Letting Them Eat Cake at the University of Illinois

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Loudly proclaiming its poverty whenever
workers want a raise, the University of
Illinois belies this claim through actions
like hiring incoming President Michael
Hogan at $620,000 a year “base” salary,
plus retention bonus and perks. That’s
more than a third higher than his predecessor’s
pay, seemingly a ringing endorsement for the man
who made his mark in Connecticut in part by spending
$3,500 dollars on cardboard likenesses he posted all over
campus, raising tuition, and blowing half a million on renovations
in and around his own office and private bathroom.
The floors, he explained, squeaked.
Campus unions say Hogan’s portent actually echoes UI
administrations’ past. Their patterns show a university
devolving into a cardboard cutout
of itself for some time, as the
administration, and the attendant
white elephants, have grown fat
while the substance and mission of
the institution suffers.
Originally a land-grant institution,
defined under the Morrill Acts
of 1862 and 1890 as a site for members
of the working classes to obtain
a liberal and practical education, the
University of Illinois has been
skulking toward a private institution
for elites which increasingly
prices most working-class students
out and sells its new “Illinois brand”
to the highest corporate bidder.
As curriculum follows funding,
the campus narrowly avoided invasion by a self-described
private “academy” organized for the promotion of unregulated
but heavily subsidized business interests. As it is, we
will be losing much of the remaining “labor” curriculum of
its School of Labor Relations, this in the context of a program
already sharply skewed toward management.
Some of this drift is state-sponsored. Cuts in things like
pensions and the tuition discount program for children of
University employees highlight the shifts away from the
Land Grant Vision. The State is walking away from its
obligations to education on many levels, however, it is our
own administration that bears the greater accountability.
When it comes to spending, the University plays in the big
leagues. Two years ago, with less than one percent of the
projected students in evidence, Preisdent Joseph B.
White’s Global Campus ship was sinking and taking $10
million down with it. Meanwhile, the Global Campus personnel
got $120,000 bonuses. That same year the State
appropriated money for 2.5 percent raises at the University,
but the Administration only handed out 1.5 percent to
civil service workers.
Last year the University and Foundation pulled in a
record $220 million in donations. The University’s catering
service served black-tie alumni events, Republican fundraisers
(one with Karl Rove) at the semi-private I-Hotel, and
offered extravagant wedding packages. You can now tie the
knot at Memorial Stadium and be photographed with the
University’s million-a-year-plus football coach.
When it comes to the needs of workers and students,
however, we hear about making “shared sacrifices;” no
prizes for guessing whose sacrifice is the biggest, considering
tuition increases and zero raises. Over 1,300 UI
employees made $100,000+ last year, 125 made
$200,000+, and sixteen made over $400,000. Retention
and merit raises continue in select areas, along with multimillion-
dollar new construction, building renovations,
cherry wood furniture, and the like. Meanwhile, University
information technologies and printing services are closing
and staff are being fired, with functions farmed out to private
Is this a hard-nosed response to a shrinking economy
that demands higher standards of productivity, you may
ask? Let’s examine the evidence.
Former President White, forced to resign in ethical disgrace
over the “clout” admissions scandal, keeps a golden
parachute even without his half-million-dollar retention
bonus; $300,000 a year as a “business professor” where he
may eventually teach. Similarly, former Chancellor Richard
Herman, who was also forced to
resign, is on a quarter-million-dollar
“sabbatical.”Yet somehow there is no
money for the workers at the University
who cook and serve food, sweep
floors and clean toilets, run the library,
teach classes and do research—apparently
these are lower priorities for the
University than the well-paid job of
handing out favors to the rich and
Food service workers—who are
laid off every summer, every winter
break, spring break, and Thanksgiving
break, and are not eligible for
unemployment—earn so little each
year they didn’t even make the cutoff
for the recently published campus
salary guide. Even the best-paid building service
workers, some with decades of seniority, gross about onetwentieth
of the new president’s starting pay. Taken
together, incoming Pres. Hogan’s increase plus the two
golden parachutes would more than cover a 3 percent pay
raise for the almost 1,000 building service and food service
workers on campus.
Justifications for these disparities are textbook. Capital development
funds are a separate budget category from operating
funds, including wages. Donations are earmarked for select
purposes. On the other hand, little or no fundraising is done
for purposes as tangential to the mission of the University as
maintaining the library, cleaning
classrooms, teaching liberal arts
courses, paying employees, boring little
things like that.
Yes, but the State owes the University
a lot of money, over $400
million, or about nine percent of its
$4.7 billion overall budget. And,
on the Urbana campus, Facilities
and Services—which laid off
dozens of plumbers, carpenters,
sheet metal workers, and other
skilled trades workers—are largely
state-funded, administrators say.
However, a recent audit by the
American Association of University Professors, revealed
that the University had twelve percent of its total budget
already held in reserves—more than enough to cover the
delay in State payments.
How about University Housing staff, it is “self-funded,”
so workers there are rolling in dough, right? Wrong.
Money from the whopping student fees to live and eat in
the dorms are not “earmarked” but blended into the general
fund to pay for projects other than the workers who
actually clean the dorms or serve the food.
Pay no attention to the administrator behind the curtain
and the “work orders” that farm out workers to various
other agencies, for a fee.
Furthermore, at the University, administrators create their
own meaning. If a department is losing money, managers need
“flexibility” to change workers’ hours, add extra duties, bounce
workers all over campus and demand that they use their own
vehicles. Conversely, if a department is making money, managers
need “flexibility” to do the exact same things.
Sure, civil service employees accrue generous vacation time,
but what does this mean when requests for leave are routinely
denied, allegedly due to shortstaffing. Food service workers
can take vacations, when they’re laid off. Otherwise, if they
want leave on, say, Valentine’s Day, or the day after the Super
Bowl, on practically any day that ends with a ‘y’, they’re told,
“That would be problematic.”Building service workers are
“essential” after a heavy snow even when the University shuts
down and travel is dangerous. Then, when the bill comes due,
the workers are expendable. Unions had to fight off attempts in
the State Legislature this year to change labor laws to force
through unpaid “furlough” days. Non-union workers got stuck
with furloughs, of course, and administrators took them, too.
But even twice as many days without pay, is not equitable when
salaries vary by a factor of ten or twenty. A single day’s pay is
significant if you already have trouble paying the bills and your
phone may be cut off, compared to even a thousand-dollar loss
for someone who earns half a million.
This summer Illinois waits with bated breath to learn
whether Hogan’s inaugural celebration will top the
$170,000 spent when he began at Connecticut. Will he
live in the swank president’s mansion or move out and
charge the University $49,000 a year to rent another house
as he did in Connecticut? Will the University repeat this
year’s expenditure of $150,000 looking for a new provost
to make more cuts?
Meanwhile, at least three large union contracts will
expire this summer at the Urbana campus: two for the
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and one
for the AFSCME. All will almost certainly be offered zero
raises. On the Chicago campus SEIU has been bargaining
for a year.
After a News-Gazette story
revealed University plans to renew a
contract already worth over a million
dollars to pay four consultants
out of Indiana another half million
to teach administrators “team-based
decision-making,” the Campus Faculty
Association (CFA) organized a
public protest, and the contract was
canceled. Last fall, the University
refused to raise the minimum
stipend for GEO and continued to
refuse to guarantee tuition waivers
right up until the GEO went on a
strike publicly supported by CFA
and other campus unions. After three days, the University
announced that it had always intended to agree to these
demands. When the GEO in Chicago threatened to strike,
the University quickly revised its offer from no raise to
raises. In the end, it has been protest, not prudence that
has gotten results.

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