Dean’s comments provide little comfort to graduate student union

Iowa Capitol -- photo by Katie Haugland
Iowa Capitol — photo by Katie Haugland

A generally supportive statement from Graduate College Dean John Keller has done little to quell the concerns of graduate student union leaders at the University of Iowa, who are leading several initiatives to preserve their collective bargaining rights, as well as their health care, tuition and fees benefits.

“The UI values the work of our graduate students and the contributions they make to the undergraduate teaching mission and the research and scholarly mission we value so highly,” Keller wrote in a statement posted online earlier this week. “The Graduate College is committed to providing support and services to help our students be successful in all aspects of their graduate careers.”

But that statement falls short of a push by the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS) seeking assurances that the university will still provide the same graduate student benefits regarding health care, tuition and fees — even if legislation passes taking away collective bargaining rights.

“They are refusing to guarantee anything about our health insurance and tuition scholarships — or even whether we will have health insurance at all — if they get unilateral control over benefits that may cease to be covered by bargaining,” COGS wrote in a statement on its Facebook page Wednesday. “They are also refusing to say whether they will make cuts to our insurance and our tuition coverage.”

The most specific commitment in Keller’s letter says the university “must continue to offer a competitive employment package including salary and benefits in order to remain competitive for the recruitment of high quality students.” But COGS said that statement was unclear.

The group has asked for further clarification from Keller, according to its post, and has not yet heard back. Landon Elkind, the group’s president, also said late Wednesday in the Facebook post that COGS is concerned Keller “might be overruled by his higher-ups.”

Under the current bargained contract, graduate students receive full tuition coverage, a health care plan in which students pay 10 to 30 percent of premiums, and reimbursement for 25 percent of fees, Elkind said. COGS represents almost 2,200 graduate student workers, who also receive guaranteed minimum half-time salaries of $18,809, Elkind said.

Gov. Terry Branstad has called for a statewide change in the collective bargaining system that covers the state’s public workers, including graduate students.

Keller was unavailable for comment Thursday.

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