COLUMBIA — Professors in multiple MU departments have canceled classes in preparation for a noon rally and all-day walkout Wednesday that will focus on graduate student rights.
Lois Huneycutt, director of graduate studies in the Department of History, said she is canceling her Early Middles Ages class so she can participate in and speak at the rally.
She said no one will be substituting for her in class, but she will post the material online so students can remain on track.
"I’m canceling my class," Huneycutt said. "I’m giving my students an hour-long interactive PowerPoint, and we will talk about it on Friday."
The hour-long rally will be held at the MU Columns at noon, according to a statement released by the Forum on Graduate Rights. Speakers will attend the rally but the details and the roster are still in flux.
The all-day walkout was organized in response to an email sent on Aug. 14 announcing the immediate suspension of insurance subsidies for MU graduate student employees. Graduate student employees are current students who hold teaching and research assistantships, and receive benefits and compensation.
On Friday, MU reversed its decision when Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced the university will continue to pay for health insurance this semester for eligible graduate students.
While the Forum on Graduate Rights celebrated this decision, the group is planning the walkout and rally to highlight the need for a permanent reinstatement of the insurance subsidies, according to a statement from the forum. The group is also calling for the university to return on-campus childcare, provide a living wage, provide full tuition waivers and provide access to affordable university-sponsored housing.
There is no university policy about how many classes a professor can cancel in one academic semester, MU spokesman Christian Basi said in an email. "This is, most likely, determined on a case-by-case at the school, college or department level."
Tom Quinn, the director of graduate education for the Department of Biochemistry, said instructors are responsible for holding their classes. He said his department supports their graduate students and wants them "to get their healthcare issues settled permanently."
Professor Dongchu Sun, chair of the Department of Statistics, said the department will not punish any graduate student or graduate assistant who participates in the walkout.
"Graduate students have their own rights," Sun said. "Faculty members can understand all that and are prepared for the graduate walkout."
Lynda Kraxberger, associate dean of undergraduate studies of the School of Journalism, said in an email sent Tuesday to students and faculty of the School of Journalism that all journalism labs and classes will be held as usual.
Anahita Zare, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry, is the chair of the Forum on Graduate Right’s outreach committee that organized the rally and the walkout.
"The message from the outreach committee is that we want this to be a peaceful and respectful gathering," Zare said. "There is a lot of frustration and there are a lot of issues and people are very upset, but I want to navigate these issues respectfully."
Zare said the committee is trying to limit the use of "walkout," preferring the term "celebration," as a way to dispel negative reactions to the event. With the rally, students hope to bring to light issues that graduate assistants face in addition to insurance subsidies, such as lack of on-campus childcare and low pay, she said.
"Graduate students teach many courses that every MU student takes, like English, chemistry and physics," Zare said. "As such an important group of students to the university, it's important that (graduate student’s) living situations be livable and adequate.”
Zare will teach a chemistry lab this fall, but her classes haven't started yet. She said she has not been in contact with the undergraduates in that class, but she hopes they will attend the rally and support the graduate students. She also said the Department of Chemistry has stated support for any graduate student who participates in events Wednesday.
"I'm one of the more fortunate students, but 50 percent of my paycheck still goes to healthcare," Zare said. "And just because I don't have a child, or because I have enough of a stipend to handle my living situation, doesn't mean I don't care."
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