We are delighted to announce that due to incredible student organizing, especially by students in the Student African American Society, the SU Study Abroad Program has been pressured to re-open the application period for Paris Noir this summer. Further questions remain about fewer funding options available for the program, and other changes and inconsistencies, but we believe this yet again shows the great impact activism can have!
We are also sharing a reaction to SU administration’s announcement that it is stalling on forcing grad student employees onto a more expensive, shabbier health insurance plan. This is written by Sam Castleberry, a current SU graduate student employee. He will speak at today’s press conference at 4pm, HL500. We also encourage your participation at Thursday’s Health Insurance Rally, noon, Hendricks Chapel.
Yesterday, Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz and Ben Ware released a letter to University Senator’s announcing that the University intends to “reevaluate the insurance plan options for graduate students who serve the University as teaching, graduate, or research assistants.” While this letter has been hailed by some as a reversal of the decision to remove GA’s, TA’s, and RA’s from the employee health insurance plan, the actual language of the letter remains vague. Specifically, the letter never says that GA’s, TA’s and RA’s will remain eligible for the employee health care plan beyond the Fall of 2016. Rather, the letter says, “This means all graduate assistants will be allowed to remain on the University-sponsored employee health insurance plan until a transition to the student health insurance plan is deemed agreeable by representatives of the GSO and the University administration.”
My reading of this document is that the administration still intends to remove us from the employee health insurance plan in the future, only this time they’ll seek TA, GA, and RA input. While there is some relief in knowing that the administration will not make any moves without GSO input, this is a far-cry from a guarantee, and quite possibly a stall tactic. The letter also mentions a new “Student Health Insurance Benefits Group,” a group that, according to the letter, will also allow graduate students “to review the best plan for graduate employees going forward.” If we can stay on the employee health insurance plan, then why do we need to meet with a “student” health insurance benefits group to discuss our health insurance going forward? It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to read between the lines, and if anything, this letter continues to affirm a lack of transparency in regard to the issue that will most impact GA’s, TA’s, and RA’s.
We must refuse to label this recent announcement as a “victory,” as much as “a skeptical relief” for those GA’s, TA’s, and RA’s, who are the underpaid academic labor force driving this institution. It is unconscionable that the University even considered moving us to a reduced benefits plan at a higher cost in the first place—a move that would have disproportionately affected low-income graduate students, families, and disabled individuals.
When we first discovered that the University intended to remove GA’s, TA’s, and RA’s from the employee health insurance plan, we were stunned. We were even more taken aback when we discovered the University had planned the benefit reduction for several months. But perhaps the most disconcerting fact, is that the University did not intend to announce the reduction in employee benefits until even later this semester. The announcement of the reduction of GA, TA, and RA benefits was intended to come at a time when most of us would be working on our finals, grading student papers, and leaving for the summer. It would have made it extremely difficult for us to mobilize, and we’re naive if we don’t interpret that strategy as a direct tactic intended to thwart our ability to respond.
Even though the University pays vague lip service to possibly keeping our employee health benefits, we still need to ask, “What happened to the promises for transparency? Moreover, why were GA’s, TA’s, and RA’s not involved in a decision that would have a direct and adverse impact on their bodies? And what will keep this administration from attempting this again in the future?” What clear promises does the recent letter actually spell-out? Why did it take the threat of unionization to get an (un)clear response? Why does the letter never respond to the GSO censure of the administration? If we can keep employee benefits why is there a “Student Health Insurance Benefits Group” that will discuss future graduate employee benefits? Will the administration hold any further decisions in abeyance until graduate TA’s, RA’s, and GA’s return from the summer break?
Though we sleep a bit easier tonight, thinking that our cherished employee health benefits are off the chopping block, I suspect it won’t take long for our sense of suspicion and anxiety to return. We didn’t win a victory today. The administration still has some hard questions to answer. I would encourage all GA’s, TA’s, and RA’s to attend the GSO meeting on Wednesday, at 5:30pm in Eggers 010, to discuss whether or not a union can help better protect our future.