Unionization only way to maintain fair working environment, high quality education

Editor’s note: This letter is a response to the previous editorial, “Unionization at University needs stronger, demonstrable goals,” published in the Feb. 11, 2014, edition of The Daily Illini. 

The Daily Illini Editorial Board’s recent editorial raises serious questions about the wisdom of a unionized faculty at the University. Unfortunately, many of their answers are uninformed and misleading. 

The editorial originally claimed that if a unionized faculty were to go on strike, the Graduate Employees’ Organization would join. The Daily Illini has since issued a correction, as our current contract prohibits us going on strike. They neglected to mention a more important factor: Sympathy strikes are illegal, and the GEO will not break the law. 

The editorial also says it is difficult to hire more faculty, raise salaries and keep tuition the same. Yet, we know tuition has gone up dramatically. So why the shortage of funding? 

From 2001-12, tuition increased about $6,000 and the administration argues that this increase is needed because of a reduction in state funding. However, in the same period, state funding only dropped about $3,000 per student per year.  

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This means the University has made more than $100 million in additional revenue through increased tuition. 

So where has the money gone? From 2005-12, administrative positions at the University have increased by nearly 20 percent. In 2012, the top 28 administrators on campus received an average 5.86 percent wage increase. That’s over 5 percent added on to their six-figure salaries. 

Meanwhile, the money has not gone to instruction. From 2005-12, instructional positions have not even increased 1 percent. And from 2001-12, student enrollment has increased 13 percent! This means fewer professors per student. 

It is also false that the GEO “put students against the University to achieve its goals.” First, the GEO are students. Second, it’s the University’s irresponsible tuition hikes that put the students against the University. The GEO has regularly spoken out against tuition hikes and supports keeping tuition low for undergraduates. And third, in over ten years as a union, GEO work actions have caused two days of canceled class, out of over 2,000 school days. 

We take work actions very seriously, and it is false to claim that they have a significant impact on the academic quality of education when they have affected less than a tenth of a percent of school days.

Finally, The Daily Illini claimed that unionization creates hostile work environments. On the contrary, hostile work environments create unions. The faculty has a right to unionize, and the GEO fully supports this decision if a majority deem this is in their best interest. 

The University administration has made it clear that they will raise tuition even while claiming they have no money, spending the surplus on non-instructional aspects of the University. 

Building service workers, food service workers, staff and graduate employees have all decided that a union is the only way to maintain a just working environment and high quality education. It is hardly surprising that faculty is beginning to feel the same way.

Clayton Alsup, graduate student in philosophy and co-president of Graduate Employees’ Organization