My name is Jason McLarty and I am a PhD candidate in the Linguistics Department here. While here at the University of Oregon, I have been a dedicated and productive graduate researcher presenting over twenty singly and jointly authored papers and posters at numerous regional, national, and international conferences, as well as several publications in leading linguistic journals. Additionally, I have received a National Science Foundation Grant for my dissertation work, and received great evaluations from students in classes I have taught. The point of all this is to say, I have been a model graduate employee and student since I began here. I also have a four-year-old son, who was born during my third year in the PhD program.
Aside from the initial difficulties related to being new parents, with no family nearby, beginning in early 2018, my son began to have some serious vision-related issues. Throughout 2018 and this year, we have been in and out of doctor appointments, seeing specialists, and undergoing various imaging and diagnostic tests. We ended up having to have an MRI and various other expensive tests to determine what exactly we are dealing with. One thought was that he had neuro-muscular issues; another was that he may have a rare virus attacking the optic nerves in his eyes; a third was that we may need to “re-do” the muscles in eyes; and the last, and most scary, was that he potentially had a brain tumor. As of today, they still aren’t sure if he doesn’t need a series of surgeries to address the ongoing issues—so these issues aren’t over for him or my family. As this process was underway, my son also developed sensory issues, some related to vision problems, but some independent from those problems.
This all has been incredibly time-consuming, financially and emotionally draining, even with how nice our health care package is. In fact, if it weren’t for how thoroughly we are covered and the relatively low deductibles, etc., I would have had to withdraw from school and seek employment elsewhere, or at the very least get a job on the side in addition to my GE duties, which would have absolutely impacted the quality of teaching and scholarship I have done while here at UO. There is no way I could have paid for everything out of pocket based on our current GE salaries if the benefits were reduced. Additionally, it would have been better for my own health (both physically and mentally) and for my son’s health and well-being for me to have taken a term off, and been there for him more. But unfortunately, if I take off time, I lose health insurance in addition to the paycheck I needed to pay for those health services. Despite these events, I have always completed my GE duties and am still on-track to graduate in a timely manner. The point being, we have a lot of great programs and benefits now that genuinely help graduate students and their families—what we should be focused on is not reducing those benefits, but expanding them even more, as their rewards are reflected in both the stories you’ve heard today and can hear if you talked to more graduate students and their families, but also in the overall quality of students in the Graduate School at UO.
I know a lot of the discussions in bargaining are related to a reduction in coverage/more pay dichotomy, but the truth is, you don’t need good health insurance until you (or someone you love and care about) does. Even if you “give us a raise”, while reducing coverage under the premise that we are young enough and healthy enough that we don’t need all that coverage, if something like this happened to my son under your proposed plan, I would need to withdraw or come up with extra funding at the expense of my studies, no question. Even with the proposed raise, the reduction in coverage and thus increase in deductibles and out of pocket expenses would have broken my family.
What the GTFF is bargaining for on the behalf of me and other graduate students is not just reasonable, it’s humane. We are people, who work hard and are the backbone of the university in many ways, and many of us have families. We love what we do, otherwise we wouldn’t be here today. Yes, we don’t make a lot of money, and man, I sure would like to take home more…but the Trust’s ability to negotiate the health care package we have offsets that to a large degree, while providing graduate students and their families much needed security. I fundamentally believe that quality healthcare coverage—that is affordable—is a basic human right. We shouldn’t go broke because a loved one needs medical care.
This security, knowing that if something catastrophic happens to myself or my family, and I won’t go broke or have to withdraw provides peace of mind for myself, and others, and allows me to focus on my academic work here at UO. In fact, what brought me to the University of Oregon, rather than the other schools I received offers from, was in large-part due to the healthcare package and security it provides. It’s important to potential/incoming students as much as it is to current students. I sincerely believe that the quality of work of graduate students like myself, and the ability to even recruit them in the first place would plummet if these benefits are reduced or taken away. In all of this, please do not forget we are people.