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District court rules reimbursement on student fees mandatory

BY BILL COONEY | AUGUST 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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Some graduate students will feel a little less strain on their bank accounts in the upcoming academic year.

On Tuesday, the 5th District Court upheld a Public Employee Relations Board finding that reimbursement of graduate-student and research-assistant fees at the University of Iowa is a mandatory topic to be discussed when negotiating contracts with the graduate-student union, COGS.

A majority of teaching done at the UI is done by graduate students, said Ruth Bryant, the COGS communications head.

“Around 70 percent of teaching roles are performed by grad students, not tenured faculty,” she said. “What the Board of Regents and the university are trying to do is have us continue this work without reimbursing us for our student fees.”

A student fee is any fee charged to a student at a university or place of learning in addition to tuition.

Since many graduate student receive vouchers for their tuition, these fees can be difficult for students to pay, Bryant said.

COGS President Jeannette Gabriel said these fees add up to around $1,000 per graduate student at the UI.

The debate over student fees is not just germane to the UI, she said.

“This is definitely a national issue,” she said. “As universities are moving away from tuition, they’re increasing fees.”

“We’ve seen an increase in student fees of almost 500 percent in the last decade,” Gabriel said. “That’s really alarming to us.”

Bryant said the state Board of Regents would most likely pursue the issue all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The regents’ deciding to continue the court battle wouldn’t make much sense, Joseph Cohen, an attorney for the union, said in a statement.

“From a legal perspective, it is hard to understand why the university has taken the extreme measure of going to court here,” He said. “[The Employee Board] and the District Court have agreed that the university was required to bargain over the union’s fee-reimbursement proposal.”

“Moreover, the parties actually came to an agreement over fee reimbursements months ago,” Coen said. “To drag out the process by appealing what amounts to a purely theoretical issue at this point would seem to be a tremendous waste of public resources.”

Gabriel said increasing fees is not just a graduate-student issue.

“Fees for undergraduates continue to go up as well, along with the ending of the tuition freeze in the spring,” she said.

The lower then expected funding public universities in Iowa will be receive this year also deserve some of the blame for rising costs, Gabriel said.

“This defunding of public universities by the state Legislature pushes that burden onto students,” she said.

“Students shouldn’t be emerging from their educational experiences buried in debt,” Gabriel said. “Students shouldn’t have to leverage our futures in order to get a quality education.


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