URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (November 15): The strike committee of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), American Federation of Teachers/Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, AFL-CIO, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), has authorized a strike against the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois to begin at 8am on Monday morning. After six hours of negotiation on Saturday afternoon, the GEO and administration bargaining teams managed to reach mutually agreeable terms on all aspects of the GEO contract except tuition waiver security. The administration’s refusal to guarantee the continuation of its current tuition waiver practice not only means that the majority of graduate employees could be forced to pay thousands of dollars in additional tuition charges, but also indicates its plans to implement such a change. By making graduate education untenable for all but the most affluent students, the administration is abandoning its responsibility to ensure access to the highest level of public education for all.  This is contrary to the University of Illinois’ mission as a public land grant institution.  By calling a strike, the Graduate Employees’ Organization is holding the University of Illinois administration accountable to its stated commitment to excellent and accessible higher education.

The GEO is a labor union representing all teaching and graduate assistants (TAs and GAs) on the UIUC campus.  With over 2600 GEO members, and over 2600 graduate employees represented in the bargaining unit, the GEO is one of the largest higher education union locals in the United States.  Over the course of a three day vote, an overwhelming 92% of participating UIUC GEO members voted last week to authorize a strike against the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Peter Campbell, GEO Communications Officer,, 253-222-5861, or the GEO office at, 217-344-8283, 1001 S. Wright Street, Champaign, IL, 61820.  Information about the GEO can also be found on our website at



  1. “By making graduate education untenable for all but the most affluent students…”

    Question: Why not, if the University drastically decides to take away tuition wavers, take out loans? There are several federal sources to do so:

    I’m just a little confused as to why undergrads are fully capable of taking the initiative to apply for financial aid if needed (most of us don’t have the luxury of tuition waivers– we’re not even allowed to TA certain classes at all), but graduate students, who pay significantly less, don’t.

    Some of us undergrads have kids, work part time, have valuable skills, etc., and barely make by, so loans are a viable option. I’m sympathetic towards furloughs, but tuition is something that is simply universal at college.

    So, someone explain to me, why don’t you just take out loans?

  2. @jack m
    because most international grad students–a large portion of the grad sch population–cannot get loans, period.

  3. Why not just take out loans? Most grad TAs already do. The stipends they live on aren’t enough to cover anything but the most basic expenses, and sometimes not even then. Waivers for tuition are part of the package; losing the waivers means that, combined with the low stipends, even loans don’t provide enough to live on.

    And that’s only part of the story. Sure, grad students can and do live cheap. But in terms of equity, if TAs are teaching 3 or 4 sections a year and doing their coursework/research, they’re doing as much labor as full-time faculty–maybe more. So nixing their waivers means they’re getting paid only a tiny fraction for the same work.

  4. Under the new contract terms, stipends would increase, and tuition waivers would only be cut for TA’s who work under 33% of the time (less than 13 hours a week). Currently that threshold is set at 10 hours per week. It seems like a fair enough move to me.

    The members of GEO need to remember that they are students first and most of their assistantships are opportunities provided by the University in order to help them.

    In addition, I question the timing of the strike. Why now? Why after seven months of negotiations? Why after the bargaining period has expired? By waiting until now, they are putting their colleges in a tough position. Because it’s past the bargaining period, any workers who strike cannot be paid. It also forces TA’s to make the decision of doing their job and teaching their students, or going on strike with their peers. It’s unfair to the TA’s who do not want to go on strike and to the students who’s classes are canceled because of it. Also, why are they striking two days after the University submitted their last offer and the day before the GEO is set to vote on the offer? Striking today will not change the terms of the offer. If anything, wait until the GEO votes on the latest offer before you strike.

    Although I respect the GEO’s right to strike, I don’t agree with the timing of it. By choosing to strike in the fashion they’ve chosen, I feel that they are only losing respect and bargaining power with the University.

  5. Graduate students who teach or work for a college/university should not pay tuition, period. I currently give back my first month of pay to The City University of New York as tuition payments while I teach four classes at two different campuses. My tuition is around $900 a semester. We already are paid a pittance, and then those of us not on fellowships must fork over our pay to cover tuition. Robbery.

  6. A-

    I don’t know if you’ve been following closely or not, but one reason regarding timing is that the GEO never received a counter-offer until mere days before the contract ended in August- thus, they were in the dark for a majority of those seven months. Those seven months were not months of extensive bargaining between the GEO and the administration. In a way, the GEO was forced to act so late as a result of the lateness of the administration’s willingness to bargain.

  7. Jack M,

    Alien, Seth and Jess have already given answers to your question,”why don’t you just take out loans?” Allow me to clarify something further:

    The “you” in your question, who you imply do not have the “initiative” to “apply for financial aid,” would be graduate students in areas/departments NOT
    capable of securing adequate funding from outside the university–because they are not in departments with industry support to fund tuition and future employment oportunities, because they actually have to labor in areas not related to their own research in order to receive stipends, or because they are simply ineligible for loans (consider some one underprivileged, some minorities, or foreign grad students). Taking away the security of a tuition waiver would nullify any aid given to these students, and, by restricting entry to those who can pay to study, will reduce the diversity of affected departments. If the system is so structured that knowledge is to be the domain of the elite, universities should be prepared to give up the best and brightest of non-local minds they so covet.

    I suggest you talk to some of these graduate students to learn exactly why they are protesting. Many professors are also supporting this strike. You may want to find out why they think it’s worth it. This is not about short-term practicable tactics, but long-term goals for a university system in which many of the striking TAs and GAs seek to be employed in the future.[Quite akin to the debt-laden larger American system in need of an overhaul]. We need to secure the future, not just the present.

  8. Also, in response to the comment regarding loans… many, if not most, of us have indeed taken out large loans during our undergraduate careers. To add another seven or so years of loans that need to be paid back on top of those four undergrad years… that’s a considerable sum of money to pay back, and will certainly haunt future salaries for many, many years (especially since graduate school does not necessarily lead to the most lucrative of occupations). Tuition waivers make graduate school a viable possibility for countless numbers of students who would not otherwise have the opportunity.

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