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After two days of picketing in stormy weather, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) emerged victorious. The GEO called a strike on Monday, November 16, after contract negotiations broke down over the issue of tuition waivers for out-of-state graduate students. Their strike is an example of how sheer people power can push back against the growing corporatization of public education.
In recent years, the University of Illinois has been racked with several scandals, most notably the “clout-gate” scandal in which well-connected students gained admission while more qualified students were turned away. As a result, the president, chancellor, and almost all of the Boart of Trustees were forced to step down. The so-called “global campus” was shut down, but only after incurring millions of dollars in debt. A proposed Academy of Capitalism and Limited Government Fund was opposed by faculty for its lack of oversight. A decade after it was founded, the research park on south campus has become home to multinational corporations like Caterpillar and the stealth military contractor SAIC with little benefit to the university.
After a vote by GEO members, 92% of them authorized a strike. The organization provides one quarter of the instruction on campus. On the first day, approximately 1,000 members joined picket lines and hundreds of classes were cancelled.
University flak-catchers responded in the press by claiming that most classes were still held and the strike had not disrupted campus activities. Interim Chancellor and Provost Robert Easter said in a mass email sent out that he wanted to be “as clear as possible” that graduate students “will not have their tuition waivers reduced.”
On the second day, despite the driving rain, picketing continued at buildings surrounding the quad. Those on the picket line outside Gregory Hall chanted, “Reading, writing, arithmetic! Provost Easter makes us sick!”
In an interview on the quad, GEO communications officer Peter Campbell stated, “The bargaining team would be happy if the administration would say the same thing in the bargaining room that they are saying in the press.”
In a bargaining session that took place on Tuesday, the GEO bargaining team produced a document citing the language from Easter’s own mass email that tuition waivers would not be reduced. The administration’s representatives deliberated for one hour and came out agreeing to protect tuition waivers for all graduate students, whether in or out of state.
The GEO is holding a general membership tonight meeting to ratify the terms of the contract.