Monday, April 12, 2010

Grad student petition for improving ND policies on family life

Some anonymous soul left a drive-by link to this Petition for a Family-Friendlier Notre Dame on my previous post about grad student life at ND. (Anon, if you're out there still, I'd love to know who you are and how you found my humble blog. I violated my usual rule of not posting anonymous comments because I was intrigued by the link.) I like most of the proposals therein, although there are a few I might modify (but perhaps the authors of the petition are thinking big?) I thought they were overreaching themselves at first, but as I read I realized that what is being proposed is not radical - but simply policy changes that would bring ND up to par with the much-vaunted "peer institutions."

Although I've been thwarted in my hope that we might see real healthcare reform that lowers costs, instead of a massive federal government takeover, I think there is much ND could do to make sure its grad students get adequate healthcare. As much I admire the work of the Women's Care Center, I really think ND grad students shouldn't have to resort to charity in order to get maternity care. The latest WCC flyer I received in the mail told the story of an international graduate student whose wife unexpectedly became pregnant during his time at Notre Dame. They worried about not being able to afford the baby - and considered abortion. They were able to get the help they needed from the WCC, but the fact that ND grad students even have to think about abortion due to financial distress is sad to say the least. The situation for international graduate students is especially dire as their spouses are usually here on visas which don't allow them to seek gainful employment!

There are a host of other "quality of life" issues that are addressed in the petition. The condition of married student housing is one of them. Frankly I wouldn't live in any of the on-campus housing that's designated for married students, either with or without children. Apartments off-campus are a much better value for the price. I've heard that the apartments for married students with kids are aging and not really in good shape. The gouging on rent is especially heinous in light of the size of a grad student stipend. I'm lucky as an engineering student to receive about $20,000/year (ish...I'm not telling you how much I really make!) Students in Arts and Letters have to make do with much less. In my program's handbook we are told, in a tone of admonition, that the stipend is only intended to support one person. But that doesn't at all match up with reality - for international students whose spouses can't work, or even for American citizens whose spouses can't find a job in this recession. (Been there, done that!) Even a cost-of-living  increase from year to year would help.

The University's trumpeting of its "pro-life" policies contrasts sharply with its shabby treatment of grad student families. I'm not sure if I'll be joining this group in front of the Dome - I'm not really the protesting type - but I fully support their efforts to improve conditions for graduate students and their families.

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