Open Letter to the Board of Trustees from GEO

We, the Graduate Employees Organization of the Urbana-Champaign campus, are deeply troubled by the Board of Trustees’ decision this spring to increase tuition by 9.5%. A rise in already high tuition rates makes higher education untenable for working class residents of Illinois—a state where the official unemployment rate is greater than 11%.

Particularly troubling was the Board of Trustees’ lack of response to alternative options posed by numerous campus and community organizations. On May 4th not a single Trustee appeared for a Senate meeting with the Subcommittee on Containing Costs and Tuition with Chairman Senator Sandoval (D-Chicago). On May 5th the UIUC Student Senate overwhelmingly endorsed a tuition freeze by a vote of 27-8-1. This resolution was provided to all Trustees and mentioned during public comment at the May 20th Board meeting. At the May 20th Board meeting the calls of more than 200 protestors, including undergraduates, graduate students, staff, faculty, and alumni, to freeze tuition were not heard.

The state of Illinois continues its failure to fund public higher education in Illinois, but a tuition increase is not a solution for this failure. The increase in tuition revenue represents only a small percentage of the budget shortfall, but will have significant negative impacts on the ability of working class families to send their children to the University of Illinois.

The only way to change the relationship between the University of Illinois and the state legislature is political pressure and lobbying, not only to receive currently owed funding, but for the state to return to higher levels of public funding for public universities. As the Board of Trustees for the University of Illinois, it is your responsibility to send a clear message to the state legislature that the combination of tuition increases and the continued reduction of public funding of higher education is unacceptable and disproportionately burdens students from working class families. Recently, both former president Ikenberry and incoming president Hogan have stated that the University of Illinois should no longer rely on the state for funding. It is troubling to hear the leaders of this public institution excuse the state’s lack of funding and move towards privatization. We need leaders like those at Southern Illinois University who have already taken a strong stance, enacting a tuition freeze for AY10/11 to relieve working and middle-class families of some of their increasing hardships. The University of Illinois is the state’s flagship institution of public higher education, and should join Southern Illinois University as a leader in protecting the accessibility of our universities.

While we disagree with the decision you made regarding tuition this year, we recognize that now is the time to begin planning for next year. There is a powerful grassroots movement in Illinois and in the United States to stop the privatization of public institutions. Your tuition increase is a stance against public education and accessibility at Illinois’ flagship institution. However, we encourage you in the coming months to reconsider your decision and join students, staff, faculty, and workers in communities throughout our state in the movement to defend public education. Will you meet with us to discuss the future of public higher education in Illinois? We can be reached at geo@uigeo.org or 217-344-8283.

Sincerely,
Stephanie Seawell
Kathryn Walkiewicz
Co-presidents, Graduate Employees’ Organization, AFT/IFT Local 6300, AFL-CIO