On February 9th, the Administration sent out a massmail with information about the impending GEO strike. The message contained several misleading claims, particularly about tuition waivers. Here are some important points of clarification:
- The GEO has never claimed that the Administration is planning to eliminate tuition waivers entirely, as their massmail implies. What the Administration is doing is attempting to eliminate the contractual protections of our collective bargaining agreement that guarantee tuition waivers for graduate employees doing TA and GA work.
- The Administration’s massmail states that “graduate students who maintain good academic standing and continue to make appropriate progress towards their degree will continue to remain eligible to receive tuition waiver-generating assistantships.” We are not fighting for “eligibility” for tuition waiver-generating assistantships–eligibility does not provide us with the guarantee that we will continue to have our tuition waived in exchange for the labor we perform. We are fighting so that all graduate employees who perform TA and GA work are guaranteed a full tuition waiver, as our current collective bargaining agreement stipulates.
- The Administration claims that current employees will not be affected by this language. Even if this were true, they should be ashamed if they think that the GEO does not care about the well-being of incoming and future graduate employees. We are Union members because we care about each other and because we care about the long-term success of our graduate programs, and higher education in general. We would never mortgage the future of our programs to win protections for current GEO members.
- The GEO has always acknowledged the Administration’s right to create new programs. We maintain, however, that any time someone is employed to do TA or GA work, they are entitled to all the benefits of our contract, including a full tuition waiver. This understanding has been upheld by two, separate, legally-binding arbitration decisions.
- The Administration’s claims that they want to protect tuition waivers are betrayed by their past practices. In the past, in Fine and Applied Arts and Computer Science, the Administration has acted illegally and in violation of our contract in attempts to prevent graduate employees from receiving the full tuition waiver they were owed. In both instances, the GEO was forced to file grievances and take the Administration to arbitration. In both instances, the independent arbitrator found in favor of the GEO. In particular, in Computer Science, the Administration illegally forced international graduate employees to pay their tuition. The financial burden imposed meant that many of these employees were unable to return to their home countries after graduation; some even had to put their families’ homes up as collateral for loans they were forced to take out. Even after the Arbitrator ruled in favor of GEO, the Administration did everything they could to avoid paying these employees the money they were owed, refusing to return phone calls or meet with our Grievance Committee. Only this past December, almost two years after the arbitrator’s decision, was the GEO able to force the Administration to agree to pay these employees back.
Tuition waivers are essential for ensuring the affordability, accessibility, and quality of education at the University of Illinois. The Administration’s proposals would have disastrous consequences for our University.
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Graduate Employees’ Organization
809 S. 5th St., Geneva Room
Champaign, IL 61820