presidents:  Lead the union, chair the GEO Coordinating Committee, and supervise staff…

  • Treasurer:  Propose a budget to membership and seek input, keep track of daily funds.

  • Communications Officer & Communications Committee:  Send out emails (like this one!), design t-shirts and posters, work with the press, and so on.

  • Grievance Officer and Grievance Committee:  Protect the contract!  Make sure that TAs and GAs get their tuition waivers, wages, etc, and are protected from discrimination, overwork…

  • Solidarity Officer and Solidarity Committee:  If members vote in support of the Solidarity Amendment, a new Solidarity Officer and Committee will become officially part of the union.  Duties would include working in solidarity with social justice and workers rights organizations.

  • Officers at Large:  Work with different committees, plan events, organize meetings, etc.

If you are interested in running for an officer position, please email geo@uigeo.org

Last week, the G.E.O. threw a legendary and amazing dance party at Cafeteria & Co. / Pizza M / Flying Machine Coffee in Urbana.  This is one of many such events to come, so stay tuned, and join us for the next one.

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G.E.O. members tearing up the dance floor to Beyoncé’s Drunk In Love

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G.E.O. Spring Dance Party pizza bar line

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G.E.O. members dancing the night away

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Jess Pretty closing out the night with Beyoncé’s “Countdown.”

Yesterday, the CFA announced broad and widespread support for a faculty union, among both tenure track and non-tenure track faculty. The CFA is moving towards majority support, and hopes that by further publicizing their intentions, they can gain momentum and begin the process of becoming a union. On February 5th at 10:00 AM, University of Illinois faculty will be speaking in favor of unionization, and GEO members will be present to demonstrate their support. For over 40 years, the CFA (formerly the Union of Professional Employees) has been and will continue to be beneficial for the future of the University of Illinois.

GEO Co-President Clayton Alsup adds: “The GEO is excited to work with the CFA as they work to form a union. It sends a clear statement to the University of Illinois administration that we are prepared to stand in solidarity in order to maintain high quality education and working conditions at our university. A unionized faculty will be better able to serve both their own members and their students.”

Susan Davis, Professor of Communications and the press officer for the CFA, stated that the CFA was in part inspired by the GEO’s resolute defense of graduate student tuition waivers. The CFA hopes that by becoming a union, they will be able to defend faculty rights in a similar manner. One of the many facets of their agenda will be improving the working conditions of non-tenure track faculty, for example, by providing a firmer sense of job and wage security. The GEO is highly invested in this cause—the working conditions of the faculty have a direct effect on the working and learning conditions of graduate and undergraduate students.

Chanee Anderson, the chair of the GEO’s Solidarity Committee, explained, “like the graduate employees of UIUC, our faculty devote countless hours, resources, and sacrifices to make this the great institution that it is. Where anyone’s call of duty requires giving of themselves, their rights and voices as laborers must have a respected place.”

The CFA’s organizing affiliates are the American Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and the American Association of University Professors. For more information about the CFA and their mission, visit their website.

Since 2009, GEO labor contract negotiations have protected the tuition waivers of graduate assistants. This fall, three masters programs in Statistics and Computer Science changed their designations to “self-supporting,” in violation of the contract.  As a result of this change in policy, students in these programs were not allowed to apply for assistantships in their own, or any other departments, and thus became ineligible for tuition waivers.

Under pressure from the GEO, the Graduate College has rescinded the policy change, and now states that graduate students in the three affected programs are eligible to receive assistantships and tuition waivers.  The initial modifications to the financial aid policies in these departments (Computer Science MCS, Statistics MS, and Statistics MS Masters with Analytics Concentration) were a clear violation of a contract side letter.  In response to this violation, the GEO Grievance Committee immediately contacted the university administration to protest.

Members of the GEO Grievance Committee met with representatives from Academic Human Resources (AHR), who in turn, met with the Deans of the College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.  Following these meetings, representatives from AHR informed the Grievance Committee that the “self-supporting” designation had been reversed. Effective immediately, all graduate students in the three affected masters programs may hold assistantships that provide them with tuition waivers, approximately $1000 a year in health care subsidies, and a minimum wage set by the GEO contract.

Although the changes are effective immediately, final approval has to come from a committee in the administration to ensure that the new designations are permanent.

If the GEO had failed to notice this change, and AHR and the Graduate College had not reversed their decision, graduate students in the affected departments would only be eligible to hold hourly appointments, and would have been denied the safeguards on minimum standards of living wage and benefits guaranteed them by the 2009 collective bargaining agreement.

As you may already know, next week is Student Debt Awareness week, endorsed by the GEO. We will be running phonebanking to encourage turnout, particularly for our rally on Friday at noon on the quad. Great turnout at the rally will help us put pressure on representatives at both the state and national level to engage in actual reform to help curtail the student loan debt crisis.

How You Can Help:

1) Flyer your departmental grad mailboxes: If you are willing/able to flyer your departmental mailboxes this week, please reply to this email so we know which departments are covered.

2) Phonebank on Monday or Wednesday: I will be running phonebanking at the GEO office from 4-6pm on Monday and Wednesday. Please stop by and help if you can, even if it’s only for 30 mins. There will be pizza!

3) Share the Facebook event and group pages:
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4) Join us for one or all three of our awesome events!!

The Events:

Tuesday, Nov. 12th at 7:00pm in the Lincoln Hall auditorium:
Panel Discussion with Alan Collinge, student debt reform activist.

Thursday, Nov. 14th at 7:00pm in the Illini Union Pine Lounge:
Screening of the film Default

Friday, Nov. 15th at noon on the Main Quad (Illini Union side):
Rally for student loan justice as we hear from Illinois student speakers.