Editorial: Graduate student unity is crucial to progress

It’s been a crazy week for our graduate students, but through all of the discord, we’re now seeing a united graduate student population.

Did you know MU has over 6,200 graduate students this year? Well, we do, and while some members of our administration might have forgotten, the graduate students themselves surely have not. It’s been a crazy week for our graduate students, but through all of the discord, we’re now seeing a graduate student population bound together by an extraordinary movement defined by common goals.

Once again, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin has completely fallen asleep at the wheel. In a similar fashion to the controversy surrounding possible fraternity regulations in June, Loftin was blindsided by this entire situation. In an interview with the Columbia Missourian, he said he found out that graduate students would lose their subsidized health insurance Aug. 15, about four hours after students were informed.

There are some fundamental problems with Loftin’s statement that must not be glossed over. How could it be possible that the chancellor of our university had no clue that this change was imminent? Well, he actually was aware of the issue itself, as he told the Missourian that he mistakenly assumed the insurance coverage change would go into effect around Sept. 1 to align with the academic calendar. What Loftin was not aware of was the Aug. 14 announcement made by the Vice Chancellor Leona Rubin’s office, an email blast that didn’t even reach the entirety of graduate students.

Graduate students are adults. These are students that often pay their own taxes, pay their own way through graduate school and almost always work a job in addition to their studies. What’s more, graduate students make decisions about where they attend graduate school based on financial factors. So when one of the central pitches used to attract graduate students to MU is the health care plan itself, can you really expect those students not to notice when it’s suddenly taken away on such short notice?

And man, did they notice.

Three days following the initial Aug. 14 announcement, the Graduate Professional Council and the Graduate Student Association held a forum in the auditorium of Middlebush Hall that drew about 500 students. Almost at the same time, several graduate students established a group called the Forum on Graduate Rights and planned a walkout and rally at the Columns if seven specific demands were not met by 5 p.m. Aug. 25.

This brings us to the demands themselves, which are not unreasonable or unexpected. In fact, the list of demands is emblematic of years of complaints and dissatisfaction with the way our university treats its graduate students. They asked for higher stipends, tuition waivers, childcare and more affordable graduate student housing. It’s time that our administration start taking these demands seriously.

While the efforts made by Loftin, other administrators and even publicly elected officials like state Rep. Kip Kendrick are commendable in that they brought things back to the status quo, they do nothing to alleviate the years of pent-up dissatisfaction among graduate students. This event has been a catalyst for a larger discussion about the way our university treats its graduate students — a conversation that is long overdue.

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