COLUMBIA — MU graduate students are organizing a walkout of classrooms, libraries and laboratories next week unless the university guarantees fully subsidized health insurance for graduate student-employees, more affordable housing and a return of university child care, along with other demands delivered Wednesday to administrators.
School officials have until Tuesday to respond, according to representatives of the Forum on Graduate Rights, which outlined the demands in a letter addressed to Leona Rubin, MU's associate vice chancellor for graduate studies. Otherwise, students will gather at noon Wednesday at the MU Columns on Francis Quadrangle for an hour-long demonstration. The walkout won the unanimous endorsement of the Missouri School of Journalism graduate faculty, which announced it would not punish students who participated.
Other demands in the letter included a promise of living wages for graduate student-employees, broader tuition waivers and an elimination of additional fees from individual colleges and departments. The letter also calls for help for international students who lost their health insurance subsidies.
MU administrators notified graduate students Friday that, effective the next day, the university would no longer subsidize student health insurance plans due to an IRS interpretation of the Affordable Care Act that would result in fines for doing so.
MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin later issued an apology, promised one-time fellowships to graduate student-employees for temporary coverage and announced a task force would be created to explore affordable insurance options. On Wednesday, MU increased fellowships to $1650 for domestic students with 20-hour assistantships and $825 for those with 10-hour positions; international students will receive $925 or $825.
Losing insurance subsidies with little notice is part of a larger trend of disregard for graduate students, said Kenneth Bryant Jr., president of MU’s Graduate Student Association. The Graduate Student Association has joined the Graduate Professional Council in supporting the walkout.
“In addition to a loss of our health care, students have recently endured a reduction in university housing options, the elimination of on-campus child care facilities, increased departmental and college-level fees and stagnant stipends. These issues have been affecting us for years,” Bryant said.
Forum representatives settled on an hour-long walkout to demonstrate solidarity while minimizing disruption, said Matt McCune, a Graduate Professional Council board member.
“Some people called for a week-long walkout; others wanted it to be all day,” McCune said in an email. “We want to show them that we have the ability to organize.”
Forum members have asked the MU Faculty Council and Missouri Students Association to support canceling classes during the hour-long demonstration, he said.
“We love the university and do not want to disturb education on campus, but we do not feel that we will be taken seriously unless we demonstrate what the lack of graduate student labor means to the research and teaching efforts at Mizzou,” McCune said.
The Journalism School's graduate faculty are the only members of an MU college to formally announce its support of the walkout.
“The surprising and distressing announcement that master’s and doctoral students will no longer receive subsidies for the student health insurance program is a matter of grave concern,” according to the resolution, which passed during an emergency meeting Wednesday.
“The Graduate Faculty members of the Missouri School of Journalism have voted to strongly support our students. We will impose no sanctions on students who choose to participate in the scheduled walkout on Wednesday, August 26, 2015, if it occurs. Our graduate students are crucial to our AAU mission and a tremendous source of pride to the Journalism School.”
Supervising editor is Adam Aton.