Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for your efforts during this week’s strike. I appreciate your patience and all you have done to help ensure that our undergraduate students continue to have the academic experience they deserve.

As you know, language around tuition waivers is one of the most publicly discussed items left to be resolved in our negotiations with the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). You might have heard this referred to as the “side letter.”  To view the 2.25.18 version of the side letter click here.

I’m writing today to address questions I’m hearing from our faculty wondering why we are proposing new language at all. Why don’t we, as the GEO has said, simply resurrect the expired side letter on tuition waivers that was included in the previous two agreements? The short answer is that the language of the original side letter has been, on two occasions so far, subject to legal interpretations that are not at all consistent with the University’s original intent and not consistent with the principles of shared faculty governance.

The side letter was created in 2009 in an effort to address concerns about the possibility of then-current students having the terms of their waivers changed by their academic program during their academic career. This language was crafted specifically and only to offer assurances to these students that their waivers would be protected.

Since then, in two separate arbitration decisions, the actual language of the side letter has been interpreted in ways that have impacts far beyond the original intent of the agreement. These decisions have created challenges for faculty within departments who want to modify the designation of a program. Specifically, these decisions restrict a department’s ability to reclassify an existing graduate program to a self-supporting program. And they have also restricted a department’s ability to seek reimbursement for tuition costs from another department. Neither of these outcomes was ever part of the negotiation around the original side letter. These decisions decrease the role of faculty governance in the development of a coherent, sustainable strategy for graduate education at Illinois – and that is the reason why we cannot accept a final agreement with the original side letter language.

Our intent in the new side letter language is to offer those in the GEO bargaining unit tuition waiver protection while restoring the ability of departments, schools and colleges to modify programs in ways that further their educational mission. As intended in the original side letter, our language explicitly guarantees tuition waivers to bargaining unit members and safeguards the value of those waivers throughout a student’s time in an academic program. And it allows faculty within departments, schools and colleges to exercise their authority and responsibility to make decisions related to their academic programs.

There are differences between collective bargaining around employment issues and academic governance. Rather than addressing terms and conditions of employment, the original side letter cedes your authority as faculty members to make the decisions that determine the future of this institution.

Graduate education is an irreplaceable and essential cornerstone of the excellence of a public research university. We are committed to reaching a final and fair agreement as quickly as possible and I am certain the GEO shares that same goal. I am optimistic we will get through this together in a way that leads to better opportunities for everyone who comes to study at Illinois.


Andreas C. Cangellaris
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost

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