Universities tend to have a pretty benign if elitist image. That’s particularly true for the 2/3’s or so of the U.S. who don’t have college degrees. Too often people with degrees are grossly sentimental; perfect fodder for football programs and alumni fund drives. If you work at a university, especially if you are a teacher or graduate student, your attitude can shift dramatically.
The current GEO strike is a case in point. The Graduate Employee Organization’s (GEO) decision to strike might seem frivolous or even reckless to anyone unfamiliar with the way they have historically been treated by the University of Illinois. But sometimes paranoia is justified. The UI stalled the graduate student union in court for more than a decade.
Now, apparently, they’ve refused to guarantee a tuition waiver. That would worry me too, given the current budget impasse in Illinois. As usual, though, the University wants what they inevitably call flexibility. In other words, they want to be able to make teachers pay for their jobs (through tuition) if (in their view) circumstances warrant. It’s not an idle threat.
I paid for my job at UT Austin in exactly this way while I was a graduate student. When it comes to what it considers its own interests, especially finances, universities have proven themselves to be very untrustworthy partners. GEO needs to stick to its guns, or the rest of us are going to feel the repercussions. I hope students and professors will respect the pickets.