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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Letter to the Editor: Treat graduate students better

    Graduate students are integral to making the UA a first-class teaching and research institution. For example, graduate students teach one-third of the undergraduate classes offered at the university. Graduate students also publish our own research. Thus, graduate students enhance the reputation of the university via our unique and innovative scholarship.

    However, due to recent changes made to student quality of life, our ability to further the university’s mission is hindered. For instance, last year, the Arizona Board of Regents voted to raise student health insurance premiums, our yearly insurance deductibles and our out-of-pocket insurance maximums to unaffordable levels. These changes caused departments — such as my own — to engage in fundraising measures to help graduate students pay for their medical care so they can remain in school.

    In addition, as reported by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, nearly one-quarter of U.S. students are parents. Consequently, many institutions comparable in size to ours have on-site child care, often immersed in early education departments. However, the university does not provide on-site childcare. While the university does make some childcare stipends available via the Life and Work Connections program, these funds do not provide meaningful support. For example, I have taught in situations where undergraduates brought their children to my class, as they were turned down for Life and Work Connections assistance, and had no other place to take their children.

    As most graduate student “stipends” are desperately low, many graduate students are unable to pay for health care or child care. For instance, most graduate students from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences make $16,000 a year. This salary falls below what the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates is the living wage for Pima County: $17,400. Furthermore, these “stipends” do not come close to covering cost of attendance, which for an in-state graduate student is $20,900, tuition excluded, as reported by the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. Loans are not an option for many of us, as we already carry an insurmountable amount of debt from our undergraduate careers.

    Indeed, the inability of some graduate students to buy groceries, for example, has caused the Graduate and Professional Student Council to offer free food to graduate students: The next free food event will take place the Wednesday after Veterans Day. As a graduate student and as a human being, I find the fact that the GPSC has to offer this service appalling. For it is no understatement to say that some graduate students are literally starving in the face of some of the “cost-saving measures” implemented by the university, such as cuts to our health insurance.

    Still, I am glad to say that graduate students are facing these challenges. On Thursday, Oct. 30, I witnessed 15 graduate students from various departments across the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences enter a public, GPSC General Council meeting, during which President Ann Weaver Hart was giving a presentation about the increasingly-privatized funding that the university would be pursuing in the coming years.

    During the time allotted for questions, one of these brave students asked Hart, “Do you believe that we, as students and employees, should have our health care needs met by this great institution that we dedicate so much time and energy to?” Hart replied, “No.”

    Another asked if Hart was committed to working with graduate students to help them receive a living wage. Hart responded that graduate students are not considered “wage earners” by the university, and, thus, living wage considerations do not apply. Another student asked Hart about getting a child care center on campus and was told that such a center would be too expensive.

    Although these are complex issues, given the response of Hart to student concerns, it is clear students need to come together to make our voices heard. Graduate students must demand we receive appropriate wages for our work, so that we can put food on our tables. Graduate students should forge partnerships with undergraduates to demand a child care center on campus, so that all students can fully engage in research, teaching and learning at the university. Finally, all students must demand that entities such as the board of regents stop cutting our health insurance, so that we can further the university’s mission by literally being healthy enough to do so.

    By uniting to address these issues, we can create a campus environment — for undergraduate and graduate students — that honors and nurtures the academic and institutional vitality of the UA.

    Next steps? Contact the SBS Organizing Committee at: sbsorganizingcommittee@gmail.com.

    — Katherine Freeman, graduate student studying gender & women’s studies

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