Ever So True?

Yesterday was my department’s graduation ceremony, and it was great–the weather was perfect, the students were excited, and the parents glowing with pride. We had the bagpipers, the brass quintet, the inspiring speeches,  sang the “Alma Mater,” the whole nine yards.

In Communication, our tradition is that at the end of the ceremony, faculty stand at the exits, and as the students walk out toward the quad, we applaud them, cheering them onward into their new lives.  This ritual can make even the most curmudgeonly faculty member feel proud of the University of Illinois.   Everyone’s face seems to say “This is a good thing.  I’m glad to be part of this.”  And they should be.

When I watch students hug teachers, staffers, and their TAs, whom they often know better than their professors, it’s moving.  It reminds me that everybody at U of I works hard, often goes the extra mile, and cares deeply about educating and guiding the students.

So it is sad to realize that as an employer, the University of Illinois refuses to treat some of these people with decency and respect.   In fact, our employer is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars avoiding negotiations with unionized employees, and is refusing to recognize the democratic rights of employees to bargain collectively.  The U of I is racking up unfair labor practice citations, and in some cases is breaking Illinois and federal labor law by refusing to bargain in good faith.

The unions affected are the Visiting Academic Professionals (many of whom make labs run for students and professors),  AFSCME  locals 698 and 3700, the library technicians  and administrative professionals who are the fabric of the University,  the Graduate Employees Organization, who do an enormous amount of teaching and grading, and UI Faculty United, the faculty union at UI Chicago.  Thousands of employees are being disrespected by the University on this graduation weekend. This isn’t a small spat — it’s a broad and consistent pattern of disregard.

All the unions are finding the University is stalling, obstructive and negative in its responses to proposals, often in violation of the law.

Does the UI Administration really want to tarnish the University’s reputation this way?  No university, public or private, should make it a policy to violate labor law.  And no public University should be spending its money on anti-union tactics and union-busting law firms lawyers.

Come on, Alma Mater – we can be better than this!

CFAers can help by letting President Easter and Chancellor Wise know that you want the University to recognize and bargain in good faith with all  U of I unions at all campuses.

Published by Susan Davis

I teach in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois.

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