Speak Out for a Union Friendly President at SIU

The Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees will be hosting Open Forums to gather input from the University Community for the selection of the next President of Southern Illinois University.  Please show up and speak out for a Union friendly President of SIU.

Open Forums are scheduled as follows:

Thursday, November 14, at 11:30 a.m., Conference Center, Morris University Center, SIU Edwardsville.

Thursday, December 12, at 11:30 a.m., Ballroom B, Student Center, SIU Carbondale.

GAU Shirts for Democracy

Graduate Assistants United is pleased to offer free t-shirts to GAs who sign up to become new members, while supplies last.

The shirts are charcoal-grey in color and feature a maroon “GAUnited” logo over the right breast on the front, and a white Saluki dog on the back.

The words “Graduate Assistants United” and “SALUKI SOLIDARITY” appear on the back. “Democracy in Education” and “Education for Democracy” are written above and below the Saluki dog—indicating the mutually reinforcing relationship between learning and decision-making.








In the book Democracy and Education, author and philosopher John Dewey wrote that “mutually interpenetrating” interests in social life make education critical. And any mode of participatory decision-making—or process of social deliberation—requires education.

“Since education is a social process,” Dewey wrote, it should give “individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control,” especially over the decisions that most affect them.

“Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority,” Dewey explained, “it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.”

But Dewey dug deeper.

“A democracy is more than a form of government,” adding that “it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. The extension in space of the number of individuals who participate in an interest so that each has to refer his own action to that of others, and to consider the action of others, and to consider the action of others to give point and direction to his own, is equivalent to the breaking down of those barriers of class, race, and national territory,” that can keep us from fully comprehending the significance of our activity.

Pedagogy—that is, the art, science and philosophy of education in practice—should be a democratizing experience.

This holds true within institutions of education, like the University, and it is also true with respect to public pedagogy. The latter refers to the social process of education. Public pedagogy can refer to media and social movements, including unionism

We want Graduate Assistants United to function as a democratizing mode of public pedagogy, and as a process of mutual learning to better give GAs the capacity to make decisions that impact our education, our lives and ultimately the world in which we live.

As an organization, GAU aims to be as democratic as possible, and thankfully we do not have to re-invent the wheel to do so.

To the point, indigenous communities Chiapas, Mexico, have an educational organization in which many “are involved in community, workplace, union, student, cultural, environmental, and peace activism,” where they try to carry out their “work in the spirit of dignity, democracy and justice.”

The communities also hold public Little Schools for activists across the world to come and learn about the struggle of trying to govern democratically from below, putting “practice first, then theory.”

The indigenous communities in Chiapas have a philosophy of mandar obedeciendo, which means to command by obeying. It means that those in—usually temporary—positions of power must always obey those they lead.

Those of us involved with GAUnited have a similar educational philosophy—one that promotes democracy inside our organization, within the University and throughout society.

We would like all of you to participate in this democratic and educational process, which is why we chose the design of the shirts that we did.


In Solidarity,

GAUnited Communications Committee


If you would like to sign up to become a member and receive a shirt, or if you are a current member who would like a shirt, please contact GAU. Shirts are available while they last. If members would like more after we run out of shirts, please send us new design ideas!




Student Medical Insurance Plan & the Affordable Care Act

Matt Ryg

Some of you have been curious about the relationship between the existing Student Medical Insurance Plan and requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The intention of this briefing is to bring you up to speed on the latest information regarding the issue.

Responding to a GAU Member inquiry, we recently contacted Mr. Jim Hunsaker, the Assistant Director of Student Health Services at SIUC.  Jim replied with a couple of pieces of information that may be of interest to GAU Members.

First, he said “participation in the Student Health Insurance Plan will not lead to the student paying a penalty or fine under the ACA regulations at this time.”  So that’s good news.  Individual students will not be penalized or fined because the Student Health Insurance Plan does not provide some basic services required by the ACA.  But what about all the ACA benefits we should be getting, like prescription drug coverage, expanded preventative care, the irrelevancy of preexisting conditions, etc.  Isn’t the ACA the law of the land?

Second, Mr. Hunsaker said that because SIUC has a ‘self-funded’ Student Health Insurance Plan, we meet the “Minimum Essential Coverage” requirement of the ACA.  That’s right – we are ‘technically’ ACA compliant without all the benefits of actually being fully ACA compliant.  Again, our student health insurance counts as “minimum essential coverage.”  Mr. Hunsaker provided some excellent language from an ACA bulletin for our review.

So what do we do?

GAU Members are encouraged to read the “Side Letter on Student Health Care” located on page 32 of our 2010-2014 Collective Bargaining Agreement.  The Side Letter includes some excellent language that helps GAU set the stage for major changes to the way students at SIUC pay for medical care.  It begins: “Access to quality and affordable health care affects all students at the University including undergraduate and graduate students.”  And reads: “The University recognizes that graduate students, including those represented by the Union have prioritized a need to improve the health care benefits available to students and their families.”  The University knows we want better health care benefits.  Nothing has changed in the 22 months since this letter was written and signed.

GAU continues to work hard to make access to better health care a priority for our Members.

The Side Letter also establishes a student health insurance task force.  The facilitator of this task force, Mr. Jim Hunsaker, has committed verbally and in writing to convene the first meeting of the fall semester this month.  Graduate students Chuck DiStefano and Lyndsey Hanson will represent GAU on the task force, and will be looking for input from Members as the process develops.

GAU Members should also have some quick background on the recommendations made by the student health insurance task force last year.

The University sent out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to improve the student insurance plan.  The average proposal (of four) received from the 2013 RFP demonstrated an average $500 increase in the cost of a student policy (per semester) if SIUC moves to a fully insured product.  The recommendations from the student health insurance task force were clear: students want better and more health coverage and are willing to pay for it.  When push came to shove in May of 2013, the University shamefully said no to quality health care for students.

We anticipate that the University will issue another RFP this academic year, much like the one sent out last year.  No one knows whether or not the University will honor students this year by making the livelihood and health of students and our families a top priority.  We can only hope.

However, GAU anticipates major changes to student health insurance very soon.  SIUC’s Student Health Insurance Plan will not exist as a small self-insured and funded plan for long.  Full ACA compliance and the operation of a fully insured plan is likely within the next two years, barring any major or short-sighted roadblocks thrown up by the University.

Part of our contract renegotiations this spring will include a GAU led initiative to mobilize students to speak-out to the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor’s Office, the Provost, and the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee.  We will be working with our representatives on the student health insurance task force and strongly advocating recommendations for better quality health insurance for students.

The time has come for better health care for all students at SIUC.

I hope you will consider joining GAU if you’re not already a member, and I humbly ask for your voice to speak up for the interests of graduate students.  Thanks for your time.

In Solidarity,

Matt Ryg

Contract Analysis to Clarify Rights, Think about the Future

by James Anderson

An analysis of the current contract agreement between the Board of Trustees and GAUnited at SIU illustrates important legally binding protections for graduate assistants and points to the potential contractual terms to be considered for negotiation during the next round of bargaining.

Graduate Assistants are protected by the terms of this agreement through the duration of the contract from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2014 (FY 2012 – FY 2014).

Article 13 of the contract specifies that graduate assistants will receive a stipend increase of 1% on January 1, 2012 (FY 12), another 1% increase in FY 13, and a 2% increase in FY 14.

The contract also contains a clause allowing GAUnited to negotiate for increases in wages if student fees rise by more than 5% in FY 14. Note that a similar stipulation was set in place if fees were to have increased by more than 4% in FY 13.

While graduate student fees did not exceed the specified amounts, the increase in fees came close—rising 3.5% from 2011-12 to 2012-13 (SIUC Institutional Research and Studies Factbook for 2012-2013)

The SIUC Factbook also illustrates a 10% increase in fees from 2008-2009 to 2009-2010 and a drastic 30.8% increase from 2005-06 to 2006-07.

Judging by past increases, the five-percent clause serves an important purpose.

The existing contract also protects graduate assistants from undue expenses. As per Section 14.3, graduate assistants are not expected to pay for lab equipment broken or damaged at work.

Section 13.5 states that graduate assistants who hold a half-time appointment can “elect to have their salary distributed over twelve (12) months” by notifying the University in writing.

According to Article 9, graduate assistants should be notified of any issues related to job performance at the time of the occurrence and “shall have the opportunity to comment in writing upon any written evaluations provided by faculty and staff, including their department supervisors.”

Article 17 states that personnel files kept for all assistants must be made accessible to GAs upon request, and that file should “not include materials related to the assistant’s academic performance or unit evaluations.”

The article also states that “an assistant shall be notified in writing by the University whenever disciplinary material is added to his/her personnel file…(and) shall have the right to add explanatory material to his/her personnel file, as allowed by law.”

Moreover, the contract prevents arbitrary firing.

Article 19 notes that prior to any termination of employment for “unsatisfactory performance of job duties,” a GA “should be given two written warnings accompanied with adequate opportunities to improve performance.” Under the same Article, assistants are guaranteed “the right to Union representation throughout the entire disciplinary process and during any investigatory interview that may lead to discipline.”

Graduate assistants also have the right to appeal any departmental decisions related to dismissal through the grievance procedure outlined in the contract if they feel that the nature of the decision was capricious or untenable.

A GA can always contact a Union officer or steward for help with grievances and any other employment issues.

Although assistants on a 9-month appointment do not earn any vacation time under the current contract, those with a 12-month appointment “accrue 12 work days of vacation each year, at the rate of one day per month,” as stated in Article 15.

Interestingly, the celebrated—but often ignored—Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, states that everyone should have the right to holidays with pay. As per Article 23 of the UDPH, everyone also “has the right to equal pay for equal work,” “the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring … an existence worthy of human dignity,” and “the right to form and to join trade unions.”

Some of these rights need constant reaffirmation, which is why collective bargaining agreements are key to continually asserting the dignity of GAs. Exploring contractual agreements garnered through collective bargaining at other universities can help hone GAU objectives for the next round of bargaining.

For example, the contract between The University of Illinois Board of Trustees and the Graduate Employees’ Organization differs in interesting ways from the current GAU contract.

Article IV of the 2012-2017 UI GEO contract  states: “Campus policy does not require students who hold summer assistantships to be registered (for classes) during the summer if they were registered for the immediately preceding spring semester or are registered for the immediately following fall semester.”

In contrast, “For summer assistantships,” at SIUC, “a TA, RA or GA must be enrolled as a student for at least three (3) graduate level credit hours,” per Section 5.5.1 of the GAU contract.

Perhaps these items are food for thought to consider when we sit down at the bargaining table in the spring.

James Anderson is a Ph.D. student and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

Get to Know a Steward: Vanessa Stout

For the third installment in our Get to Know a Steward series, the GAU Communications Committee asked Vanessa Stout, steward for the Department of Educational Psychology & Special education, several questions about her life, academic interests, union activities and psychoanalysis. 

vanessa-stoutGAU Communications Committee: Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from and what brought you to SIUC?

Vanessa Stout: I am originally from Springfield, Illinois, where I was born and raised. Going to college was never a question, but I was unsure where to go. A friend of mine during my high school years intended on applying to SIU, which led to my application. While not the best way of selecting a college, I am more than pleased with my undergraduate education at SIU and even more so pleased with my education during my graduate studies.

GAU: Why are you pursuing a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology?

Stout: While Educational Psychology is my department, Counselor Education is my focus. During my master’s program, I became enamored with counseling. Being able to help others in such profound ways is a blessing, despite the challenges it presents. Counseling is not an easy field, and you have to have an immense amount of passion and persistence. Not only do you have to have passion for your clients, but also for your loved ones and yourself. This delicate balance is a frequented topic in our halls, especially since the process of becoming a counselor is very challenging. Being a professor and a counselor educator allows me not only to educate individuals within my field, but also assist in the challenging process of becoming a counselor.

GAU: Why conjoin the two fields – education and psychology – into one discipline?

Stout: Educational psychology in a nutshell, is the study of how people learn in educational settings. I think all of us have been in a class, and felt the instructor’s methods were unhelpful, or the material could have been taught differently. We all learn differently, though there are commonalities amongst differences. Understanding those differences and the effectiveness of interventions can aid in making education accessible to more individuals.

GAU: Bigger influence on you and/or your field: John Dewey or Sigmund Freud?

Stout: Both John Dewey and Sigmund Freud have had a considerable impact. Dewey had a considerable impact on education and it is difficult to find a counseling theory book that does not spend an entire beginning chapter on Freud. While Freud is often discredited, I see him as a pebble thrown into the water creating the ripple effect, which led to psychology, and eventually modern day psychotherapy.  Many interventions and theories have been developed since his time, but it is difficult to deny the impact he has had in the development of psychology and counseling.

GAU: Can you describe your work as a TA in the Department of Educational Psychology & Special Education?

Stout: I am currently the TA for Theories of Counseling, which is a first year master’s student course. Students are exposed to the history of counseling theory, and asked to develop their own personal theory of counseling. My contributions to the class are assisting in understanding of different theories and development of students’ personal theory through journaling, and I also provide the lecture once or twice per month.

GAU: What is the most challenging aspect of working as a TA in your department – and what is the most rewarding?

Stout: The most challenging aspect is when students do not meet their own expectations of success. Most people enter counseling and counselor education because they genuinely care about the wellbeing of others, and want to see others succeed. Seeing students struggle can be difficult, and it is definitely the area I find most challenging as a TA.

GAU: As Steward for the Department of Educational Psychology & Special Education, how do you hope to help address issues GAs in your department face?

Stout: From my own experiences as a GA at both the master’s and doctoral level, I hold my department in high regard, as they have historically been respectful of the GA contract. However, students tend to be misinformed or lack knowledge about their contract. They are also often unaware of services GA United offer, or that joining and working with the union can ensure and create new benefits. Our department is relatively small, making one-on-one interventions ideal for educating students.

GAU: Some consider social movements and unionism – especially the communicative aspects – to be a form of public pedagogy. Can you provide a psychoanalysis of sorts regarding GAU’s public pedagogical approach?

Stout: I am relatively new to GA United, but can speak to my observations thus far. GAU has put considerable effort into educating the GA population at SIU through presence at events both at the various colleges and at the university level. We also do a lot of one-on-one interventions, which relies on our executive council, stewards and members to relay important information about our union. I believe the biggest problem GAU faces is the turnover rate, due to graduation. A strong union today doesn’t mean a strong union tomorrow. We have to be persistent in educating our new graduate students and GAs, to help “pass on the torch” and assure the future of GAU.

Another struggle for GAU is the large coverage area. GAs represent different colleges and different departments, and are spread out within a large university. Students have many interests, and limited time as they seek their degree. Also being spread out throughout the university makes it more of a challenge for the union to creation a relationship with GAs. Without a relationship due often to lack of information or oversight, GAs can often overlook their union and fail to make a connection. GAU must continue to work on creating relationships with GAs by establishing a presence across campus and educating graduate students about the importance and value of their union.

GAU: Can unions – graduate student unions and GAU specifically – be a kind of critical pedagogical movement to teach and learn about our world within the university system in order to transform it for the better?

Stout: I believe graduate student unions are an excellence place to teach and learn, before students graduate and enter the workforce. Unions work to protect their employees, and now is the time to inform students on the influence of unions, and how they can be valuable in their future careers.

GAU: What are your hopes for the future?

Stout: My hopes are to see GAU strengthened. As a new doctoral student, I can see the value in getting graduate students involved as soon as they step foot on campus. I hope to see involvement at various levels, both master’s and doctoral students and first years and students in stages of thesis and dissertation development. I also wish to see involvement from all colleges and departments across the University. Strength in numbers is needed in order to make change, which is especially true for when we go into bargaining for a new contract. With the upcoming bargaining, strength in numbers will help us fight for the things we need, such as a reduction in student fees and a raise in our salaries.

International Games at SIU

The International Student Council has created their very own mini Olympic games this year, and will be hosting International Games on the 8th, 9th and 10th of November at the Rec Center.
There will be a good variety of sports to choose from and compete in this year. Prizes will be given out to the top 3 winners. Among the sports available are:
1. Basketball
2. Volleyball
3. Badminton (singles,doubles,mixed)
4. Table Tennis (singles, doubles, mixed)
5. Track Running (100m,200m,400m,800m and 1600)-men and women
6. Track Mixed Relay (4x100m,4x200m and 4x400m) -2 men and 2 women MANDATORY
Fees are $5/person for each sport.  If you’d like to compete in more than 3 events, the maximum you will pay is $15. Any sport after the 3rd will be free. Schedules will be posted the week prior to event.  Contact iscgames2013@gmail.com or visit http://isc.rso.siuc.edu/ for registration information and with any questions.

Student Health Insurance Plan is “Minimum Essential Coverage”

As you know, SIUC has a ‘self-funded’ student health insurance plan.  What you may not know is that self-funded plans have been deemed to meet the “Minimum Essential Coverage” requirement under the Affordable Care Act.

“Participation in the Student Health Insurance Plan will not lead to the student paying a penalty or fine under the ACA regulations at this time,” according to an email from Jim Hunsaker, the Assistant Director of Student Health Services at SIUC.

Here is some language from an ACA bulletin for review:

Final Rule to be Published Designating Self-Funded Student Health Coverage as Minimum Essential Coverage on Temporary Basis (6/26/13)

On February 1, 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) posted a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (CMS-9958-P) that, among other provisions, would designate self-funded student health coverage as minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Within the notice, CMS requested comments on this action.  On March 15, 2013, on behalf of the association’s membership, ACHA submitted comments acknowledging the proposed inclusive action by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and pledging continued commitment and vigilance in promoting high-quality coverage for the nation’s college students.

However, reacting to the many comments filed in response to the proposed regulation, HHS has concluded that self-funded student health plans should not be permanently designated as minimum essential coverage.  In the soon to be published final regulation, HHS indicates that such plans will be treated as minimum essential coverage for a one-year transitional period with the option to renew that status:

“In this final rule we designate self-funded student health coverage as minimum essential coverage for plan or policy years beginning on or before December 31, 2014. For coverage beginning after December 31, 2014, sponsors of self-funded student health plans may apply to be recognized as minimum essential coverage through the process outlined in § 156.604 of the final rule.” (See text on pages 80 -81 of the soon to be published regulation).

Additionally, HHS indicates that “…In addition, the Department of the Treasury intends to publish guidance under section 36B of the Code about whether individuals who are eligible to enroll in self-funded student health plans will be treated as eligible for qualified health plan coverage subsidized by the premium tax credit.”