By Irene F. Starkehaus -
UIC set a precedent for an entire network of Illinois colleges and universities when faculty members voted to unionize as the UIC United Faculty Union in 2012. The stated goals of UICUF:
Realizing the mission of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) as a public research university in a democratic society.
Making sure that every member of the faculty has an individual voice and that the faculty as a whole has a collective voice in determining our future.
Making the promise of shared governance a reality by backing it with the power of collective bargaining.
Keeping the principles of academic freedom, free speech and free inquiry central both to our union and our university.
I love it when the top three goals of educators are about improving collective bargaining, don't you? Only when an equitable fair share of capital has been achieved can the collective be bothered worrying about the pursuit of educational excellence...which is their job description. And when you and your child sit down to consider higher learning opportunities that will set him or her on a path toward independence, I'm sure your primary consideration is faculty salaries and pensions. Am I right?
Since the faculty of UIC unionized in 2012, the university has been plagued by work stoppages, heightened, bitter rhetoric, labor rallies and strikes. Teachers have not only cancelled classes and threatened to not post grades for their students in the Banner System, but union organizers have instructed faculty supporters to bring their students to union rallies to instruct them on union practices. Please see the blog No Faculty Union at Illinois for details about the union workings at UIC.
Now that the United Faculty Union has achieved proper pandemonium at the Chicago campus for the furtherance of its collectivist goals, it has set its sights on Champaign-Urbana where it is working to unionize the faculty there. To date, U of I resists unionization with more than 150 professors and instructors laying the arguments for maintaining academic independence. They prefer to maintain connections with professional organizations that are structured to act as guilds rather than unions like the American Association of University Professors. Such associations provide a framework for advocacy while outlining standards of academic freedom, shared governance, and standards of behavior.
One's heart must go out to these autonomous, freethinking professors. If they lose their battle, they will possibly endure academic censure from their pro-union peers for resisting...I mean, we are not strangers to the intolerance of teacher's union leaders toward anyone who would oppose their demands for economic redistribution… and they will be forced to pay union dues for representation they don't want and never asked to have. Check out Campus Reform for more on the labor battle at Champaign-Urbana and the faculty's fight to remain independent.
In the meantime, parents and students at UIC are stuck in the middle of the labor mayhem. Students must endure indoctrination by pro-union faculty; they must see their hard work in the form of grades held hostage by angry faculty members that won't give academic credit until their contract demands are met; parents must sit back and watch the meter run as their children are denied access to the education that they are paying to receive.
We should obviously applaud the faculty at Champaign-Urbana for its opposition, but at the same time parents need to think about long term implications of a unionized state university system.
Costs of attending U of I already outpace those of universities in neighboring states. In too many cases, it is actually cheaper for students to attend rival state universities than it is to stay in-state…oh, and once they leave Illinois, how likely are they to return? The brain drain starts with high education costs and is further frustrated by the financial opportunities that neighboring states can provide through economic growth and lower taxes.
We've seen what the robust Illinois Teachers Union has done to erode education standards throughout the state. Is there any reason to think that U of I wouldn't go the way of CPS by making its central focus about pensions rather than student performance? Would the academic rigor that the U of I maintains be able to sustain through a Karen Lewis styled attack on educational autonomy and choice at the university level?
Union leaders claim that they are organizing against the U of I administration, but let's be realistic. Unions are in this for money and power, and the monies that go to the pursuit of knowledge come mostly from three places – from tuition, from the generosity of alumni and from the taxpayers. When the UIC faculty decided to organize, they were organizing against you as the funder of the university system. The union will display its general contempt for the administration but these are straw man tactics for extracting higher tuition and taxes from Illinois residents. As a result, costs will rise and quality will deteriorate. The talent pool will dry up as the most brilliant educators seek positions at universities with better reputations and the best students follow their lead. This is bad news for the efficacy of future faculties at UIC.
I want to contribute a forewarning as we watch the union battle rage at Champaign-Urbana and eventually other facilities throughout the state. Taxpayers should certainly be concerned over the increasing costs and diminishing returns of higher education in the State of Illinois as faculties continue to push toward unionization. So too should those same individuals in the role of consumers be wary. There are a few of different options that individuals have for paying tuition bills. Student loans, 529s, loans from retirement savings, etc. – these alternatives provide the individual families with the ultimate option of leaving Illinois if standards drop due to the certain brain drain…but prepaid tuitions may well be an issue for future students.
As it is today, if you prepay your tuition through College Illinois!, you are locking in your tuition costs with the idea that those costs will increase at a particular rate by the time your children are ready for college. Consumers are assured that if their children wish to go out of state, they can transfer their funds to the college of their choice. But quoting from the College Illinois! website:
The Commission cannot provide any assurance that the investments selected by the Investment Policy will meet the Program's objectives. Furthermore, the Fund's investments are not deposits or obligations of, or guaranteed by, any depository institution and are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC"), Federal Reserve, the State of Illinois or any other government agency.
The College Illinois! Prepaid Tuition Program is a moral obligation of the State of Illinois requiring the Governor to request an appropriation from the State General Assembly in the case the Commission determines that the Program does not have adequate assets to meet its Contractual obligations in an upcoming fiscal year. The amount needed to rectify the Program's asset shortcoming will be certified to the Board of Higher Education of the State of Illinois, the Governor of Illinois, the President of the Senate of Illinois, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Illinois. The Governor will then submit the amount so certified to the Illinois General Assembly as soon as practicable. While the General Assembly has fulfilled other moral obligations of the State of Illinois in the past, it is not obligated to appropriate, and no assurances can be made that the General Assembly will appropriate, sufficient moneys to meet the Program's Contractual obligations.
A moral obligation is different from having the state's full-faith and credit backing, increasing potential risk that Contract Benefits may not be available in the future. Neither the credit nor the taxing power of the State of Illinois is pledged to the payment of Benefits under a Contract.
(Bold italics indicate my emphasis.) While the investor is assured that money is transferable to out-of-state universities, the point of prepaid tuition is to promote Illinois schools. If the expenses rise to a point where available funds do not meet costs, the Governor and the House and Senate leadership have a moral obligation to find funding. A moral obligation is not the same thing as a contractual obligation…as Bright Start 529 investors learned the hard way.
If there is a financial shortfall due to unanticipated costs, there is no legal obligation to maintain the agreement as it is written and from what I have read, there is nothing to stop Springfield from requiring your child to receive his or her education in Illinois if he or she wants to access prepaid tuition.
Over the years, Illinois has demonstrated a propensity for not meeting its financial obligations. Almost invariably, these betrayals of the public trust come through Springfield's dealings with union entities. There is a serial disinclination to think ahead and plan for crises in this state because the chaos that comes from mismanagement is so effective in extracting additional funding from reluctant taxpayers. This unionization of university faculty represents the next unforeseen economic crisis to rob your children of their legacy.
Keep your eyes on this prize and don't be in the group of surprised citizens who didn't see this coming. Your children will thank you.