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GEO Responds to University’s Tuition Waiver Cuts

The University of Illinois chapter of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) sent out an e-mail to its mailing list on Thursday, Jan. 29, announcing the university’s proposal to cut tuition waivers for all graduate students with less than a 33% appointment, which could potentially affect a minimum of 600 graduate employees, according to GEO co-president Kerry Pimblott.

The appointment percentage refers to the number of hours a graduate student commits per week to his or her teaching, graduate or research assistantship. Those potentially affected by this decision include all students with a 25% appointment, which equates to 10 hours per week devoted to an assistantship.

On Monday, Jan. 26, UI administrators, including Vice Provost Richard P. Wheeler, informed the GEO of the university’s inclination. Included in the proposal was the elimination of all tuition waivers for students seeking assistantships in “tuition-supported” programs. Administrators would not name which specific programs would be affected, but “they did mention Master’s programs in Business, Law, Social Work, Library and Information, and Computer Science as examples,” according to the GEO’s e-mail to its more than 2,000 members on the UIUC campus.

In a separate e-mail sent on Wednesday, Jan. 28, by GEO spokesman Christopher Simeone, the GEO forewarned of the likelihood of shrinking departments as a byproduct of the university encouraging cash-strapped departments to transition 25% appointments to 33% appointments. Simeone wrote that the university’s “process for creating this policy endangers all of our livelihoods. This policy, from what we can tell, was formulated without the direct participation of department heads, and without any participation from graduate students.”

This news comes on the heels of the university’s town hall meeting on Jan. 22, in which a panel of representatives, including Chancellor Richard Herman and Provost Linda Katehi, expressed a desire for transparency in the administration’s decision making regarding its financial crisis, and suggested that few absolute decisions had been made at the time of the meeting. Katehi stated at that meeting that the university valued a continued commitment to serving students and a minimization of adverse effects on “our people.” At the meeting, the panel implied that each department would have the ability to affect a course of action relative to necessary cuts that is appropriate for itself.

In an e-mail interview last night, Pimblott expressed concern for the way in which the university came to its decision concerning revisions to its tuition waiver policy. “The administration has been remarkably secretive and exclusive in its approach to this enormous policy change,” Pimblott said. “For the past few months, graduate students, faculty and staff have heard ‘rumors’ of a major change to the tuition waiver policy, but nothing has been confirmed. When we finally secured information in our Labor Management Meeting this week, administrators consistently refused our requests for access to hardcopies of their proposal and Powerpoint presentations, despite the fact that the changes they delineated would radically impact graduate employees’ livelihoods.”

Pimblott continued: “We are now learning through interpersonal communications with our departments that some department heads and units were briefed about [this] proposal last semester. However, a lot of what we are hearing from departments is inconsistent with our own meeting with administrators. To put it simply, the administration needs to openly discuss its proposal with all groups in the campus community. Moreover, it is vital that groups that could be impacted by the decision be incorporated into the decision making process. … Being briefed on a plan is not the same thing as participating in a dialogue on developing and considering a plan. Being invited to a town hall meeting to hear expressions of sympathy and a cooperative spirit is not the same thing as having access to deliberations and having a voice in a democratic process to reach decisions.”

Pimblott’s estimate of the number of graduate students who may be affected by this policy change did not include students who hold research assistantships. Pimblott suggests that when figuring in those students, the total number affected may be “hundreds more.”

“We believe that far more graduate employees will lose their tuition waivers than the university anticipates,” Pimblott stated. “We also believe that most graduate students in this position will be forced to leave their degree programs because they cannot afford tuition.”

To find out more information about the university’s proposed cuts to tuition waivers for graduate students, please see this GEO-written outline.


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