Recommendations for Immediate Action
September 9, 2022
The Health and Wellness Working Group of the Task Force on the Future of Graduate Education was charged with addressing the short- and long-term needs for all aspects of graduate student well-being. The working group considered the common and unique needs of graduate students at all levels and in all disciplines. Our recommendations for immediate action reflect the desire to build a community that has robust access to mental health care, to alleviate acute and chronic stressors, and to provide ready access to information and resources.
- Community. Create supported events and a dedicated, centralized space available for all graduate students, through which they can develop a sense of community across the campus. For example, this might include a provost-sponsored monthly event in the IMU Vault. More importantly, given the present plans to retool the former University Club for student space, graduate students should have priority booking at a separate space, where they can host regular events and lectures and set aside blocks of time for quiet study. While a pass scan system could potentially be used for a locked space, this may require hiring a staff member and/or graduate student(s) to oversee the space.
- Access to campus leadership. Create an advisory committee of graduate students composed of leaders of campus graduate student organizations, similar to the Dean of Students Cabinet of Student Leaders, and recommend that the dean of the Graduate School and provost meet regularly with this group. Task and fund the Graduate School to implement a regular assessment/survey of graduate student needs, health, and well-being, such as gradSERU.
- Grad Prep Week. For graduate courses, institute a grad “prep” week the week before finals, in which there are no class meetings or new assignments in graduate courses.
- Graduate student medical care. Although health and wellness resources are available to all students, the committee recommends the following to improve upon and address the unique needs of graduate students:
- Mental health treatment. Ensure that any graduate student who needs ongoing access to a mental health specialist is granted continuity of care, whether that be in-house or as a monitored referral.
- Expand the number of dedicated grad student counselor(s) and those located in a discrete location not frequented by undergrads. This is essential for graduate students as they serve as SAAs now or in the future. Add another prescriber (NP or MD/DO) for managing medication needs, particularly for mental health services.
- Address specialized health care needs for graduate students. Provide resources and referral for specialized health care needs such as women’s health, LBGTQ+, and others.
- Health insurance coverage. Ensure that SAAs have insurance that covers physical and mental health care when they are on an approved leave of absence.
- Wellness. Ensure continuation of the newly added access for SAAs to the Healthy IU programming.
- Short-term SAA sick leave policy. Develop a transparent policy for time off due to sickness that protects the SAA’s position and defines the respective responsibilities of the SAA and department to meet ongoing work obligations.
- Health-related resources. Given IU's current effort to develop a central website for health information through IU’s Chief Health Officer, ensure that specialized resources, information, and opportunities for graduate students are developed and included with a clearly marked pathway to that section indicated on the landing page.
- Financial stress. Financial insecurity remains a significant mental health issue for graduate students. Build on the stability provided by the recent increase in stipends and coverage of mandatory fees to:
- Remove additional fees. This includes removing the international mandatory fee, covering G901 fees for SAAs, and eliminating the gap between academic fellowship stipends and the new SAA stipends.
- Financial advice. Develop financial advice resources tailored to the specific life-stage and situation of graduate students through MoneySmarts.
- Campus-wide graduate mentorship programs and grievance process. The development of academic relationships and the ability to redress grievances that surround them are crucial to graduate student success. We recommend establishing minimum expectations and improving the transparency of:
- Academic grievances at the department and school level for graduate students. Creation of a simplified guide to academic grievances is required. This includes providing guidelines for student dismissal, productivity, plagiarism, and ethical issues in a lab, and requiring departments/schools to make their processes clear and accessible.
- SAA grievances at the department and school level and create a simplified guide to the SAA grievance pathway.
- Mentoring practices, in collaboration with the Graduate Mentoring Center, and require departments/schools to make these guidelines clear and accessible as well as ensure that accountability mechanisms are in place.
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working group has been constituted and has met twice, and the Curriuculum and Academic working group has been constituted and will begin to meet soon.
The Financial Support Working Group delivered its initial recommendations to the Task Force Coordinating Committee, which then forwarded them to the Provost and to the BFC. These initial recommendations focus on Student Academic Appointees:
- To ensure that prospective graduate students are making decisions based upon full information about their financial support package, departments will provide prospective students with detailed, transparent information about SAA positions, stipend and other support amounts, years of support, tuition and fee remission, and health insurance. Departments should also provide students with the recent, average time to degree, number of credit hours required to complete degree, and the number of years the financial support package is intended to support.
- For recommendations that require additional financial investment by academic units, the campus should provide one to two years of cash funding to allow units time to adjust budgets and assume responsibility for ongoing costs.
- Starting Fall 2022, the campus should require the College and schools to remit "Tuition and Fees" for SAAs to ensure that mandatory fees are also regularly covered. Course-related fees connected to graduate programs of study should be covered for SAAs as part of their Tuition and Fee Remission.
- Stipends should be tied to the median, by discipline, of R1 public Big Ten Midwestern universities to ensure IUB’s competitive position for recruiting and retaining top graduate students. Departments may propose a different peer group based on their top competitors.
- The minimum campus stipend for 0.5 FTE SAAs should be increased to $21,000 by Fall 2022 (FY23). VPR should provide transitional financial support for principal investigators of federal research projects where needed.
- A mandatory review process for SAA stipends should be conducted every two years to ensure that a) all schools and departments remain competitive, and b) that no unit falls below the campus minimum.
- For IU’s next fundraising campaign, the campus should identify graduate fellowships and other forms of graduate support as high priorities.
- The SAA FTE standard should be regularized to 0.5 FTE to avoid reductions in FTE levels as a budgetary cost savings measure. Appointments lower than 0.5 FTE should require approval by VPFAA.
- Further research should be conducted to understand fully the differential workloads of SAAs and to develop recommendations to address inequities.
The working group will continue their consideration of long-term recommendations for financial support for all graduate and professional students. These recommendations will be included in the final strategic plan.
Finally, the Health & Wellness Working Group has been constituted and will begin meeting next week. Initial recommendations of this group are expected by the end of August.
The working group on financial support has met a third time, and membership for the health and wellness working group has been finalized. The task force will continue to review all comments submitted through this form, including those related to SAA compensation and workload, graduate student well-being, and other ideas for improving the educational experience for all graduate students. The task force plans to submit several recommendations to the provost and Bloomington Faculty Council to consider for Fall 2022 implementation and will continue to work through the coming year on many other issues of concern to our graduate students and faculty. In addition to the recommendations for immediate action, the task force will deliver long-term objectives and actions as a new strategic plan for graduate education at IU Bloomington, sometime during the 2022-23 academic year.
This past week, a new SAA Council in the College—which is home to more than half of all IU Bloomington SAAs—hosted its first meeting, co-chaired by history professor Padraic Kenny. This work will complement the work of the BFC’s re-constituted campuswide SAA Affairs Committee. An open, unfilled seat remains available for representation from the IU Graduate & Professional Student Government (on all committees). We have received over 150 feedback forms on the task force on topics ranging from increased funding to mental health support to ensuring that undergraduate courses continue, uninterrupted, this academic year.
As of July 8, 2022, the working group on financial support had met twice as a full group and once in breakout groups that discussed SAAs, fees, and stipends. Membership for the working group on health & wellness will soon be finalized. Committees will also discuss graduate student housing; curriculum and academics; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and career and professional development. The coordinating committee has met seven times since May 18. An open, unfilled seat remains available for representation from the IU Graduate & Professional Student Government (on all committees).