Current University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Nancy Cantor should have learned a lesson in cooperating responsibly with labor groups when she was Provost at Michigan. But as the saying goes, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
Now head of UI, she has to deal with a similar crisis which resulted in a walkout by GSIs last Wednesday and Thursday. This time the issue is more contentious the Illinois Graduate Employees” Organization isn”t in dispute with the administration over contract details, rather, they are fighting for the right to have their union election honored and to begin collective bargaining with UI.
Part of the conflict between UI and GEO centers on whether GSIs are actual employees or students whose teaching experience is intertwined their education. Graduate Student Instructors do a large percentage (sometimes a majority) of the undergraduate teaching at schools like Michigan and Illinois. At schools like UI, GSIs spend many hours teaching classes, grading papers and meeting with students, because professors are too involved in research. Without GSIs these large universities would not work. If UI pretends to have any commitment to its undergraduates it would recognize the professional nature of GSIs” work and treat them accordingly.
The Illinois House of Representatives recognizes that GSIs are employees and expressed its disgust with the UI administration. The House asked UI to recognize their employees” right to organize and negotiate in good faith with GEO. The resolution says that “The freedom to form a union is essential to forming a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between the administration of the University and its graduate employees.”
UI must recognize that in denying its GSIs the right to collectively bargain, they are not just bucking a national trend they happen to find bothersome they are ignoring the results of a democratic election and stifling the voices of the people who make their campus work. This is unfair behavior by any standard. It is especially appalling to see a university an institution dedicated to the enlightenment and instruction of society engage in the sort of maneuvering Illinois has in order to subvert the democratic process and avoid treating its employees decently.
The University of Michigan has recognized its Graduate Employee Union since 1975 and the campus has come to recognize that GEO improves the lives of GSIs as well as the education of undergraduates. Cantor should have learned this during her stay at Michigan. The University of Illinois Administration must stop fighting GEO and work to meet its modest demands.