Expanded benefits for graduate students, the kickoff this month of a yearlong campus dialogue on academic freedom, mental health and wellness, and solutions to address higher education funding at the Colorado Legislature were some of the issues Chancellor Philip DiStefano addressed during a talk with the members of the Boulder Faculty Assembly (BFA) on Thursday.
The BFA, CU Boulder’s elected faculty governance group, receives timely updates from the chancellor and other campus leaders during its regular monthly meetings.
During his address this week, the chancellor gave an overview of expanded benefits for graduate students announced on Jan. 28, including optional dental insurance, a new parental leave policy and a number of fee changes for all students.
“These proposed fee changes and benefits will be part of the entire budget package presented to the Board of Regents for its approval in the spring,” DiStefano said.
Over the last five years, he added, the Graduate School has worked closely with the United Government of Graduate Students (UGGS) and other campus partners to address graduate students’ financial concerns, including allocating more than $8 million to increase base stipends for graduate student assistants and eliminating course, program and athletic fees for all graduate students starting in fall 2018.
Other improvements include covering the expense of RTD transit passes for graduate students on summer appointments starting in summer 2018 and steadily increasing the subsidy to the student Gold Health insurance plan from 70% in 2014-15 to the current 91% of the total cost.
“This was a broad effort across campus, and I want to acknowledge UGGS for their partnership as the campus continues to expand the ways we support our graduate students,” DiStefano said.
Other updates by the chancellor included a resolution by the University Affairs Committee, made up of regents and system leaders, proposing the shelving of a civics graduation requirement the regents suggested in November. Instead, DiStefano reported, “the committee proposes that campuses prepare an annual report on the state of student civics literacy.”
Regents are expected to vote on the latest proposal this month.
The chancellor also announced that the campus will begin a yearlong dialogue on academic freedom with a Feb. 19 panel discussion hosted by the provost’s office. Later, a follow-up effort will focus on how students experience and benefit from academic freedom.
DiStefano and Provost Russell Moore fielded questions from BFA members who wanted to know more about academic reorganization, mental health and wellness support for students, faculty and staff, and efforts to increase state funding for higher education.
Among other efforts to raise awareness around mental health and wellness issues and to increase research, treatment and prevention efforts, the chancellor noted the establishment of a new, interdisciplinary health and wellness institute on campus.
“I’ve been very successful raising money from parents who care very much about this issue,” DiStefano said. “When I look at high school and college-age students and see the significant increase in mental health issues, I feel strongly that, given our research and interdisciplinary work, we can help solve that problem.”
As for increased state funding for higher education, the chancellor said the state allocated 13% toward funding for colleges and universities last year, but that lawmakers this year are considering an allocation of only 6%. DiStefano said the university hoped that legislators would consider at least a 7% allocation to help higher education weather budget shortfalls.