Graduate Students Hold Walk-Out to Protest Loss of Healthcare Plan, Other Benefits

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Graduate Students at the University of Missouri held a walkout on Wednesday, August 26, a little more than a week after they were notified that they would no longer receive health insurance. Chants of "MU! Grads, too!" and "M-I-Z, shame on you!" could be heard across campus. The sea of red shirts displayed the unity among the grad students, and showed the university that they weren't going to back down.

A statement released on the Office of Research and Graduate Studies website blames the provisions in the Affordable Care Act for the changes. The website states:

"Provisions of the Affordable Care Act do not allow employers to provide subsidies for their employees to buy insurance on the private market. Graduate students are classified as employees by the IRS, and student health plans, such as the one we have, are considered "private market plans." Thus, we can no longer provide subsidies to student employees who purchase this insurance. This change affects all graduate students, current and new students."

MU graduate student Mike Horton is one of the many students affected by the change, and is frustrated at the lack of communication between the administration and the graduate students.

"We didn't get notice until eleven o'clock in the morning, the day that the last year's plan was supposed to expire, that we would have no plan this year. So thirteen hours notice, you're gonna be health insurance-less."

A Forum of Graduate Rights was formed soon after the action regarding student healthcare was announced and, on August 19, the group released demands that the administration was to respond to by August 24. These demands included a livable wage, permanent subsidized healthcare, university-provided childcare, more affordable university-run housing, full tuition waivers and the elimination of department fees. When their demands were not met by the deadline, they staged the walk-out to show solidarity against the cuts and the lack of graduate student support from the administration.

However, health care is not the only grievance listed by graduate students against the university. Says Horton, "When I first came here there was on-campus childcare, there is no longer graduate student childcare. There is less graduate student housing than there once was. There are more fees. Pay is stagnant and it was never good to begin with."

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin claims that he was not aware of the loss of subsidized health insurance for the students until August 15, approximately four hours after the graduate students were notified. Even then, he learned of the decision through conversation across social media platforms. However, he did say that he was aware of the issue and the potential IRS penalties that could have resulted from continued insurance prior to when the announcement was made. He was also notified about the problem and potential plans of action by Leona Rubin, MU's Associate Vice Chancellor for Graduate Studies, as early as July 29.

Graduate students, along with some faculty and undergraduates, united to show their solidarity against the harmful policies and the benefit reductions. After nearly a week of immense frustration from students and faculty alike, MU decided to postpone the withdrawal of the subsidies. In a response to the graduate students' demands, a letter posted on the website for the Office of the Chancellor announced that the university will postpone the action and "will pay for health insurance for eligible graduate students." However, it is apparent that this is only a temporary solution for a series of complicated disagreements and miscommunications between the university and its students.

For additional coverage of the fight from graduate student rights from the student perspective, visit MUTV, The Maneater, KCOU or the website for the MU Office of Graduate Studies.

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