CGE Request to Meet with Penn State Higher Administration

On December 6, 2017, students representing the Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) requested to meet with Penn State administration to discuss a list of demands. After careful consideration of this request, the University has concluded that while the legal process related to CGE’s petition to unionize is ongoing, a meeting with CGE could be misinterpreted as collective bargaining. For this reason, President Barron, Provost Jones and Dean Vasilatos-Younken will not be able to meet with CGE.

The University has been and remains committed to working with its graduate students to maximize their educational experience at Penn State. The administration invites students on an individual basis who have concerns related to their Penn State experience to schedule a time to meet with an appropriate representative of the Graduate School to discuss their own concerns, and can do so by contacting gradinfo@psu.edu. In addition to inviting individual students to meet, the administration will continue to hold regular meetings with the leadership of the Graduate and Professional Student Association, the official and recognized representative body of graduate students at Penn State.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association and CGE in February, 2017 filed a petition to represent graduate students at Penn State. Currently, the parties are in the process of submitting post-hearing briefs following September hearings before an examiner appointed by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, who will decide whether to order an election.

As Penn State has previously explained, it believes that graduate students come to Penn State as advanced degree students for a world class education, not a job. The University absolutely values the contributions its graduate students make and strongly supports them; the administration would like to clarify the following with respect to the statements made by CGE in its letter:

Graduate Student Support:

Penn State strives to provide its graduate students with the opportunity to create new knowledge, achieve a high level and scope of professional skills, and address the world’s most pressing and complex problems — which is why we offer graduate students competitive funding support packages that allow them to focus on obtaining their advanced degrees. Total graduate student funding packages, which include a stipend, full tuition remission, and subsidized, high-quality health insurance, range, on average, between $49,000 and $65,000 per year.

University leadership understands the need for stability for individuals and their families, which is why we contribute 80 percent of the annual medical premium for individual coverage for graduate assistants, fellows and trainees, and 75-76 percent for dependent coverage. The Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) has the highest actuarial value for a medical plan allowed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), equivalent to a “Platinum” plan as defined by the ACA. This means it is the highest level plan that pays an average of 90 percent of covered medical expenses. Additionally, for students covered by the SHIP, most services from University Health Services are covered 100 percent, with deductibles waived.

More detailed information about all of the benefits graduate assistants and fellows currently receive is available at gradfacts.psu.edu/graduate-student-benefits. If any graduate student is experiencing problems with their insurance, they should contact the University Student Health Insurance Office at uhs-insurance@psu.edu or 814-865-7467 for immediate assistance.

Graduate Student Voice

The Graduate School and the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) works closely with various offices, units, and committees throughout the University to advocate for the interests of graduate students. Both Provost Nick Jones and Graduate School Dean Regina Vasilatos-Younken each meet regularly with the president of GPSA (the official representative body of graduate students at Penn State) throughout the academic year.

University leaders have also met with representatives from the Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) prior to the filing of their representation petition. Dean Vasilatos-Younken, and Suzanne Adair, then-associate dean for Graduate Student Affairs, met with CGE co-presidents in April 2016. In August 2016, four CGE representatives met with President Barron and Dean Vasilatos-Younken. Both meetings provided these graduate students opportunities to voice concerns and discuss issues, many of which are included in CGE’s recent letter.

With respect to speaking before the Board of Trustees, graduate students elected to the GPSA regularly provide updates to Trustees during meetings of the Committee on Academic Affairs and Student Life. In particular, Matt Krott, president of GPSA, and Brianne Pragg, vice president, sit in on those committee meetings for the express purpose of sharing information. In fact, in November, many board members, as well as University administrators, heard the concerns of CGE expressed by Ms. Pragg, who had the floor for at least 20 minutes to discuss concerns of CGE. The chair of the committee, William Oldsey, in reporting out to the full board the following day, also made note of the concerns expressed. Earlier this year, the committee invited a panel of graduate students and graduate faculty members to speak about graduate education and the graduate student experience at Penn State.

The Board of Trustees has guidelines related to public expression and appearances before the Trustees during the public comment period. The topics proposed to be addressed by individuals on behalf of CGE during the public comment period were inconsistent with the Board’s Standing Orders, which apply to all remarks made during the public comment period.

Commitment to Diversity

Penn State is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment. The Office of Graduate Educational Equity Programs (OGEEP) leads the Graduate School’s efforts to provide a welcoming climate for graduate students of underrepresented groups. OGEEP regularly collaborates with the Council of College Multicultural Leaders to increase representation of underrepresented students in the Graduate School, and OGEEP leads both the Summer Research Opportunities Program and the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at Penn State, which provide connections with highly talented undergraduate students who are interested in attending graduate school.

Our Longstanding Commitment to Graduate Students

We strive to ensure that all of our graduate students are safe, valued and supported at Penn State, and we take seriously and respond to any accusation of misconduct. The Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs serves as an ombudsperson and advocate for all graduate students across the University, and regularly meets with graduate students to help resolve issues impacting their graduate education experience at Penn State. The Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs brings forward to the administration concerns and issues to be resolved. In addition, like all Penn State community members, graduate students can anonymously raise questions and voice concerns about misconduct or other issues via the Penn State Hotline at hotline.psu.edu.

For any questions, comments, or concerns, we encourage our graduate students to contact the Graduate School at gradinfo@psu.edu so that we can continue to find innovative ways to improve graduate student life and cultivate intellectual growth within our community of graduate scholars.