Things We’ve Won This Week + More COVID-19 Updates

It’s been another long week, and many of us have felt isolated and scared. But we’ve also won some real victories. Read on for details and more.

Student Life Fee Reduced to $125

Last week we tweeted about the UC Labor Council’s list of demands from the University in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and the University’s shift to distance-learning for spring quarter. One of those demands was that the University reassess the student services fee for spring quarter. This fee, which is typically $416 per quarter if not subsidized by financial aid packages, supports things like recreation facilities, student programs and organizations, and UChicagoGRAD—facilities and programs that will not be operating next quarter. On Monday, the University announced in an email that for spring quarter the fee will be decreased to $125, a reduction of nearly 70%. Other services included in the student services fee, such as student health and counseling services, will continue to operate during the quarter.

Changes to Student Health Insurance

On Friday, the student insurance office announced via email that effective immediately, the U-SHIP non-referral deductible will be waived through spring quarter. This means that students on U-SHIP insurance will no longer be charged a $50 deductible for seeking medical treatment outside of Student Health and Counseling Services without a referral. GSU has been asking about this since before the admin announced that Spring quarter would be remote, and we’re glad to see this barrier to accessing care removed for the moment.

Have other questions about health insurance, campus services, and navigating the next quarter? Check out the COVID-19 resources page on our website. We’ll be updating the site regularly as we get more information from the University and other Hyde Park organizations, so check in often!

Some University Staff to Continue Receiving Pay during Spring Quarter

One of the big issues we’ve raised, alongside our fellow unions in the UChicago Labor Council, is whether university staff will continue to be paid as dorms clear out and classes go remote. We’re pleased to say that there has been some progress. As we wrote last week, the university reversed its plan to lay off undergrad Resident Assistants after an organized pushback campaign. More recently, the university has announced that contracted food service workers would continue to be paid as dining halls closed, and that many other university workers would have access to additional paid leave.

These are important victories, though they do not meet all of our demands. A particularly worrisome outstanding concern comes from nurses at the Medical Center, who need more personal protective equipment. We’ll continue to organize alongside our fellow unions to address these and other issues.

“Stay at Home” Order and Research

As recently as last Thursday, despite the obvious barriers posed by social distancing, the Provost wrote in an email that, “We expect that our research activity can continue.” This changed abruptly on Saturday, with another email addressing the governor’s “Stay at Home” order, which went into effect that day. With this order, means that all non-essential research activities requiring people to be present on campus have been suspended. Essential research functions have been defined by the administration as:

  • “Critical maintenance procedures to maintain long term laboratory viability and safety. For example, providing animal support and maintaining critical equipment such as computation equipment, deep-storage freezers, incubators, mass spectrometers, and electron microscopes.
  • COVID-19 research that may mitigate the spread of the pandemic.”

According to guidance received from the Vice Provost, faculty supervisors of graduate workers in labs have been instructed “to be creative and collaborative in thinking about tasks that can be performed remotely and still contribute to research in your fields.” He further noted that “Unless you have been designated ‘essential personnel’, you should work exclusively remotely. You should consult with your program directors, chairs, or advisor as applicable to help understand how you can continue your research and progress towards the degree remotely.”

Now, we all know that just because faculty supervisors have been instructed to work with graduates towards a solution doesn’t mean that they have done so. It remains to be seen how much support administration will give to graduate students who have had their lab research disrupted or whether we will have problems with supervisors attempting to either circumvent these instructions or lacking flexibility in creating accommodations for their graduate workers. It also remains an open question whether timelines and funding will be adjusted to support us as we navigate these disruptions, an issue raised in the UChicago Labor Council sign-on letter. If you are being instructed to violate the stay-at-home order for any non-essential research functions or otherwise run into difficulties, please be in touch with your steward or departmental organizer to let them know.