President Don Randel and Assistant Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students in the College Bill Michel held the last Presidential Brown Bag Lunch of the year on Monday. Michel replaced Vice President and Dean of Students in the University Steven Klass, who had to attend a funeral.
Members of Save Our Student Health Insurance (SOSHI), a group of graduate students originally organized by the Graduate Council of Student Government, dominated the conversation, explaining that students were choosing other institutions over Chicago because of their better health insurance plans. SOSHI delivered a petition of approximately a thousand signatures that expressed their concern over skyrocketing health care costs.
Randel agreed that Chicago's plan, which requires graduate students to have health insurance and sells it to those who don't, is not competitive with other institutions. "We are just plain not as wealthy," Randel said.
Randel said that changes to the way that the University sells health insurance would not apply to all schools and divisions, because of the different amounts and sources of funding for each kind of student. Unlike some other institutions, the tuition paid by students in the College would not go to funding graduate student health insurance, he said.
Another member of SOSHI said that he was happy when he saw that student health insurance was listed as an area that would receive funds collected by the Chicago Initiative, the University's campaign to raise $2 billion for various budgets. However, he was concerned that health insurance was listed as a fringe benefit instead of a requirement.
"This is a country that has no plan for the health of its citizens," Randel said. He said that while the country's health insurance is going up by approximately 14 percent, the insurance sold by the University is going up by 4 or 5 percent.
The members of SOSHI expressed their desire to trade free health insurance for a rise in tuition, noting that the rise in tuition could garner a tax refund. Randel said that there simply needed to be more money in the system for any real change to take place.
A Graduate School of Business (GSB) student said that he was worried about the GSB moving off campus, albeit only two blocks. Randel said that, compared to other institutions, the business school will still be very close to the main campus.
"The business school is meaningfully and integrally connected to the rest of the University," he said.
Randel talked about the "rambunctious debate" over where to place the new business school, noting that some vehemently argued against placing it across the Midway.
The business school student also wondered how some of the money he paid could go to graduate students suffering under health insurance costs, causing some members of SOSHI to applaud. Randel talked about the different "colors of money" coming into the University, saying that most of the fundssuch as the $250 million provided by the federal government to conduct researchcould not be appropriated for any use but that intended by its donor. The only money that can be used for any purpose is tuition.
Another student inquired about issues raised in a recent New York Times article about the students at top-tier institutions becoming richer. Randel answered that the issue was serious, and that institutions such as Princeton could "afford to do something about this."
He said that, in terms of the lower half of the economic spectrum in America, Chicago is doing better than other top-tier institutions. While Chicago does not consider need for financial aid in its admission decisions, Randel said that SAT scores, grades, and quality of high school education are all "very well correlated" with income.
"We are doing quite a lot to encourage the bottom half of the income distribution to apply," Randel said. "We induce many who might not even aspire to go to an institution of this kind."
Another undergraduate asked about the space being vacated by the GSB, wondering if there would be a new Amandla center for minority students. Michel responded that the solution for the expansion of the Amandla Center, currently located on the mezzanine level of Harper, would not be found in the former GSB buildings. Classrooms, offices for the social sciences and humanities, and the college admissions and financial aid offices will move into the GSB after they move into their new space next fall.
Lastly, a student inquired about the tower in Stuart Hall, "Who gets the tower in Stuart? It's really awesome!" Michel replied that he didn't know.