“The University, rather than addressing this structural problem, is trying to force advanced students out of their programs through financial attrition. This is wrong.”
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.
This past summer, after the University of Missouri administration announced sudden and draconian cuts to their health insurance (an issue we know well), GSU developed relationships with grad student workers there. They fought back and won a powerful victory.
Over the past couple of weeks, the fight at Mizzou led by #ConcernedStudent1950 against racism on campus (also not an unfamiliar issue at U of C) has wrestled its way to public notice, led by the hunger strike by grad student Jonathan Butler. We were thrilled this weekend when the football team, led by its Black players, announced that it would strike in solidarity until the university president resigned. We were further thrilled when grad student workers announced a two-day strike in solidarity. And within the last few minutes, President Wolfe has resigned.
Institutional racism is as much a labor issue as health insurance. And solidarity across segments of a university has won a major victory today. Congratulations and thank you, Mizzou students/workers.
Much media on the topic has, perhaps predictably, treated the football strike as the sole factor in bringing about this change. Important as it was, it was but one action among many, fostered by and fostering other activism. This timeline from the independent newspaper The Maneater offers a great overview of all that has been happening on the Mizzou campus around racism, grad labor, health access, and more.
Come and join your fellow graduate student workers on a campus rally this Thursday (10/15), and don’t forget to check out this link to find out what our comrades have done across the nation and beyond. See you all soon!
Stay tuned for solidarity action on October 15 among graduate workers at private universities across the nation. GSU’s media outlets and the We Are Workers website will keep you posted on upcoming events on campus, in Chicago, and beyond.
After a summer of creative resistance, our “Pay Dues” button is now fully cooperating with our efforts to use it as a link for paying annual GSU membership dues online.
The backstory: Yesterday afternoon, GSU’s web team sat down with the “Pay Dues” button over lunch at Robust Coffee. The meeting can only be described as very productive. The button bargained hard: “I want a functioning HTML link,” it said. Recognizing the justice of this demand, we readily acceded to it and took immediate steps to rectify the problem. This involving a quick web search and some copying and pasting of code. Some minimal knowledge of HTML was deployed, and within minutes, the “Pay Dues” button was functioning again. (To join our crack web team, contact Maddy, Sharvari, or Fadi, or drop an email to us through firstname.lastname@example.org.)
… And the dues are pouring in! Now is a great time to beat the rush and pay your 2015-2016 dues to help keep GSU afloat. We run on the volunteer labor of grad students, but we still got costs: website fees, printing costs, food for Quarterly Members’ Meetings. We need everyone’s $5 to keep up the fight for grad students through the coming year.
Last week, University of Chicago students received an email alerting us to some dramatic increases in our health insurance deductibles on the U-SHIP plan for the coming year: from $200 to $500 for in-network providers, and from $500 to $1,000 for out-of-network providers. This means that all of us on U-SHIP insurance will have to pay at least $500 out of our own pockets for health services before our insurance plan starts to kick in.
The email assured us, “This change was necessary in order to comply with revised state and federal insurance requirements,” adding, “Our priority in our negotiations with our insurance provider was to keep the impact on average costs as low as possible.”
Average costs for whom? For Ph.D. students whose health insurance premiums are covered by the university as part of their fellowship packages, a higher deductible simply means less insurance. It diminishes the value of our fellowships by making healthcare more expensive for us than it was before. Last year, a student with a medical condition was expected to pay the first $200 of her treatment costs. This year, she’ll find herself paying the first $500 of those costs, making her $300 poorer. For anyone who needs medical treatment, the larger deductible amounts to a $300 pay cut.
The announcement comes very suddenly, about a month before the start of the academic year. What are we to make of it? One GSU member (alias Lil’ Sparrow) writes the following: “This is what precarization of labor looks like to me.” She points to the recent abrupt cancellation of healthcare coverage for University of Missouri graduate employees (which was thankfully rescinded after a massive outcry and the threat of a strike) and notes,
In my opinion, even though the situation at MU is clearly worse, there are some underlying tendencies common to the way universities make these decisions and what their effects are for graduate student employees. Both MU and U of C have presented these as necessary measures made while keeping students interests as a priority; however, the fact that neither MU or UChicago allowed grad students a say on the matter points in the opposite direction; the assumption is that grad students are not workers and can and should assume these costs without putting up a fight.
The lack of recognition of students as workers is of course at the heart of the issue. when it comes to health care the precarization of student life becomes even more salient as other employees within the university benefit from many of the health costs that as grad students we have to absorb. If we combine the increase in the Student Life Fee w/ the recent hike in the U-SHIP deductible, we are left with a situation that is definitely worth fighting against.
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.)
Hey folks, take a look at the new budget for next year’s Student Government that was approved by SG’s membership earlier this week. This year GSU was represented in the decision-making by several GSU members who serve on the Graduate Council, not to mention the GSU-endorsed leadership of Tyler Kissinger and his United Progress team.
As you surely know, Student Government is funded by our quarterly Student Life Fee (currently $347 for grad students, headed up to $363 per quarter next year). The chart below, then, is a plan for how to spend our money–or rather, the portion of it that Student Government controls. (The majority of it, some 90 percent, is under the control of various university administrators.) Below the budget itself, stayed tuned for some straight-from-the-hip analysis by GSU members.
It looks like this year’s increase to grad funding comes in the form of $10K more for travel, $55K more to Grad Council, and $7.5K more to Grad Mixers. (I believe that the proper responses are, respectively, Yay, Bleah (but maybe it’ll be better with Casey), and Huh?)
On the whole, it looks like with the increase, dedicated grad student funding ($214K) is slightly under 10% of the total allocated ($2.18M).
All in all, I think that it’s good that this went through. We weren’t levying new fees; we were deciding where they went, and I’m glad that slightly more will go to grad students (particularly to the travel fund). At the same time, I think that we need not fear in the least that the Student Life Fee is now justified. “We don’t want your wine and cheese” can even apply to those grad mixers.
The question of the skyrocketing Student Life Fee is separate from how that money is allocated. Sure, grad students should get their fair share. But we also need to address how fees tie into the larger system by which the university funds itself and under compensates grad labor.
No way is this a legitimate use of our money, whether it’s allocated “for grads” or not. I have deep reservations about the undemocratic forced extraction of student wages for any purpose.
That’s what the Fighting Frog thinks. Is Fighting Frog a crank? Is there a point to Grad Mixers? What about the Sports Club Fund or the Coalition of Academic Teams? What do you think?