GEO Open Letter Concerning Student Healthcare Access Passes 200 Signatures

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On Wednesday, May 12, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) Local #6300 AFT/IFT/AFL-CIO representing graduate employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign sent an open letter to university administrators with over 200 signatures. In addition to being signed by the Campus Faculty Association and the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition, about half the 200 individual signers were faculty at UIUC.

The letter calls on the administration to cover summer healthcare costs for all employees and revoke the planned 33 percent insurance premiums hike set to impact graduate and undergraduate students this fall. The delivery of the open letter comes on the heels of a car rally on May 1 and a call-in event on April 24 during which the GEO phone-banked the offices of the administration calling for the same demands to be met.

On May 1st, the GEO organized a car rally calling on the university administration to provide summer health care for graduate workers and drop plans to increase student health insurance premiums by 33% this fall. Photo by Ben Joseph Lash

Using federal aid offered to universities through the CARES Act, the administration has recently given funding to departments meant to help pay for summer health care and living costs for the neediest graduate employees. The Supplementary Summer Block Grant program will award those “with no additional source of assistantship or fellowship funds [for the summer]…not less than $1,111 per month for two months, up to a rate of not more than $2,083 per month for two months. The SSBG fellowship is accompanied by an 87 percent subsidy of the summer health insurance fee and a tuition waiver, both these benefits apply[ing] to the entire summer.”

The GEO claims that even with the SSBG program, many graduate workers still expect to struggle to maintain their standards of living over the summer. According to GEO Co-Presidents Lila Ann Dodge and Chibundo Egwuatu, “The needs expressed in [the open] letter remain unmet: SSBG grants do not cover the full cost of summer health insurance and were not made available to students in cost-recovery and self-sustaining programs.”

It remains to be seen whether the administration will follow through on its plans to increase healthcare premiums by 33 percent this fall.

Below is the full text of the open letter submitted by the GEO on May 12.

Dear Chancellor Jones, Provost Cangellaris, and Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois,

Health insurance is a necessity. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is only more true. In the United States alone, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports approximately 803,000 cases of COVID-19 and 45,000 reported deaths as of April 22.* Furthermore, COVID-19 will most likely remain a risk in the US beyond May 1.**

However, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign expects its graduate employees to go without health insurance over the summer months. The more than 2000 graduate employees without UIUC appointments over the summer must pay $696 to extend their  healthcare coverage over this period, an amount that is an extreme burden to workers without summer work. Fee waiver-generating appointments have always been scarce during the summer semester. UIUC’s large number of international graduate employees have limited options for summer work off-campus due to federal restrictions. And this summer, graduate students overall are seeing their summer job and research options dissolve due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaving graduate employees without affordable healthcare over the summer months, when we know that COVID-19 will still be circulating in the US population, will put graduate employee lives at risk, while potentially burdening others with substantial medical debt. Moreover, this is a public health issue for the larger community of Urbana-Champaign: as a major employer in the area, the University has a responsibility to the well-being of its entire community.

As faculty and academic employees at UIUC, we call on the University to cover graduate student health insurance premiums during the summer of 2020 for those who do not have a summer appointment by the end of their spring 2020 coverage. Additionally, we call on the University to revoke the 33 percent increase in student health insurance fees for AY 2020-21.

Certain departments are currently working to fund summer appointments for all of their graduate employees so that their health care fees will be waived. However, this burden should NOT fall on individual departments when this is a university-wide, structural problem. ALL graduate students should have access to health insurance in Summer 2020, regardless of department affiliation; and ALL students should not be burdened by further healthcare costs in AY 2020-21. No one should be left vulnerable to COVID-19.

The undersigned campus community stakeholders insist that UIUC ensure the health and survival of its graduate employees by covering graduate student health insurance over summer 2020 and by revoking the healthcare fee hike for AY 2020-21. During these unprecedented times, it is our duty to take care of our colleagues, our students, and each other.


The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO 6300 AFT/IFT Local)
The Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition (NTFC 6546 AFT/IFT/AAUP Local)
The Campus Faculty Association (CFA) of UIUC

And the following individuals:

Alexis King Graduate Research Assistant
Tina Schweizer Graduate Research Assistant
Carol Symes Associate Professor, Associate Chair, and Director of Graduate Studies, Dept. of History
Abhishek Joshi PhD Student, Phsyics
Dana Rabin Professor and Chair Department of  History
Amanda Ciafone Assistant Professor of Media and Cinema Studies
Doron Leonardo Grossman-Naples PhD Student
Kathryn Oberdeck Associate Professor, History
Krystal Smalls Asst Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics, UIUC
Aravinda Garimella Assistant Professor
Rachel Braz Arcanjo Graduate Student – Animal Sciences
Chelsea Birchmier Graduate Employee, Psychology Department
Helen Neville Professor Ed Psych and African American Studies
Aleena Khan Graduate Employee at UIUC
Charlotte Hunt UIUC alumna
Kirstie Simson Associate Professor, Department of Dance
Rachel Barnett PhD Student, Mathematics
Brenda Farnell Professor and Head, Department of Anthropologyy
Markera Graduate Student
Clara Bosak-Schroeder Assistant Professor of Classics, UIUC
Matthew S. Winters Associate Head for Graduate Programs, Department of Political Science
Cassandra Rosado Senior Lecturer, Linguistics Department
Ashli Anda Grad student, Philosophy Dept. UIUC
Rachel Shulman Academic Coordinator, MIT Energy Initiative/UIUC MA ’07, MS ’08
Aidan Watson-Morris Teaching Assistant, UIUC
Kristen Ann Ehrenberger, MD (2016) PhD (History, 2014) Internal Medicine-Pediatrics Resident, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Justine S. Murison Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in English
Paul Prior Professor, Department of English
Lindsay Rose Russell Associate Professor of English and Writing Studies
Robert Markley Trowbridge Professor and Head, Department of English
Nicole Allen Professor, Psychology
Anne Haas Dyson Professor, College of Education
Mark Stephen Aber Associate Professor, Associate Head and Director of Undergraduate Studies
Jeremiah Heller Assistant Professor, Math Department
Vesna Stojanoska Assistant Professor,  Mathematics
Brian Jefferson Associate Professor, Associate to the Head, and Graduate Director of Geography and GIS
Meghan Bohardt
Nick Goodell UIUC Alum
Dennis Dullea Senior Instructor, Dept of English
Tyran Russell Clinical Assistant Professor; Urban & Regional Planning
Anita Chan Associate Professor, iSchool and College of Media
Maryam Kashani Assistant Professor, Gender & Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies
Shawn Gilmore Senior Lecturer (English, UIUC)
Michael Odom Senior Lecturer and Specialized Faculty Assistant Director or Rhetoric, English Department
Melissa Ocepek Assistant Professor, School of Information Sciences
Jane Desmond Professor of Anthropology
Heather McLeer Lecturer, Department of English
Faye V. Harrison Professor & Graduate Academic Advisor of African American Studies & Professor of Anthropology
Akil Guruparan Graduate Teaching Assistant, UIUC
Jodi A Byrd Associate Professor, English/GWS, Illinois
Rose Kaczmarowski Specialized Faculty, Theatre
Junaid Rana Associate Professor, Department of Asian American Studies
Toby Beauchamp Associate Professor, Gender & Women’s Studies
James Hay Research Professor, ICR & MACS (College of Media)
Jenny L. Davis Assistant Professor, Anthropology
Bryan Dunne Teaching Assistant Professor
Todd D. Johnson, Ph.D. Alumnus of Department of Entomology
Paul Kenneth Rohde MFA Studio Arts Grad Student, School of Art + Design
Jesann Gonzalez Cruz Graduate Research Assistant, NRES
Anne Marie Esposito Graduate Research Assistant, Chemistry
McKenzie Johnson Assistant Professor, Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
Ryan Griffis Assoc. Professor, School of Art & Design
Logan Middleton Graduate Employee, English (UIUC)
Rebecca Laurent Graduate Student, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
Hannah Ellingson Graduate Teaching Assistant
Austin D. Hoffman Research Assistant, Department of Anthropology
Guen Montgomery Teaching Asst. Professor, Art and Design
Vicki Mahaffey KIrkpatrick Professor of English and GWS
Alana Ackerman Graduate student and teaching assistant, Anthropology department
John Gallagher Assistant Professor of English
Daymon Kiliman Writing Center Director, Northwest Mississippi Community College
John Musser Visiting Lecturer in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies – University of Pittsburgh
Amanda Bales Lecturer, English, UIUC
Daniel Montgomery President, Illinois Federation of Teachers
Ali Rasouli PhD student
Emily Renne Teaching Assistant, English
Independent Workers Party – Chicago Founder
Soraya Cipolla Graduate Student at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
Srinanda Ganguly PhD student, Art History
Ming Kit Cheng Graduate research assistant (UIUC)
David Johnson Host of Labor’s World View TV
Harriet Murav Catherine and Bruce Bastian Professor, UIUC
Dan Gilbert Associate Professor (History & LER)
Matthew Byrd Graduate Assistant, School of Information Sciences
Clarissa Goebel Graduate student and Teaching Assistant, Department of Classics
Megan Mericle Graduate Teaching Assistant, English, UIUC
Sarah-Elizabeth Deshaies PhD Candidate, Educational Psychology
Robert Vodicka
Susan Aguinaga Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
Jessica R. Wells, PhD Unaffiliated
Elias Decker Undergraduate, UIUC
Marya Burke Counselor, Parkland College
Paul Haker Graduate Teaching Assistant, UIUC
Kealie Vogel Graduate research assistant, NRES
Karen Aram
Lettycia Terrones Graduate Teaching Assistant, School of Information Science and Latina/o Studies
Rachel Birchmier Graduate student, Rachel Birchmier
Claudia Grisales Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant
Al Kagan Professor of Library Administration Emeritus
Daniela Delgado Ramos Graduate student and teaching assistant, Informatics department
Stephen Kaufman Professor Emeritus, College of Medicine and Department of Cell & Developmental Biology
Matt Soyland DVM Student
Susan Zhou UC-Senate Senate Executive Committee Representative
George Vassilatos Undergraduate, Anthropology
Rachel Harrison Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Astronomy
Shubhangi Rathor Graduate Student, DURP, UIUC
Vismaya Jayakumar Graduate Assistant at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, UIUC
Shubhika Agarwal Graduate Student
Martha Ann Larkin Graduate Teaching Assistant English Department
Sarah Blanco Graduate Student, Library and Information Science
Briana Gipson Research-Assistant, Urban and Regional Planning
Djordje Takov Graduate student and research assistant
Kristin Romberg Associate Prof. of Art History
Sydney Anderson Graduate Student, School for Information Sciences
David L Cooper Associate Professor, Slavic
Bruce Kovanen IFT Vice President
Matthew Haugen Graduate Assistant and instructor
Erin Morris Alumna ’16 PhD in Recreation, Sport and Tourism
Gabriel Malo Teaching Assistant, MACS & PhD Student, ICR
Emmy Lingscheit Associate Professor, School of Art + Design
Korinta Maldonado Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
Ellen Moodie Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology
Laura Shackelford Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Anthropology
Cris Hughes Clinical Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Jessica Greenberg Associate Professor, Anthropology
Elisabeth Horan MFA Studio Arts Grad Student and Teaching Assistant, School of Art + Design
Patricia Simpson, Ph. D. Alumna, ILIR, UIUC
Dallas R. Trinkle Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
Conor Murphy Graduate Teaching Assistant, Art and Design
Renske M. van der Veen Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry
Patrick Burns
Ben Grosser Assoc Professor, Art + Design
Kate Clancy Associate Professor of Anthropology
Andrew Orta Professor Department of Anthropology and Interim Director Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Katherine Hair MFA Studio Arts Candidate
Valeria Sobol Associate Professor and Head, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
Patrick Hammie Associate Professor, School of Art + Design
Siobhan Somerville Associate Professor, English/Gender & Women’s Studies; Chair, GWS
Trish Loughran Associate Professor, English
Andrew Fink
Mr. T. Doug Olive Editor, Writer & Artist, Community Volunteer
Lesley Owens Graduate Teaching Assistant, Department of English
Jacob Foster Graduate TA
Rudolf Haken Professor of Music
Stephen Signa-Aviles MFA Studio Arts Grad Student, School of Art + Design
Megan Davis Doctoral Candidate, Graduate Assistant
Ruchir Agrawal Graduate Teaching Assistant, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department
Tanya Josek PhD, UIUC Alum
Brenna Decker Alumna 2017, M.S. in Entomology
Cristina Gonzalez Martin Predoctoral fellow
Ane Icardo Isasa Senate Executive Committee Graduate Student Representative
Ben Joselyn Program Coordinator in the School of Social Work UIUC
Ennio Nuila Graduate Student/Teaching Assistant Spanish and Portuguese
Ander Beristain PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant, Spanish and Portuguese
Amina Malik Undergraduate student
Savannah Carter Graduate Teaching Assistant & Advisor
Dawn Navejas Graduate Teaching/Research Assistant
Andrea Herrera UIUC Alum
Roderick Wilson Assistant Professor, History Department & EALC Department
Kacie Gastanaga PhD student Spanish & Portuguese
Dan Shao Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures Department
Juan Alvarez Teaching Assistant Professor, ECE
Robert Tierney Head EALC
Jacqueline Yi Graduate Research Assistant
Stanley Ambrose Professor, Anthropology
Carileigh Jones PhD Student, Sociology
Lisa Lucero Professor, Anthropology
Julie Nieset Wetland Ecologist, Illinois Natural History Survey
Merle L Bowen Associate Professor, African American Studies
Chilin Shih Associate Professor, EALC
Lyle Konigsberg Professor of Anthropology
Ripan S. Malhi Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Anthropology
Amanda Smith Graduate Student in French
Joshua Dees Graduate Teaching Assistant, ESL Writing
Aparecida Takigawa
Juan Suárez Ontaneda Ph.D. Spanish and Portuguese
Jeeyoung Ahn Ha Director of the Korean language program, EALC
Roberto Rojas Alfaro Teaching Assistant
Dr. Maritza Quiñones University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Stuart Levy Senior Research Programmer, NCSA
Alma Gottlieb Professor Emerita, UIUC Dept. of Anthropology
Jamie L. Jones Assistant Professor, Department of English
Brett Ashley Kaplan Professor, Comparative and World Literatures
Josue David Cisneros Associate Professor, Dept. of Communication
Anna-Maria Marshall Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
David O’Brien Professor, Art and Design
Kristin Romberg Associate Professor, Art History
Jamie Forde Lecturer, Art History, UIUC
Erin Reitz Assistant Professor, Art History
Lisa Rosenthal Associate Professor, Art History Program, School of Art and Design
Josue David Cisneros Associate Professor, Communication
Lisa Guntzviller Associate Professor, Communication
Catalina Hernandez PhD Student, Teaching Assistant, Art Education, Latino/Latina Studies
Terri Weissman Associate Professor, Art History
Cassidy Wagner Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Astronomy
Lilah A. Leopold TA, RA, PhD Student, Art History
Gonzalo Pinilla Teaching Assistant
Sierra Hall MA Student, Art History
Elisabeth Bigsby Assistant Professor
Sharayah Cochran PhD Student, Art History
Kiri Palm Teaching Assistant, iSchool at UIUC
Laurie Hogin Director of Graduate Studies School of Art and Design
Kathryn La Barre Associate Professor, School of Information Sciences
Curtis Perry Professor of English
Carol Tilley Associate Professor, School of Information Sciences
Chantal Nadeau Professor, Gender & Women’s Studies
Spencer D. C. Keralis Assistant Professor, Digital Humanities Librarian
Piper Martin Reference Services & Instruction Librarian, AssistantProfessor
Kathryn McDonald MS/LIS Student
Emilee Mathews Assistant Professor, Head of Ricker Library of Architecture & Art
Kathleen McDowell Associate Professor, School of Information Sciences

* Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Cases of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in the U.S,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, April 20, 2020,

** Armus, Teo, et al., “Live updates: Deaths suggest coronavirus was spreading in U.S earlier than previously thought; CDC director warns of devastating second wave,” Washington Post, April 22, 2020,

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