- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - A steering committee working to improve conditions of graduate assistants at the University of Missouri plans to make changes that will more effectively communicate the group’s message to school officials, several committee members said.

The vow from the steering committee to continue working came after hundreds of graduate assistants and their supporters attended a rally Wednesday on the campus, The Columbia Missourian reported (http://bit.ly/1EXBjX8 ).

“We’re trying to organize the troops and make our committee an effective message - make it so that we can communicate to our graduate students and our supporters in an effective way, communicate with the administration in an effective way and work toward getting these issues resolved,” said Anahita Zare, outreach chairwoman for the Forum on Graduate Rights.

The rally Wednesday was the first large protest for graduate rights since the university abruptly withdrew health care subsidies for graduate assistants in mid-August, then changed its position and reinstated the subsidies for one year. Some classrooms and lecture halls were empty before the rally because instructors canceled classes in solidarity with the graduate student rally.

Besides continuing to discuss health care subsidies, the forum also will push a number of demands, including more on-campus child care, affordable on-campus housing and tuition waivers.

“Now we have to go and turn our focus to the long-term goals,” said Jason Entsminger, chairman of the legal and issues committee for the Forum on Graduate Rights. “We’re going to be working in the next few months on bringing together a set of the issues that people face.”

The six steering committee members, made up of the leaders of six subcommittees, have led the protests for the past two weeks, but Entsminger said more perspectives are needed to provide additional recommendations for action. The steering committee will be expanded to include a representative for professional students, a person to represent international students and a committee chair.

Entsminger said professional students - who are advanced students in law, medicine and veterinary medicine - are not considered employees of the university and were not affected by the potential health care subsidy withdrawal. However, they are affected by affordable on-campus housing, child care facilities and some tuition issues.

“Before we set down a full strategy of how we’re going to engage with the university, we want to have as many people at the table as possible,” he said.

Kristofferson Culmer, a steering committee member, said members will meet later this week to discuss how to keep up the momentum that has built over the past two weeks and how to be productive in the future.

Many of the demands from the Forum on Graduate Rights were given to administration officials years ago by the Graduate Professional Council and the Graduate Student Association but were not sufficiently addressed, said Matt McCune, spokesman for the Graduate Professional Council.

“We don’t know what system needs to be put in place,” McCune said. “Those are obviously conversations that need to happen. We just know the current mechanisms are ineffective.”

Last school year, graduate students taught 2,325 of 16,946 class sections, university spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said. The university’s 6,266 graduate students also contribute to research.

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Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com

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