MU graduate students unite to achieve goals

Related Story

COLUMBIA - University of Missouri graduate students have come together to form a forum of more than 1,200 students to achieve common goals they say MU is ignoring.

This comes after the university revoked and then revived graduate student health insurance subsidies because MU said it violated a clause in the Affordable Care Act. 

Graduate students said MU stirred up trouble by withholding the news it was going to drop insurance subsidies until the last moment on Aug. 14.

"There was no warning," said Kristofferson Culmer, the president of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. "Students are scrambling around trying to figure out what this all means, trying to figure out what to do to get this reversed."

Three days after MU broke the news, graduate students united. 

Students quickly formed a forum of more than 500 members to qualify their demands and make it clear they were not backing down by threatening a walkout.

The forum of students grew to more than 1,200 in a week, receiving the support of more than 40 departments on campus.

"It's essentially just act of solidarity to show that we are not going to be easily appeased," said Carrie Miranda, one of the organizers of the Forum on Graduate Rights. 

The decision was reversed a week later and graduate students were given their subsidies back, but only for the current school year. 

Students said they were glad to have the subsidies back for the short-term, but said they would not be satisfied until MU presented a long-term solution to it and a number of other problems.

MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin recognized the demands, and said he was assigning a task force to deal with them alongside finding a long-term solution to providing graduate insurance subsidies.

"We expect a robust conversation over quite some time going forward, to look over a list of issues students have already raised here," Loftin said. "Again from things like the cost of stipends, to the university what they get themselves from that, to things like the availability of child care on campus, housing on campus for graduate students and so on. So there are a lot of things to talk about here, none of which are simple, typically."

The Forum on Graduate Rights later revised their demands to the university.

The FGR said it wants the university to guarantee it will not pay graduate student employees salaries below the individual poverty line.

The FGR also said in its statement as many as 23 percent of graduate students are paid less than $11,770 a year, which is below the individual poverty line, because they are not considered to work at a full-time work load.

The FGR said it wants the university to make all students at a .25 full-time equivalent workload and above eligible for full tuition waivers and full insurance subsidies.

The FRG also said it wanted the university to guarantee subsidies for international students so they can pay for insurance, which is a requirement to keep their visa status.

Loftin said the university could be fined $100 per day per student receiving subsidies by the IRS for violating the ACA. 

"If the IRS were to impose the full penalty for the entire year, the cost would probably bring the university down," Loftin said.

However, Loftin said the IRS hasn't investigated any cases related to universities violating the provision in the ACA.

Students said they are in it for the long-term.

If the university doesn't meet their needs, students said they would continue to stage more walkouts and rallies on campus.

"The graduate forum is here to to stay," Miranda said. "I do think that, even if everything was resolved tomorrow, which obviously it isn't, this group is going to stay united if other issues arise in the future."