By Tara Sullivan
A group of 25 graduate students crowded into a sixth-floor conference room on Wednesday to offer a petition to Interim President Tim White.
The petition, which had more than 760 signatures of OSU students and community members, is the first step in bargaining for better health insurance for graduate teaching and research assistants.
Currently, Oregon State provides no health insurance -- only a $110 per term recruitment and retention differential.
Although graduate students have the opportunity to purchase insurance through ASOSU, OSU still ranks in last place among the Pac-10 schools for graduate employee health insurance, according to a study released by the Coalition of Graduate Employees.
Luke Ackerman, a chemistry research assistant and president of the CGE, said that the college has been neglecting the needs of graduate students.
"I've gotten the impression that OSU sees us as not important, second rate -- a group that can be squeezed when times are tough," he said.
Ackerman said he was "not aware enough to know that health insurance would be an issue," and did not take it into consideration when he joined OSU's graduate program.
According to Ackerman, both current grad students and prospective students have been discouraged from attending OSU because of the general lack of health care.
Ackerman and Tony Masiello, a graduate student in chemistry, said they know of students who looked at OSU and found the health problem as a strong motive in their decision not to attend.
White doesn't feel a lack of insurance will discourage potential grad students.
"I think graduate students look at the whole compensation package," he said, mentioning other benefits like salary, cost of living and quality of education.
White said he does not know of any students who took health care into consideration when coming here. Insurance is a very complex issue, he added, and students have to look at the whole picture.
Lack of basic health insurance seems to be the biggest part of the picture for many members of the CGE.
Many tell stories about graduate students not being able to afford insurance for their children, spouses or basic medical care for themselves.
One member was potentially eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, but first had to go six months with no insurance.
In the fifth month, her appendix ruptured and she was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
Multiple operations later, the CGE member is left with an open wound that she is letting "heal naturally" and $50,000 in hospital bills, she said. She is still waiting to hear from OHP.
Taking time off this term, she plans to be back in school for spring term and could be teaching again next fall.
Mindy Crandall, a graduate in agriculture and natural resource economics, is a single mother who says she could not afford health care for both herself and her child.
Crandall couldn't get cost-effective insurance through ASOSU because it only pays for office visits to the Student Health Center, she said. Crandall's child was not allowed to have an appointment there.
White accepted CGE's proposal to begin negotiations over health insurance.
"Obviously we have very excellent grad students," White said.
Tara Sullivan is a freelance writer for The Daily Barometer and can be reached at 737-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.