The Corporatization of the University (Updated)

By November 16, 2009

The Graduate Student Employment Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois is going on strike tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM. I know this blog is primarily about the study of Mormon History, but inasmuch as almost all of its contributors are involved in Graduate Education I thought they might be interested in the following letter I wrote to my undergraduate students as an explanation for the strike. I think it tries to explain and interrogate the rapid corporatization of universities all over the country. I promise I will write something about Mormon history soon 🙂 We would also appreciate any support from those of you in Illinois.

Dear Students,

If you haven’t heard by now, the strike committee for the GEO has called a strike that will start tomorrow at 8:00 AM. This means that there will be no discussion section meetings in the time that the strike continues. It also means that I will be unavailable for any consultation, help, or communication in regards to the course. I am sorry that it has come to this. I wish that you all did not have to suffer because of the strike. Please remember that we are only striking because of the actions of the University–withholding our labor is the only recourse we have to fight University practices that continue to infringe upon the quality of instruction and  learning here at the U of I. The strike is the administration’s fault. This is not a decision that was taken lightly. The contract for Teaching Assistants ran out in mid-August of this year. The representatives of our Union have been trying to negotiate with the administration about the contract since May, but did not even receive an offer from their side until right before our current contract ran out. Their contract offer for the next three years was actually much worse than our previous contract which was about to end. It offered no raises for the next three years to keep up with inflation and actually included language that would allow the University to issue furloughs, which means that in theory they would not pay us for any work during the Winter and Spring breaks when we are grading finals and entering grades for our students. This means we would possibly be doing the same amount of work for less pay. Also, the administration refused language in the contract that would protect out-of-state tuition wavers which most of us from other places rely on to stay in school. This contract was unacceptable and so we have been working without the protection of a contract ever since–pretty much the entire semester. We have compromised a lot with the University since August, and we have come to agreements on wages, furloughs, and even health care–these agreements have only come to pass because we have threatened to strike. But the administration still has refused to grant us any guarantees in regard to our tuition waivers. I know that many of you struggle to pay rapidly rising tuition rates here at the University, so you might be able to understand why we, as graduate students, value these tuition waivers enough to strike about them. Most of us are from out of state, so we would even have to pay the out of state rate if we were to lose this benefit. We really do not understand why the University will not budge on this issue. Giving us waivers does not cost them anything. Tuition waivers are like scholarships–they don’t generally represent real money. The University simply agrees not to charge us tuition because of the research we do and prestige we bring to the institution. The waivers would only become real money if the University decided to change their policies, and they wouldn’t be so stubborn about the issue if this wasn’t a real possibility for the University. Thus, we are striking to protect the benefits we were promised when we came to the University.

As you all can tell, in classes like EALC/Hist 120 the TA’s do the majority of the work. We are not, however, paid very well for it–especially when you consider that all of us have Bachelor’s and some of us have Master’s Degrees. Also, almost all graduate students are self-supporting which means that our parents don’t give us any money for school. Many, like me, are married and some even have children and try to live on their small stipends. The relationship between the university and graduate students should be mutually beneficial. They promise to provide us with jobs to help support our time here as students, while we provide them with the labor to teach a lot of the undergraduate classes. This isn’t something that just anyone could do. Most professors consider themselves too swamped with the research requirements made on them to achieve tenure to teach any more classes than they already do, thus the TA’s fulfill an essential role. If TA’s wages and benefits decrease, the University becomes less competitive in recruiting the best graduate students to come here. If the quality of graduate students goes down, so will the quality of your TA’s. At the same time that the administration has been fighting us over every single penny, the University has used large amounts of money to pay severance packages to its corrupt outgoing president and chancellor. It has also spent millions of dollars in legal fees trying to defend them and their illegal actions. Even after White and Herman resigned, they received cushy appointments at the University where they receive six figure salaries to teach fewer students than the average TA. And now the University wants to take away what TA’s already have to pay for the mistakes of their administrators. Remember that the money they spent was YOUR money–the tuition that you often have to struggle to put together. We think that the administration of the University needs to change its priorities back to the students, graduate and undergraduate, and so the TA’s and administration are at an impasse over tuition waivers. I feel like my only option is to stand on principle and go on strike. I really don’t want to hurt any of you, the undergraduates, who are the reason the university is here. I hope this email explains the situation and answers any questions you might have. If you do have more questions about the strike let me know, and I would be happy to answer them. If you would like to help us pressure the administration to resolve this issue you or your parents can contact the administration at these two numbers: Christopher G. Kennedy, President MMPI Phone: (312) 527-7890 ex: 7890 Or: Robert Easter, Interim Chancellor and Provost  Phone: (217) 244-4545. I hope to see you all soon, but I can’t promise I will.



(Post Update) Lest you think these problems only occur in Illinois, the University of California system has been wrought with turmoil as thousands of graduate students, staff members, professors, and undergraduates came together last week to protest tuition hikes, waiver revocations, and furloughs. Why is it than when the economy tanks, education is one of the first cuts? Every dollar spent for education eventually generates more than four dollars in tax revenue. Is there any better investment for state and national governments? Once cuts do happen, why do administrators turn to the corporate model to make things work? Comments have been closed, and I don’t want a rehash of previous debates. I just thought that people would like to know that our TA strike was not an isolated event.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. It saddens me that this post got 100 comments and the post on the disbanding of BYU’s Women’s Research Institute received only a couple.

    Comment by Amanda H. — November 17, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

  2. Be of good cheer, Amanda. As people keep assuring me, the comment count has little to do with the greatness of a post or the significance of its topic — in fact, the fewer the comments, the greater the likelihood that a post has been appreciated, touched lives, and made a difference in the world.

    What? That doesn’t comfort you either?

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — November 17, 2009 @ 6:41 pm

  3. Tim,

    Our contract when from a regressive contract proposed by the University to a progressive one. We didn’t get everything we wanted. Unions never do. You ask for more than you want in order to get something fair. Compared to what the University initially offered us, it is a great contract. You should try and bill the University for your lost time.


    I also bemoan that this post has received more attention than the equally important Women’s Research Institute post.

    Comment by Joel — November 17, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

  4. Thanks for your comments, Tim. I have to agree with you, especially your comments in #75.

    The graduate students may have won this battle, but they (and other union influences) are losing the war.

    Comment by clayton — November 17, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

  5. Amanda,

    I made a comment with question over at one of the recent WRI posts at JI.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 17, 2009 @ 8:05 pm

  6. “You should try and bill the University for your lost time.”

    Actually, I should sue the union for battery (considering the strikers actually put their hands on me when I went to cross the picket line today in order to attend my class) and sue THEM for my lost time. They’re the ones responsible for this strike, NOT the university.

    “The graduate students may have won this battle, but they (and other union influences) are losing the war.”

    I might agree with you, but the problem in this instance is that this is personal to me, as these people were denying thousands of people the education for which they have already paid. I know that unions are on the decline. People finally woke up and realized that big labor and big business are in cahoots anyway.

    It is atrocious and shameful that this is even allowed in a modern society.

    Comment by Tim — November 17, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  7. “It is atrocious and shameful that this is even allowed in a modern society.”

    Genocide? Rape? Female Genital Mutilation? Poverty?

    Nope. A two day distruption of Tim’s undergraduate class schedule. After all, they did make physical contact. Classic.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 17, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

  8. Most of the comments on this thread have been pretty lamentable. But just to antagonize the likes of Tim and Morgan, I will now in my most sneering, academically whiny keystrokes deliver some condescending remarks straight from the ivory tower. I give you Lucretius (De Rerum Natura 2.1-14), in Latin, because that is what jerk-face academics learn on your wasted dime:

    Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis
    e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem;
    non quia vexari quemquamst iucunda voluptas,
    sed quibus ipse malis careas quia cernere suavest.
    suave etiam belli certamina magna tueri
    per campos instructa tua sine parte pericli.
    sed nihil dulcius est, bene quam munita tenere
    edita doctrina sapientum templa serena,
    despicere unde queas alios passimque videre
    errare atque viam palantis quaerere vitae,
    certare ingenio, contendere nobilitate,
    noctes atque dies niti praestante labore
    ad summas emergere opes rerumque potiri.
    o miseras hominum mentes, o pectora caeca!

    Man, I love me some Lucretius! Still relevant after these many years.

    And good work, Joel. As a comrade in arms at a university to the north of you, I feel for you and hope that U of I gets its act in gear.

    Comment by oudenos — November 17, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  9. Translation please?

    Comment by Mark D. — November 17, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  10. I like Latin by the way, and what little I have learned is anything but a waste of time.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 17, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

  11. Non-JI Ben,

    And if we’re going to play the “how long one’s been around and commented” game, I think I have JI Ben beat. (Guest blogged at T&S back in 2004, and have contributed regularly at several places since.)

    I’m aware of your blogging history. My impression is that you were regularly commenting around the bloggernacle under other monikers (i.e. with your last initial at T&S or as “M* Ben” at M*) until you started working for Patheos a few months ago, at which point you began commenting simply as “Ben.” Am I mistaken?

    Comment by Christopher — November 17, 2009 @ 10:20 pm

  12. Consider me agonized oudenos. Or, translated into Ivory Tower: Xianzai dangran wo quanshan dou bu shufu.

    Comment by Morgan Deane — November 17, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

  13. Mark D.,

    Here is an old-timey translation for you (W.E. Leonard).

    ‘Tis sweet, when, down the mighty main, the winds
    Roll up its waste of waters, from the land
    To watch another’s labouring anguish far,
    Not that we joyously delight that man
    Should thus be smitten, but because ’tis sweet
    To mark what evils we ourselves be spared;
    ‘Tis sweet, again, to view the mighty strife
    Of armies embattled yonder o’er the plains,
    Ourselves no sharers in the peril; but naught
    There is more goodly than to hold the high
    Serene plateaus, well fortressed by the wise,
    Whence thou may’st look below on other men
    And see them ev’rywhere wand’ring, all dispersed
    In their lone seeking for the road of life;
    Rivals in genius, or emulous in rank,
    Pressing through days and nights with hugest toil
    For summits of power and mastery of the world.
    O wretched minds of men! O blinded hearts!

    Comment by oudenos — November 17, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

  14. Haven’t been very consistent, have I? 🙂

    There’s a dissertation topic for somebody- “Identity Formation in the non-Real Sphere: Representation, Duplication, and Confusion”

    Comment by Non-JI Ben — November 17, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

  15. Chris H.,

    Now that you’re finally void of any real argument, you’ve gone from annoying to condescending and irrelevant.

    Comment by Tim — November 17, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

  16. Morgan,

    I resent the implication that somehow you guys are entilted to more because you position demands it.

    And I resent the fact that you think you’re better than me because you delivered pizzas.

    Then you get mad when the school wants to descrease the perks of your pampered lifestyle during a time of extreme financial hardship for many other people.

    Pampered lifestyle? Really? Because we didn’t deliver pizzas we lead a pampered lifestyle?

    I worked more and harder as a graduate student than these whiny GTAs in the strike

    How on earth would you know this?

    If you don’t like my comment you can feel free to ignore me.

    Morgan, we are the creators, administrators, and authors of this blog. Not you. We make the rules around here. Not you. Please respect that fact and observe our comment policy.

    the almost immediate implication that I was too stupid or lazy during my education (comment 83)combined with a hyper defensiveness from several more people reinforced that generalization.

    I’m sorry for my suggestion that you are stupid or lazy. It was, of course, merely a reaction to your own suggestions that TAs at UIUC did not work hard as pizza delivery boys.

    Comment by Christopher — November 17, 2009 @ 10:39 pm

  17. Now that you’re finally void of any real argument, you’ve gone from annoying to condescending and irrelevant.

    As have you.

    Comment by Christopher — November 17, 2009 @ 10:42 pm

  18. Thanks, oudenos.

    Comment by Mark D. — November 17, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

  19. Argument? Nope, I am just mocking you. It is way too easy, but still enjoyable after hours. I hope none of those mean grad students touch you for the rest of the week (unless you really like that kind of thing).

    Ok, you are right. I am annoying.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 17, 2009 @ 11:22 pm

  20. This year’s academic job list looks like for English: In the entire country, there are openings for 9 medievalists, 14 Renaissance scholars, 7 eighteenth-century scholars, 6 Romanticists, 7 nineteenth-century scholars, and 12 twentieth-century scholars.

    I’ll note that the average school teacher makes more money than the average attorney. Which is why legal services positions have such heavy application rates for jobs paying $40k a year or less with no benefits.

    Legal employment is tri-modal. The high end (which has lost some of its luster) which picks up about 10% of the law school graduates, starts with a peak around $140k.

    The next bulge has a peak around $60k — and is flooded with applications.

    The bottom bulge, which is under reported, but large enough to pull the entire field’s average pay to under $40k, is somewhat lower.

    It was that way when I graduated in ’82 (at that time the average pay was under $25k for all lawyers).

    I had some analysis I can’t remember, but it goes to the fact that as in many other fields, those at the top are learning to leverage their positions to get paid a great deal more than those at the bottom, which is causing problems all the way around.

    But academic employment is especially hard hit.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — November 17, 2009 @ 11:31 pm

  21. In my experience Christopher, the teaching portion of my work load is easier and pays more. And I sure as hell never made 20 dollars an hour delivering pizzas (maybe I should have shaken my booty some more), let alone got any benefits. Thus, in my experience my teaching position is not only easier, but far more productive in providing for my family.

    Perhaps I am too grateful for doing what I want to do and not being in so many crappy ‘pay the rent’ jobs to notice how hard teaching is supposed to be. Perhaps I am so grateful to finally have a job in my career field that I don’t whine about the perks I supposedly deserve. Perhaps I’m too stupid to know that I suck as a teacher! But I am sublimely grateful for the opportunity to teach and don’t mind the lack of perks at this point in my career. At this point actually, I consider the relatively large pay check and the peace of mind it gives my family a great perk!

    Most of all, I’m sorry you don’t recognize the opinion of somebody with a great deal of life experience (9 years in the military, deployments, death, working through school, several tough breaks, yada yada yada); due to that life experience I get a little less demanding and impatient over tuition waivers and such. I’m also sorry I failed to explain where I am coming from, which makes me disregard the grave causes of this strike.

    So relax. From my perspective I think you have it pretty good, and I will draw certain conclusions about people who want to complain about being in a better situation than me (through more money, better benefits, funds for research etc). I can express them more tactfully, but I still believe them. I hope that explains my position a bit better, good luck in your studies.

    Comment by Morgan Deane — November 17, 2009 @ 11:37 pm

  22. Thanks for the more conciliatory comment, Morgan.

    I am curious about your repeated suggestion that graduate students are “whining” about their situation. Is this a reference to the strikers at UIUC? Does a strike, in your thinking, equate with whining? Or are you referring to commenters here? If so, can you please provide examples so that I can better understand your point?

    Comment by Christopher — November 17, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

  23. You all realize, don’t you, that you’re sounding very much like your fathers in this who-suffered-most contest? “I walked six miles uphill (both ways) in the snow to deliver pizzas!” “Well, when *I* delivered pizzas, I had to cross a croc-infested swamp, and …” It’s very entertaining.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 17, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

  24. That was my third draft, you should have seen the first two. 🙂

    I seem to get the whining idea from a couple of factors. First, as I said earlier, the benefits that the gtas get at U of I seem pretty good. So good in fact that I would take them right now over my adjunct position (acceptance in the PhD program would be nice too of course). So it bugs me that people want to strike for slightly better benefits, when even their “reduced” benefits already seem like a pot of gold compared to my past two years. So yes I think the strike is a whine. In a perfect world I would go back and respond with more emphathy.

    Adding to that were some rude comments towards a few of the people that I agreed with, (see comments 1-10 or so). I aslo felt like several of the comments suggested that teaching is a huge burden. As I mentioned before, I’m so happy to have my adjunct position that I feel blessed, excited and relieved to do it. To have people strike over benefits when they already have an awesome jobs seems ungrateful to me.

    Plus those “tough breaks” I mentioned were in regard to grad school acceptance. Its a long story but I still feel shafted, and I feel like I had to claw my way back into acceptence, and you correctly identified a chip on my should about it.

    I fully realize I don’t know everybodies(sp) situation here, and like Ardis said, maybe somebody had to deliver pizzas by foot running through monsoons while translating Virgil with their free hand and then they got in a mining cart and battled the evil dudes henchmen as he broke the damn and then you had to save the annoying Chinese kid…

    I should also tell you about the six stages of Morgan chatting: 1: I comment forcefully 2: People don’t like it 3: I double down 4: I get body slammed or group tackled, 5: I comeback with a better tone with the same point 6: We all have a group hug and talk. I rarely comment on blogs around here but thats how it goes.

    But now I’m rambling horribly. Hope that answers your question a bit more.

    Comment by Morgan Deane — November 18, 2009 @ 12:16 am

  25. Good stuff, Morgan. FWIW, I’m not a Mormon–my friend linked me to this blog. He is.

    Comment by Tim — November 18, 2009 @ 1:32 am

  26. Thanks Morgan and Tim, it’s made for a lively discussion. Now if we could just get Chris H. in on the group hug …

    Comment by Steve Fleming — November 18, 2009 @ 1:49 am

  27. Hugs all around Steve.

    Comment by Chris H. — November 18, 2009 @ 6:47 am

  28. Wow, 128 comments (and counting). We usually only get this type of traffic when we blog about race or Glenn Beck. I guess labor disputes get people riled up too.

    Comment by David G. — November 18, 2009 @ 7:25 am

  29. Thus, we are striking to protect the benefits we were promised when we came to the University.

    I think that is the point that got overlooked in much of the above debate and discussion.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — November 18, 2009 @ 8:05 am

  30. May I suggest something? We might see the tuition waivers as an attempt to make graduate school more diverse and equitable. The tuition at the public university where I am a graduate student is $36,000 a year. As someone from a lower socioeconomic background, I could never afford to pay that outright and the likely salary I would make after graduate school would never allow me to pay it back if I had to take it all out in loans. No tuition waiver, no graduate school for me.

    Also, I have some friends who have full-ride scholarships to law school, and yes, their scholarships come with a small stipend. Should law schools offer more scholarships to make it possible for more low income students to attend? Perhaps, but let’s not pretend that every student who is at law school is paying their way.

    Oh, and since this has turned into a “how far can you spit” contest, I have worked as a maid, at a fast food restaurant, and as a forest ranger (just for a summer). My parents also both work at a factory, and my mom used to make me take out the kitty litter and occasionally clean the toilet. It was gross and brutal labor. I now make my husband do it.

    Chris H. — Thanks for making that other post.

    Comment by Amanda H. — November 18, 2009 @ 8:11 am

  31. If you are going to make $100,000+ as an lawyer, You are either going to have to be Machiavellian, or have some great skills others don’t. It is also helpful to be in the room where a lot of cash is flowing thru people’s hands. Law pays well, if you also are a good business person and have people skills.

    Comment by Bob — November 18, 2009 @ 10:19 am

  32. Uh, Bob, that comment would have been timely, oh, 70 or 80 comments ago. Maybe. Besides, can’t you see we’re all hugging now, our status, income, and professional differences forgotten? Awwwww…

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 18, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  33. Cumbaya, Cumbaya

    Comment by Joel — November 18, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

  34. “Thus, we are striking to protect the benefits we were promised when we came to the University.”

    If that were true, your strike was all for nothing. You don’t need to have a union or a strike to fight for something that is contractually guaranteed to use as an individual. Additionally, even if you couldn’t force the university into binding arbitration, you could use your union’s resources to sue the university if you were denied your contractually entitled benefits. A judge would have to be a fool or a madman to NOT grant injunctive relief, especially if this action was a class action, which would be expected if you really all have been guaranteed a tuition waiver for the duration of your time here.

    So, if your own statements are true, this strike was for nothing. Additionally, if the tuition waiver was already a matter of contractual entitlement, you had more to gain by accepting Saturday’s contract offer than the one you have on the table right now.

    Comment by Tim — November 18, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

  35. #132: Somebody needs her nap.
    I thought it went well with #120.

    Comment by Bob — November 18, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

  36. Apparently Tim didn’t get the memo about the group hug.

    Time to give it up, buddy. You’ve used our blog for your soapbox long enough.

    Comment by David G. — November 18, 2009 @ 1:30 pm


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