COVID-19 Open Letter for Universal Doctoral Student Health Insurance

A third of CUNY Graduate Center PhD students receive tuition assistance only &, unlike their fully-funded counterparts, are not guaranteed health insurance. This is unacceptable. Particularly so in the midst of a global pandemic. #InsureCUNY.

COVID-19 Open Letter for Universal Doctoral Student Health Insurance

To Graduate Center President Robin Garrell, Interim Graduate Center Provost Julia Wrigley, CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez, and the CUNY Board of Trustees:

We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and we have uninsured doctoral students at the Graduate Center because CUNY has been unwilling to answer the call from the Full and Fair Funding group, the Graduate Center PSC Chapter, the CUNY Adjunct Project, the Doctoral and Graduate Student Council, and the 500 community members* who have demanded structural change to secure equity in funding and health insurance for all doctoral students.

Healthcare is a human right, and the Graduate Center has the responsibility to provide it to all doctoral students, who are expected to be full-time students, and whose graduate research directly moves forward the mission of the GC.

One third of current and incoming doctoral students at the CUNY Graduate Center – as much as 50% in some departments – receive only five-year tuition waivers or else no funding at all. Within this two-tiered system, tuition-only students, unlike fully-funded counterparts, are not provided with PSC-represented employment and therefore have no guaranteed access to the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP). Many students are have to take on extremely precarious adjunct jobs to qualify for health insurance, and sit with the anxiety each semester that they will lose both their job and their ability to seek medical care. Students that have acquired contingent fellowships have seen them cut amidst current austerity measures, and even those admitted with full funding must contend with losing health insurance after five years.

The present global health crisis, increasing in urgency with COVID-19 cases expected to rise in the winter months, shows the importance of structurally guaranteed, universal access to health insurance.

The contract ratified in December of last year by the PSC has provisions for expanding access to NYSHIP. The 2017-2023 contract set aside $700,000 a year, to “enable doctoral students in their first five years of enrollment in a Ph.D. program who . . . have been admitted to a Ph.D. program on a tuition-only basis to receive health insurance through the New York State Health Insurance Program,” provided the students meet NYSHIP eligibility requirements. The $700,000 is phased in over two years, starting last January. There is recurring and lump sum money available now. However, almost a year later, CUNY continues to stall and there have been no implemented changes in student’s access to health insurance at the Graduate Center.

Despite the urgency of the pandemic, CUNY management refused all of PSC’s proposals for the GC to ensure that students have the minimal level of CUNY employment to qualify them for NYSHIP insurance.

One of CUNY’s latest proposals was to give every tuition-only student $800, telling them they could use this to buy their own insurance. This is not health insurance equity! The contractual agreement is explicit that the money is for NYSHIP coverage, not for handing people an inadequate sum and telling them they’re on their own. CUNY’s counteroffer falls far short of the need for reliable, NYSHIP coverage now.

We, the undersigned, are CUNY students, faculty, administration, staff, and community members. We call on CUNY leadership to move quickly to provide the human right of healthcare, and guarantee equitable health insurance through NYSHIP coverage to all doctoral students at the Graduate Center.

*Number of signatures on our Spring 2019 open letter demanding universal graduate assistant positions and access to health insurance. To sign the letter and for more information on the Full and Fair Funding campaign, visit http://cunyadjunctproject.org/funding

Please sign here: COVID-19 Open Letter for Universal Doctoral Student Health Insurance