Questions about Healthcare? An Exchange with Student Health and Counseling Services

There is so much about healthcare provisions on campus that just don’t seem to make sense! As our healthcare campaign has been growing, we have also been trying to collectively figure out stuff, beginning with updating the GSU Survival Guide over summer. On November 18th, 2015, two GSU members on the Student Health Advisory Board wrote to Dr. Alex Lickerman, then Assistant Vice President of Student Health and Counseling Services, and Ms. Marcy Hochberg, then the university’s insurance coordinator. They asked a number of questions that had come up in the course of GSU’s organizing and research. We share below Dr. Lickerman’s response, with his answers listed under each question asked.

  1. Should anyone wish to waive USHIP, the deadline for submitting proof of alternative insurance is 23rd October. However, since every grad is expected to have insurance from the first day of the quarter (“Active coverage from the day the student arrives on campus through either August 31, 2016 OR the end of their academic program (whichever comes first).”), it appears that this year, the insurance coverage must have begun on approximately September 28th. In effect, this would imply that a student must buy a plan that is valid starting September 1st, and therefore the actual deadline for students purchasing an insurance plan on the ACA exchange would be August 15th. Is this correct?

Many marketplace plans (but not all) begin on the first of the month. However, because it is still before the deadline and around the beginning of the start of classes, we accept plans beginning October 1st to waive U-SHIP coverage. Many other alternate private plans begin coverage on the date when payment is received. Therefore, there is greater flexibility in alternatives than solely what is available through the marketplace (and in point of fact, many international students do not review those plans, because they are not eligible for subsidies.) Although we want students to have coverage from the time they arrive, we do try to allow students time to review requirements and research alternatives. Thus, as long as they can show active coverage by the U-SHIP deadline, they can waive successfully through the online system. Obviously, depending on which plans they are reviewing, the providers may place some constraints on application times, as far as when coverage commences.

Since open enrollment begins every year on July 1st, and students have almost 4 full months to consider alternatives, and 2 months from when U-SHIP actually expires to apply for plans on the marketplace — although they can submit an application sooner, indicating that their coverage will terminate on Aug. 31 – we feel there is a generous amount of time provided to research marketplace plans.

  1. The university announced over email last December (12/23/2014) that 6th and 7th year PhD students “who are at candidacy” would have their health insurance premiums funded. What happens to students who are not ABD by their 6th year? Do they entirely forfeit eligibility for health insurance coverage in the 6th and 7th years? Or, do they forfeit it only until they achieve ABD status? That is, if a student is not at candidacy by the beginning of their 6th year, but defends in Winter of the 6th year (for example), would they have forfeited their entire 6th and 7th year insurance coverage? Might it be possible to clarify if there is any university policy about this, or if this decision is left to the discretion of certain individuals? And further, is there any policy guidance on what kinds of criterion can lead to one being excluded from this coverage? Does one’s department have any say in this matter?

This inquiry should be directed to UChicagoGRAD and the Deans of Students offices. Student Health & Counseling Services administers U-SHIP but does not determine how funding is provided for graduate students, including for student health insurance.

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Great, a Raise! Now How About Admitting We Work Here?

In early December, University of Chicago graduate employees received a pair of emails from our Provost, Eric D. Isaacs, announcing substantial wage increases for graduate employees in the Social Sciences and Humanities Divisions, as well as the Divinity School and the School of Social Service Administration. These two e-mails say it loud and clear: the University is listening to GSU, as it has been since our founding back in the spring of 2007. After all, the last pay hike for graduate TAs and lecturers on this campus — way back in 2008 — was one of GSU’s first achievements. Since then, every substantial improvement in our work and study conditions, from the freezing of AR tuition to the creation of childcare subsidies, has come in response to GSU campaigns.

 

We regret that administrators continue to avoid acknowledging their implicit dependence on GSU’s advocacy on behalf of graduate students. After all, this latest win — a 20% payraise for TAs and lecturers — comes in response to the fees campaign we launched last year, which highlighted the steep rise in fees and our growing inability to pay them on our stagnant wages. Our townhalls and rallies were packed, and our petition to abolish the Student Life Fee got over 500 signatures and substantial press coverage. We also took the fight to Student Government, packing into a meeting with Dean Rasmussen to insist that administrators respond to our demands. Most recently, we worked hard to get to the bottom of the newly enforced 19.5-hour cap on graduate student employment — a new rule that administrators have had a hard time justifying.

 

Provost Isaacs’s e-mail confirms, and as our own research suggests, that the real reason behind the cap on employment is the University’s stake in keeping us legally classified as students, not employees. Isaacs writes, “We view graduate student members of our community first and foremost as students.” In keeping with this assertion, Provost Isaacs frames the wage increase as an expression of concern for the well-being of students.

 

As graduate students and employees who make our living working at this university, we say enough is enough. While we are certainly students, we see no reason why that fact should continue to serve as a fig leaf for terrible wages. Of course we see why administrators would be so eager to insist that we are “first and foremost students”: it helps to slow down our efforts to win formal recognition as workers entitled to form a union and bargain collectively for future wage increases and other improvements in our conditions of work at this university. We see a direct connection between the 20% payraise we’ve won and the recent successful unionization campaign among UChicago’s non-tenure track faculty. In light of this recent victory, and other victories among academic workers at private and public universities across the country, U of C administrators have good reason to worry. At the University of Missouri this summer, we’ve already seen what kind of power students can gain over their working lives when they organize to demand recognition as employees of the universities they attend, and which they sustain with their labor from the moment of their arrival on campus.

 

Like these other academic workers, we are employees of the university where we pursue our graduate studies.All of our labor—research, writing, teaching, coordinating workshops, planning and attending conferences, etc.—produces value for the university. We receive compensation and benefits for the work that we do here. It is not difficult to discern why the administration avers that we’re not workers. It is clearly in the interests of the administration and the board of trustees that the status quo continue. But until the University recognizes us as employees with the same collective bargaining rights as any other worker, we won’t stop organizing.

UChicago Scholars Agree: Childcare Oughtta Be Subsidized

babysheep-background-grayscaleAs longstanding advocates for affordable childcare at the University of Chicago, we were tickled to come across an article on this very topic in the Summer 2015 issue of SSA Magazine.

The article features an exchange between Julia Henly and Marci Ybarra, two professors at the University’s School of Social Service Administration. While their conversation focuses on imminent threats to public (state and federal) subsidies for working parents, the need for more childcare access is felt everywhere in this country — including right on our campus, where recent efforts to expand financial support for working parents at the University of Chicago have met with mixed success.

As Henly notes, she and Ybarra share a scholarly interest in “the challenges that working families—especially low-income working families—have raising kids, finding decent jobs, and accessing social safety net programs that support work and children’s development.” The challenges they describe are also faced by families employed by the University of Chicago, where many of the instructors who teach undergraduates still struggle to pay for childcare for their children.

Through its Childcare Campaign, GSU has drawn attention to the difficulties faced by graduate student parents living on stipends and teaching salaries designed for single people with minimal expenses. We have called for truly affordable childcare on campus: flexible, sliding-scale facilities that would allow graduate employees to raise children and pursue academic careers at the same time.

The recent adoption of a flat-rate grant for PhD students is a step forward, but we continue to look forward to the day when every University employee receives truly affordable childcare in the amount they need.

What IS the Student Life Fee, Anyway? A Public Conversation.

Last spring, following our petition calling for the abolition of the Student Life Fee, Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen invited GSU to join a meeting of Student Government at which a discussion of the Student Life Fee was on the docket. What follows is a partial transcript of that meeting, focusing on the exchange between Dean Rasmussen and several of the GSU members in attendance.

The date: May 7, 2015, at 6:30 p.m.

The setting: A basement classroom in the Booth School of Business. Open pizza boxes and warm sodas sit on a back table.

The players: A smattering of Student Government representatives; Dean Rasmussen and two of her staff members; and a contingent of about a dozen GSU members, polite yet conspicuous in their disgruntlement.

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Further thoughts on the UChicagoGRAD rebranding

Update: Regarding the brand-new rebranding of Grad Affairs as UChicagoGRAD, Kangaroo observes,

Though this is being rolled out as resources for “grads,” there (of course) isn’t a discussion of reducing master’s student debt loads or ensuring that existing funding systems don’t perpetuate societal inequalities by enabling funding inequities across divisions and excluding people who can’t afford a <$50,000 debt load.

This raises an awkward question. Does it make sense for administrators to decide which “resources” grad need most, or which grads deserve them best?

Whither Our Trajectory? Quick Takes on the UChicagoGRAD Rebranding

Earlier this week, we learned that the good old Office of Graduate Student Affairs has been rebranded as UChicagoGRAD. This relabeled administrative entity is being described by the Provost as “a new office and comprehensive program designed to make resources for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars more accessible and more effective.”

This all sounds good, and we wish to congratulate the the office on its rebranding. We don’t all love the weighty double-portmanteau of the office’s new name, but those of us familiar with Grad Student Affairs are very glad for the help of the people who work there. Many of us have benefited greatly from their services, whether Brooke Noonan’s fellowship advice or A-J’s help with cover letters. The other staffers are, by and large, exceptionally kind and competent people.

Still, we wonder: what does the change mean in more structural terms? For one thing, it clearly reflects a shift in administrative priorities, as “improving the graduate student experience” has become a major focus. At first blush, this sounds like a great thing for all of us. But as one GSU member (alias: Saucy Salamander) observed, that may not be the case:

My sense of these expanding professionalization services is that they are pushing the division of have and have-nots upstream into the graduate student experience. Although they are promising  services for all-stages, most of the programs they are rolling out are geared towards job placement (mostly academic job placement, but increasingly elsewhere), and thus preparing their most competitive students to compete with other top school’s most competitive students.  Advanced PhD students are already staffing a lot of the services that GSA are providing, trapping those students in underpaying jobs designed to help their peers move faster through the program. Taken to one logical conclusion, the underfunded will essentially provide support to the over-funded students, reproducing features of the tenure/adjunct divide at an earlier stage.

Another aspect of the rebranding that deserves remark is that the number of staff has been considerably expanded: the provision of services to grad students now encompasses more full-time administrative posts than ever before. Another GSU member (alias: Pointed Parrot) wondered if the expanded services will benefit graduate students at all:

I suspect the real reason such programs are being created is that they justify further administrative expansion. What [the provost’s] email in fact announces is not the provision of new services, but rather a reorganization of existing services in such a way as to justify new hires: we now have “a to-be-named Director of Graduate Enrollment,” a “Director of Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Experience,” etc.

The sassiest response of all came from someone in Anthropology, of course:

Friends, I think it’s time to celebrate. Our demands have been met in the form of a new office that will “capitalize on the upward trajectory of graduate students and postdocs”: I think they mean us

What do you think? Are you offended by being capitalized on, or are you mainly just relieved that someone thinks your trajectory is upward?

(See here for further thoughts on the matter.)

 

Fixing Fees at the U of C: Beyond the Grade Divide

Our very own Student Government president Tyler Kissinger has written an excellent op-ed that explains why the latest SG budget, passed for the upcoming academic year, is a big step in the right direction. After describing how the different fees levied on grads and undergrads are used to fund Student Government, he points out that as a result of this fee structure,

graduate students essentially subsidize undergraduate student life, and this is by no means an accident. University administration has long pressured SG to meet needs on the undergraduate side without providing them with the resources necessary to fairly and equally support graduate students. Years of ineffective leadership on the side of SG paired with weak engagement with graduate students (even those serving on the Graduate Council) did nothing to call attention to this problem.

Now, things are different. There is a near consensus within SG on the seriousness of the structural imbalance that exists between graduate and undergraduate student support. Years of work by the outgoing chair (Anthony Martinez) have built the Graduate Council up into a strong and effective advocate for students at UChicago. Renewed interest in how we spend our money has generated the energy for reforms and budgetary audits.

This is great news, and it’s exactly the reason why Graduate Students United has put so much energy into Student Government elections over the past three years. We’re all about reforms and audits, not to mention more direct student involvement in university decision-making, and it looks like out strategy of engagement with Student Government is reaping dividends. Here’s how Tyler ends his post:

The University should not expect graduate students to support undergraduate student life. The vast majority of the Student Life Fee goes toward funding health and wellness services that ought to be provided for through tuition, which would free up funds to increase support for groups like academic teams and reduce the need for small and mid-sized RSOs to fundraise for each event they host. This isn’t an undergraduate versus graduate issue. We’re stronger together, and that’s precisely how we should push to have more resources directed to support all students, graduate and undergraduate.

That sounds pretty good as far as it goes, but it leaves us with plenty of questions about how the decisions about reforming these fees will get made. Initial reactions from GSU members were enthusiastic, as in this response from a GSU member we’ll call her the Kangaroo:

To me it shows that there is a campus-wide discourse developing around fees, and that someone who has a lot of experience interacting with the administration is also strongly questioning the way administrators think about graduate student compensation and costs.

Another GSU member (we’ll call her the Shark) couldn’t resist adding,

Of course the problem is not merely one of how the SLF fees are allocated and distributed. The problem is a structural one where the administration creates this illusion of scarcity and leaves the students to quibble about cents and dimes, drawing attention away from the more fundamental issue of why are these funds coming out of students’ pockets in the first place? The fees are compulsory and there is some kind of inherently divisive but democratic veneer painted onto it where students ostensibly get to choose where it goes, when there isn’t much of a choice really, or at the very least it is a very limited choice.

That’s the Shark’s take. What’s your take? What’s the best way to reform fees so that they enrich student life without driving up the cost of our education? Have your say on our Facebook page or tweet at us @uchicagogsu.

UChicago Admin and Trustees Off Mission, Unaccountable

A guest post from David Mihalyfy, a GSU member and Ph.D. candidate in the Divinity School:

Because of references I’ve made in my past two Jacobin articles and will make in an upcoming editorial, as well as its relevance to our campus’s sometimes unwelcoming climate and Provost Isaac’s recently announced budget cuts to “control… administrative costs”, I would like to clarify some of the bases on which I have publicly questioned the commitment of UChicago administrators and trustees to core academic and civic values.

As publicized by the Maroon a year-and-a-half ago, a UChicago policy reportedly instructed all uniformed employees to avoid elevators when President Robert Zimmer was in the Administration Building—a policy, furthermore, at the root of an alleged violation of the American with Disabilities and Civil Rights Acts, in which a locksmith who had received two hip replacement surgeries was asked to use four flights of stairs, multiple times if necessary.

As I have stated and will continue to state until any other dependable information emerges, documentation and UChicago’s subsequent response strongly suggest that Zimmer or someone close to him began this policy because of his preference not to share the elevator with a certain class of persons, then used much staff time to maintain and cover up this policy in the face of a series of extended and growing challenges to it.

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Fees, fees, fees! Town Hall and Rally this January 26th & 30th

Announcing a Town Hall on FEES next Monday, January 26th at 5 p.m. at the University Church, 5655 S. University Avenue

RALLY next Friday, January 30th at 2 p.m. at the Quad

It’s that time of year again —

Time to pay your quarterly bill from the Bursar’s Office. How much are you paying in fees this quarter? Here are just a few of the fees that may show up on your bill: Continue reading

GSU Delighted to Welcome Affordable Child Care to U of C Campus

First, the good news:
Thursday afternoon brought amazing news: an email in every doctoral student’s inbox from Deputy Provost Deborah Nelson bearing the subject line, “Need-based child care grants for doctoral students.” It looked so good that a few of us had to read it twice before daring to ask: could this really mean affordable child care for graduate student employees?

It sure looks like it. The Deputy Provost’s email outlines a number of concrete policy changes that collectively signal a huge victory for graduate students across the University of Chicago, and for Graduate Students United, whose 800-plus members can congratulate each other on having once again changed their university for the better. The central goal of our nearly three-year-long campaign to bring affordable child care to the University of Chicago appears to be in sight. As the Deputy Provost explains,

“This spring we will begin a pilot program to offer need-based child care grants to doctoral students, who typically have the greatest child care needs among our student body. […] It is our sincere hope that the grant pilot program will prove successful at helping to alleviate some of the financial hardship our student parents face and that we can launch it on an annual basis next fall.”

The flexibility of this childcare support is a wonderful thing, and we hope to see it thoroughly publicized, effectively allocated, and well-used by graduate student parents. We look forward to learning more about the eligibility requirements for these new need-based grants, and the amount of support they will offer. We also hope to see the policy expanded to include non-doctoral students, who were some of the founding members of our campaign and whose needs remain unmet through this measure.

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