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Graduate students to file petition

AMANDA GRAY | Friday, April 16, 2010

The Catholic Church sees access to adequate health care as a human right, and this right is not provided affordably for graduate students’ spouses and children, graduate theology student Ricky Klee said.

Klee, with others, has organized a “family-friendly petition” to ask University officials to change current University policies to better reflect a family atmosphere.

“The University health care plan is not provided affordably,” Klee said. “Many spouses and children are not insured.”

According to the University’s graduate student Web site, 75 percent of the premium cost for health insurance for the graduate student is subsidized. For the 2010-11 school year, the premium is $1,239. The student will pay $309, which only covers the graduate student.

Spousal insurance costs $3,098 per year, Klee said. In comparison, similar plans cost $1,774 at the Catholic University of America and $1,024 at the University of Dayton.
Sometimes spouses and children can go on state-funded health care, Klee said, but complications can surface.

Michael Driessen, a fifth-year political science graduate student and Quality of Life chair on the Graduate Student Union (GSU), said the initial graduate student policies weren’t designed for students with spouses and children in mind.

“I think the petition itself is a response to the fact that the larger student body at Notre Dame and many of the faculty and administration are really unaware of some of the specific difficulties Notre Dame married students encounter,” he said.

Health care isn’t the only major point of the petition, Klee said.

The final point of the nine recommendations, entitled “Gender Equity In Leadership At Notre Dame,” states, “Family concerns cannot be considered apart from the poor state of balance between genders at the top administrative, professorial and governance levels of the University.”

“This situation is broadly recognized among Ivy League schools,” Klee said. “Female grad students need special support to finish degrees, even with families.”

The petition aims to compare Notre Dame to other schools of its caliber, Klee said. For example, Notre Dame’s faculty is predominantly male.

Peter Campbell, international graduate student and Village Representative to the GSU, said the University doesn’t extend a woman’s funding by the amount she takes off for maternity leave.

“Women need that time,” Campbell said. “The University doesn’t pause funding while a woman is away from work.”

Klee added: “There’s no true maternity leave for female graduate students. There’s also no paternity leave. It forces the mother to be the sole care giver.”

In comparison, Yale and Princeton both provide paid leave for graduate students.

Jamie O’Hare, Assistant Rector for University Village, recent graduate in the Theology Ph.D. program and mother of three, said Notre Dame’s growth out of an all-male school may be why most policies are aimed at the needs for single, non-childbearing students.

“Grad students are the age at which many people get married and have children, and at a Catholic institution many of those people will be bearing children, or they’re not following church teaching,” O’Hare said. “I think that it fits with Notre Dame’s Catholic mission to not make following church teaching a burden.”

O’Hare said the low University stipend for Arts and Letters graduate students causes difficulties for growing families. She said when she and her family arrived at Notre Dame, theology stipends were $11,700 a year, growing to $13,500. She worked a second job at University Park Mall until their second child was born.

“I am a teacher by training, and I couldn’t put two babies in daycare, teach all day, grade all night and keep my life running smoothly enough to justify spending so much time away from my family,” O’Hare said. 

Now with a position on the housing staff at University Village, O’Hare said living on campus is difficult for Ph.D. student families.

The current stipend for Arts and Letters graduate families is around $16,000, she said. The 2009 federal poverty rate for a family of three is $18,310, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

“This forces families to make tough decisions or risk financial ruin,” she said.

Campbell said the University should support the graduate students because they are the examples of what Notre Dame would want the undergraduate students to become.

“[The graduate students are] married people who have families, professional careers, who have families and are devout Catholics and doing what Catholicism tells them to do: have children,” Campbell said. “So when I get off the trolley at the Village, there are a lot young men and women on the trolley. Often, when parents get off the trolley their children will be running to them, leaping into their arms. I think to myself, isn’t that a perfect symbol of the kind of values that the University wants to instill in its undergrads?”

O’Hare added: “[Graduate students] have different needs from the rest of the student population, and addressing these needs more adequately will benefit the school by attracting the best grad students and lowering the stress level of current students. “

The group of graduate students will have a demonstration on April 20 from 11:30 a.m. to noon in front of the Main Building to formally submit the petition, Klee said.

“It’s a chance for everyone to provide their own voice,” Klee said. “We’re hoping for lots of people.”