Illinois Public Media News
Teaching and graduate assistants return to work Wednesday on the University of Illinois Urbana campus. The Graduate Employees Organization has ended its strike, after reaching a tentative agreement with the administration on a new three-year contract.
The official decision to suspend the strike was made by the GEO's strike committee Tuesday night, following a membership meeting in which members unanimously endorsed the tentative contract and the suspension of their two-day walkout.
Grad student workers had struck over tuition waivers --- and GEO spokesman Rich Potter says the university is promising in a side letter to the new contract, that any changes to the current tuition waiver policy will be subject to negotiation with the union. Potter says the language is a compromise, since the union had wanted the administration to renounce any discussion of a change in the waiver policy altogether.
A U of I news release says that "during the term of the three-year agreement, graduate assistant and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced while they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making proper progres toward graduation in the program in which they began."
GEO member and mathematics teaching assistant Dan Lior says tuition waivers had been the most important issue for him. And he says he's pleased that the union's efforts created progress on the issue.
"For me personally, the difference is that the union demonstrated the ability of the everyday person to make changes that matter", says Lior. "It's a shame that it had to come to a strike, but we still do have the power to influence the way things are run."
The tentative agreement also includes a ten percent raise over three years for the minimum graduate worker salary --- union spokesman Potter says that's an improvement, but still short of the Living Wage that the union had sought for all graduate employees. He says the GEO will continue to push for a Living Wage for all grad employees when the next contract is negotiated. The new agreement also includes two additional weeks of unpaid parental leave and increases to the university's contribution to health care premiums (reaching 75% in the third year of the agreement).
"I think we're very happy to reach agreement", said Urbana campus administration spokesperson Robin Kaler. "We absolutely value the work that our graduate assistants do, and we're very excited to move forward."
GEO spokesman Rich Potter says they hope to schedule a ratification vote for this week.The agreement would then go the U of I Board of Trustees for their vote. If approved by both sides, the contract would be retroactive to the start of the semester.
The strike by University of Illinois graduate student employees may be winding down.
Their negotiating team has reached a tentative agreement with the U of I over language in their contract regarding tuition waiver security.
The university says the tentative agreement will guarantee that grad assistants and teaching assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced as long as they're in good standing, hold their assistantships and are making reasonable progress toward graduation.
The contract offer also includes items the two sides agreed on last Saturday, including higher stipends, more subsidies for health insurance and parental accommodation periods after the birth or adoption of a child. That disagreement led GEO members to walk out.
At a rally this afternoon on the U of I quad, spokesman Peter Campbell said members meeting tonight at the Wesley United Methodist Church will determine whether the strike will be suspended - he expects a ratification vote in the next few days.
A new committee to advise the Champaign school district on equity issues is now in place. The Unit Four School Board approved members for the Education Equity Excellence --- or Triple E Committee --- during a special meeting Monday night. And they named ten community members to serve on the panel, including notable local African-Americans such as local N-double-A-C-P President Jerome Chambers and former school board member Nathaniel White.
But the new committee is supposed to study equity issues for all Unit Four residents ... so its members also include white, Asian-American and Latino residents. In the last category, bilingual education teacher Lily Jimenez says she hopes the committee can be a voice for families --- especially Latino Families.
"I would love there to be, kind of like an open forum for Latino families", said Jimenez, "to just come and share their experiences with the district. You know, things that they like, things they would like to see different. And then just start a dialog, to see what things the district is doing well, and what things they could do better."
School Board member Susan Grey says that after years under the Consent Decree, she welcomes the feedback from community members.
"I like having a measure of accountability from our own community", says Grey. "Not court oversight, but community oversight".
Other members of the Triple-E Committee will represent the Unit Four administration, teachers union and school board.
School Board member Susan Grey says the board must meet at least twice a semester, but can meet more frequently. She says it can also recruit more members for subcommittees focusing on specific topics. Grey expects the Triple-E Committee to hold its first one oro two meetings before the year is out.
The Ten Community Members Named to the Unit Four EEE Committee:
Virginia "Ginny" B. Holder --- attorney
Lily Jimenez --- bilingual teacher
Annette McDonald Jones --- Dir. of Trust Services, U of I Foundation
Dr. Christina N. Medrano ---surgeon
Karl Radnitzer - education professor, Milliken University
Melodye Benson Rosales -- commercial and educational publishing
Jamar Brown --- member, Champaign Human Relations Committee
Rev. Jerome C. Chambers - President, Champaign County Chapter of the NAACP
Nancy Hoetker --- President, Champaign PTA Council
Nathaniel C. Banks -- former Unit Four School Board member
Family members of Chicago Board of Education President Michael Scott say they appreciate the outpouring of support they've received in the wake of his death.
The family issued a statement through Chicago Public Schools on Monday after Scott's body was pulled from the Chicago River on Monday.
An autopsy and investigation into the death are under way. Police say officers were called to the city's River North neighborhood at about 3:15 a.m., where they found his body in the water.
The Scott family's statement says arrangements for a public memorial service will be announced soon.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Rev. Jesse Jackson are among the leaders expressing shock over Scott's death.
Picket lines sprung up around four University of Illinois buildings this morning.
Several hundred Graduate Employees Organization members and supporters picked up picket signs and walked in circles near the entrances of the English and Foreign Languages buildings as well as Davenport and Gregory halls. They wore ponchos or carried umbrellas against today's cold rain.
After negotiations Saturday resolved every issue but one, Graduate Employees Organization leaders opted to call a strike beginning today. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says currently most teaching or research assistants on the Urbana campus have all or part of their grad school tuition waived as part of their compensation for their work. But Campbell claims the U of I won't put it in writing that those waivers will go on.
"The purpose of a university -- especially a public land-grant university -- it to provide open, accessible and high-quality education, and tuition waivers are an important part of that," Campbell said. "It wouldn't cost the administration anything to provide a contractual guarantee of protection for tuition waivers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler contends that the GEO didn't bring up the guarantee demand until the night of the talks. "The University offered Saturday night that if the Board of Trustees would ever want to change the general rules that affect tuition waivers, we would bargain with the GEO on that."
Kaler says faculty have been asked to make arrangements to hold classes in different locations or make alternate assignments for students during the strike. Campbell says faculty were alerted about picket sites before the strike, and many switched locations. U of I police say the strike has been uneventful so far, aside from a few complaints about excessive noise on the Quad.
Picket lines are expected in front of an unknown number of University of Illinois Urbana campus buildings Monday morning.
After negotiations Saturday resolved every issue but one, Graduate Employees Organization leaders opted to call a strike beginning Monday. GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says currently most teaching or research assistants on the Urbana campus have all or part of their grad school tuition waived as part of their compensation for their work. But Campbell claims the U of I won't put it in writing that those waivers will go on.
"The purpose of a university --- especially a public land-grant universities is to provide open and accessible and high quality education, and I think tuition waivers are an important part of that", said Campbell. "And again, it wouldn't cost the administration anything to provide a contractual guarantee, protection for tuition waivers."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler contends that the GEO didn't bring up the guarantee demand until the night of the talks.
"The university offered Saturday night that if the university board of trustees would ever want to change the general rules that affect tuition waivers, we would bargain with the GEO on that", said Kaler.
Kaler says faculty have been asked to make arrangements to hold classes in different locations or make alternate assignments for students during the strike. Campbell says faculty have been told of picket sites, but he wouldn't say where strikers would be stationed for the picketing, scheduled to begin at 8 AM Monday morning.
As it searches for new leadership ... the University of Illinois Board of Trustees will let one man handle two top posts at the Urbana campus.
Trustees voted Thursday to make Robert Easter interim Chancellor. He takes over for Richard Herman, who resigned in the wake of the scandal admissions scandal, which student applicants with political clout received favored treatment. Easter is already UIUC's interim provost. He'll keep that job as well.
The changes at the Urbana campus accompany a shift in the university system's top administrative post. In January ... former U of I President Stan Ikenberry will temporarily resume his old post, replacing B. Joseph White, who is resigning, effective January 1st, in the wake of the admissions scandal.
Trustee Edward McMillan says working with Ikenberry will help Easter manage the dual roles.
McMillan says assigning Easter to double duty is a necessity caused by timing.
"We need to have someone filling those positions right away", says McMillan, "and having the experience of Bob and the experience of Stan allows us to fill those needs very quickly. There's lot of confidence in both of those individuals ... and their experience."
McMillan also says he has confidence both Easter and Ikenberry will make responsible decisions because neither of them are candidates for permanent positions.
A University of Illinois spokesman says the search for a new Urbana Champaign campus Chancellor and Provost will begin only after the school system has a new President.
Rallies were held on all three University of Illinois campuses Thursday as talks of a strike loomed among graduate workers in Urbana. Some of the chanting was aimed at administrators as more than 300 members and supporters of the Graduate Employees Organization made their way across the campus quad. The rally was held a few hours after two busloads of union members rallied in Springfield, where U of I Trustees were meeting, while 50 with the GEO rallied in Chicago.
Its membership approved a strike authorization vote last week over a living wage and guaranteed tuition waivers. The union says the U of I has agreed to a new negotiating session slated for Saturday afternoon. Co-President Caroline Nappo says it's the result of the membership meeting a week ago when more than 90% of voting members favored a strike. "When we put serious pressure on the university related to a possible work action they are more responsive," says Nappo. "We've been negotiating for almost seven months now and from April until just a few weeks ago, the university hadn't made any kind of offer that gave us anything." Nappo says there's been some movement on the areas of health care coverage and parental leave, and the administration agreed to drop some language about discrimination-based grievances.
GEO spokesman Peter Campbell says adding the Saturday session is encouraging, but its strike committee has been meeting regularly and can call for a work stoppage at any time. U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler says she's hopeful the best possible contract can be reached within the university's financial constraints.
Former University of Illinois Urbana campus Chancellor Richard Herman has taken himself out of the running for another university leadership position.
Not long after his last day as chancellor, it was revealed Herman was one of five finalists for the president's job at New Mexico State University. But a press release Wednesday from the school says Herman has taken his name out of consideration, saying he has other obligations that prevent him from continuing as a candidate.
Herman resigned as chancellor last month as part of the fallout from the U of I's admissions controversy. Records showed he had weighed on admissions officials to accept prospective students endorsed by powerful political figures or trustees.
A Douglas County Judge has ruled that an autistic 1st grader can continue bringing his service dog to school. Judge Michael Freese sided Tuesday with the family of 6-year old Kaleb Drew, saying 'Chewey' clearly functions as a service animal, keeping him calm and focused in class. Kaleb's mother, Nichelle Drew, says before the family got the Labrador retriever, her son often slept 2 to 3 hours at night, ran away from home, and they weren't able to take him to places like grocery stores and restaurants.
"We were seeing such improvement with Kaleb and such growth with Kaleb and Chewey as a team that we didn't want anything to hinder that," says Drew. "We wanted it to be able to continue and for Kaleb just to be able to continue to experience life to the fullest. And I think that's what every parent wants for their child. As parent of a child with autism, it's something that I don't get to experience very often."
Attorneys for the Villa Grove school district argued the dog wasn't helping the child's development, and can be disruptive to other students and staff. Based on the testimony from school staff, Judge Freese noted problems in dealing with the dog at times. But he says the real problems were with a state statute that doesn't clearly define Chewey's role while accompanying Kaleb at school. Villa Grove schools attorney Brandon Wright says its legal team is still weighing its options, and could appeal the district's decision. He says a big problem lies with a state law that allows service animals in schools, but doesn't provide much guidance.
"When you have a student who is young and incapable of being the handler of a dog, what does that mean for the school in terms of its responsibility?," says Wright. "And this statute is silent on that and the judge recognized that conundrum for the school district." This case and a separate lawsuit involving an autistic boy in southwestern Illinois are the first challenges to the state's law allowing service animals in schools. Authorities in both school districts have said that the boys' needs must be balanced against those of other children who have allergies or fear the animals.
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