Graduate teaching fellows in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development are keeping their health insurance after administrators rescinded a short-lived change last week.
After an August letter to Lynch doctoral students announced that teaching fellows who independently teach undergraduate courses will no longer receive coverage of medical insurance premiums, the school has informed affected students that the notification of the change in coverage was sent in error.
In the original letter sent to doctoral students prior to the start of the semester, Associate Dean of Graduate Student Services Elizabeth Sparks outlined the school’s policy for eligibility for doctoral students who work as researchers or teachers to have their medical insurance premiums covered.
Although all doctoral students who work 20 hours each week in research or teaching roles were previously guaranteed coverage of medical insurance premiums, this letter stated that teaching fellows were no longer eligible to be covered during the 2019-2020 academic year.
After doctoral students expressed concern about this change in policy, they were told that the letter made a mistake and that teaching fellows are still eligible to receive full or partial coverage of medical insurance premiums.
“The notice that was distributed in August was erroneous in that it did not account for the exceptions to The Lynch School policy that exist for Teaching Fellows,” said the Lynch School’s statement to affected students, which was shared with The Gavel. “The Lynch School will continue to administer its policy as it has during the past several academic years. We regret the confusion caused by the notice.”
Under the current Lynch School policy, all doctoral students who work 20 hours a week will receive full coverage of Boston College Student Medical Insurance premiums during the first three years of doctoral study as part of their funding package. Additionally, student workers also receive 18 tuition-remission credits and a stipend of up to $21,000.
Also, current fourth and fifth year doctoral students completing research assistantships funded by the Lynch School or a grant to a faculty member are still eligible for 50% or 100% coverage of the medical insurance premium, depending on the number of hours worked each week.
In an email to The Gavel, fifth year doctoral student Lindsay Clements discussed how the announcement of a change in policy impacted doctoral students.
According to Clements, the full premium would cost teaching fellows as much as $3,120, which is 15% of their annual stipend. She described this as an unexpected expense that many doctoral students simply were not prepared for when they were notified of a change in policy only two weeks before the start of the semester.
“We already must be highly conscious of our spending in order to stretch our yearly pay to cover just the basics—rent, food, winter clothing, etc.— and sudden, unexpected costs like this make it even more difficult to do so,” Clements said. “This is true of any doctoral student—or any person. Sudden changes in finances or benefits (like healthcare) put undue stress on one's economic well being, work productivity, and personal life.”
Additionally, Clements highlighted the fact that the students who teach their own classes already receive a lower stipend than students who research, despite the amount of time and energy required of teaching. Doctoral students are paid $5,000 each semester for teaching an undergraduate class (10 hours per week), compared to research assistantships in which students are paid $5,200 for 10 hours a week of research.
“In my view, it is antithetical to the mission and vision of a school of education to economically penalize the students who dedicate themselves to teaching,” said Clements. “If we say that we value teachers and teaching, let's start by valuing our own.”