Loyola Chicago Faculty Forward Supports GSU’s June 3 Walk-Out and Teach-In

The following is a letter of support from Loyola Chicago Faculty Forward, the non-tenure track faculty union at Loyola University Chicago.

Dear Colleagues,

As the leaders of Loyola Chicago Faculty Forward, the non-tenure track faculty union at Loyola University Chicago, we support the ​walk-out and teach-in​ planned by Graduate Students United (GSU) at the University of Chicago on June 3 and the ​demands​ they are making of the school’s administration.

Even before the start of the coronavirus crisis, working conditions for graduate students, non-tenure track faculty, and staff in higher education were severely deteriorating. Many college and university administrations have abdicated their responsibility of ensuring the well-being of all community members, following a misguided “business” model that focuses on cost-savings without fully accounting for the human impact of these decisions on faculty, graduate students, and staff, as well as the negative repercussions these measures have on graduate and undergraduate education and students. This trend in higher education is part of a wider shift in US and global society of ignoring basic principles of care for other members of society in the name of efficiency and cost-savings.

The coronavirus crisis should have made clear the devastating impact these decisions have made on our society. But too many people in positions of leadership, including the administration at the University of Chicago, are continuing with business as usual, not taking the steps necessary to support all community members. We therefore call on the administration of the University of Chicago to concede to the GSU’s demands, providing graduate students the support they need in this time of crisis.

In solidarity,
Janet Fair-Christianson, Adjunct, Modern Languages Emma Feeney, Lecturer, Biology
Deb Goodman, Adjunct, Dance

Sarita Heer, Lecturer, Art History
Diane Jokinen, Lecturer, Biology
Alyson Paige Warren, Adjunct, English
Matt Williams, Lecturer, Sociology/ Global and International Studies

GMM Next Week, COVID Petition Updates, Zoom Backgrounds, and More!

COVID-19: Petition Delivery, Member Testimonial, and New Zoom Backgrounds

Since the beginning of the quarter, we’ve been circulating a petition with a list COVID-19-related demands for the University. Along with signing, members have been sharing their stories of how the outbreak and the University’s lack of response have impacted them. A few weeks ago, we heard from a member whose research in Rome has been indefinitely interrupted. But even for those of us who haven’t been cut off from access to our research sites, the changes in daily life brought about by lockdown have had drastic effects on our ability to work, as a member in the Divinity School who is also a parent attests:

My partner and I have two children. One is six years old and currently doing schoolwork from home. The other is three (enough said for people in the know). My partner works for the public school system and is adjusting to working from home. I teach online. Though we are incredibly fortunate in a number of ways, the changes in rhythm brought about by this virus—coupled with a number of other priorities/values, such as preparing healthy meals, getting some exercise every now and then, not sitting our kids in front of the TV for hours on end (especially given that the 6yo’s homework is on the computer), having some time at the end of every day for relaxation when the kids are in bed, getting enough sleep, etc.—have caused my dissertation research and writing to take a back seat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still working whenever I can. It’s that the “whenever I can” has shrunk quite a bit, so things are going slowly.

Tomorrow, Friday, May 15, we will be (electronically) delivering our petition to the admin. While the petition will remain active online after tomorrow, we want to have as many signatures as possible before we deliver it—so if you haven’t yet, take a look and add your name today! If you’ve signed, take a moment to urge your friends and colleagues to do so.

We’ve also created two GSU-themed Zoom backgrounds, and we’re asking members to start using them on Friday, to coincide with the delivery of our petition. You can download the image files here.

GMM Next Wednesday

Last quarter we announced that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) would be changing the structure of their support for us beginning July 1, and we formed several committees to research our options going forward. Next Wednesday, May 20, we will be holding a special GMM to discuss a referendum on the future of our affiliation with AFT. Please join us for this important meeting—we want all our members to have a voice in what our union looks like moving forward!

For Zoom info, check the latest GSU email newsletter. Otherwise, contact your Departmental Organizer or email us at gsu@riseup.net

Georgetown Contract

Enormous congratulations are in order for our graduate worker colleagues at Georgetown University, who ratified their first union contract with university administration last week! The over 1,000 workers in the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE) won average annual stipend and cost-of-living increases of $5,000, guaranteed six weeks of paid medical leave for all Ph.D. workers, an emergency assistance fund for graduate workers, dental coverage under their insurance plan, and the establishment of a joint committee to deal with sexual harassment claims outside of Title IX.

Their hard-won success after a year and a half of bargaining is an inspiration for graduate workers everywhere fighting for better conditions in our workplaces.

More Payroll Errors

At the beginning of this quarter, multiple members reported problems that they were experiencing with payroll. Some experienced miscategorization of their payments, resulting in significantly higher tax withholdings, while others had missing paychecks altogether. Unfortunately, we’ve recently heard from members that such errors have been an ongoing issue over the past several weeks.

Almost a year ago, then-Provost Diermeier claimed that the administration was proactively addressing issues of late and inaccurate pay. But it’s evident that these egregious errors continue to happen. With a union contract, we could file grievances over pay errors. Maybe then they’d prioritize paying graduate workers on time and accurately.

Please check your expected payments closely for accuracy, and be sure to be in touch with your steward or DO or contact us at gsu@riseup.net if you find a problem.

Upcoming Events: Happy Hour and Mutual Aid Open House

GSU Happy Hour

Looking to connect and relax with your union colleagues while social distancing? We’ll be hosting weekly virtual happy hours every Friday at 6pm for the foreseeable future. There will be a series of break out rooms where you can chat with other members or play games such as Drawful or Quiplash. Join us!

For Zoom info, check the latest GSU email newsletter. Otherwise, contact your Departmental Organizer or email us at gsu@riseup.net

Mutual Aid Open House

In this moment of crisis, precarity, overwork, and deep, deep uncertainty, it is crucial to build practices of solidarity and care in our community. The GSU Mutual Aid Committee is hosting another Zoom Open House next Thursday, May 21, at 5:30pm. At this event, members of the committee will briefly introduce the history and basics of mutual aid, present on what they believe are the immediate needs of GSU members (gleaned from our last two member surveys and their experiences) and will facilitate break-out groups to start coordinating mutual aid actions. These actions can include peer mental health support, Covid support-check-ins, grocery deliveries, childcare support, peer support and peer mentoring, food delivery and food solidarity actions, mutual aid relief funds, and many, many more.

If you have felt alone and would like some support, please attend and tell us about what you need and we will do what we can to get it to you. You are not alone. If you have felt restless and have been looking for concrete ways to get involved in helping others in our community, please attend and join us!

Join us on the call next Thursday (look for the Zoom details in next week’s newsletter), and write to us at gsu@riseup.net to find out more and get involved!

Mutual Aid Open House TONIGHT, New Interim Co-President of Grievances, and More!

Mutual Aid Open House

The GSU Mutual Aid Committee’s Zoom Open House is today, May 7th, at 5:30pm. At this event, members of the committee will briefly introduce the history and basics of mutual aid, present on what they believe are the immediate needs of GSU members (gleaned from our last two member surveys and their experiences) and will facilitate break-out groups to start coordinating mutual aid actions. These actions can include peer mental health support, Covid support-check-ins, grocery deliveries, childcare support, peer support and peer mentoring, food delivery and food solidarity actions, mutual aid relief funds, and many, many more.

In this moment of crisis, precarity, overwork, and deep, deep uncertainty, it is crucial to build practices of solidarity and care in our community. If you have felt alone and would like some support, please attend and tell us about what you need and we will do what we can to get it to you. If you have felt restless and have been looking for concrete ways to get involved in helping others in our community, please attend and join us!

Join us on the call tonight, and write to us at gsu@riseup.net to find out more and get involved!

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New Interim Co-President for Grievances

We’re pleased to announce that the steering committee has appointed an interim President for Grievances, Kit Ginzky from SSA! Many thanks to Kit for taking on this critical position in our union leadership. There are still some officer positions that need to be filled after our recent election—please write to gsu@riseup.net if you’d be interested in serving as Communications Secretary, Biological Sciences Division (BSD) Representative, Physical Sciences Division (PSD) Representative, or Divinity School Representative.

Provost’s Email about Reopening Research

Earlier this week, Provost Ka Yee Lee emailed the University community to discuss the resumption of research on campus, despite the extension of the governor’s stay-at-home order until May 30. The Provost has convened a faculty committee to guide the reopening of on-campus research, which should begin happening by mid-May.

Though the email emphasizes that this reopening is meant to be done by implementing safety protocols, we know from experience and our bargaining survey that the potential for safety violations is significant, and that graduate workers have limited recourse when exposed to unsafe working conditions. If you’re a graduate worker involved in on-campus research, you may be asked to return to campus in the coming weeks. Please contact us at gsu@riseup.net if you have concerns about this process, encounter any disregard for your safety, or would like to make your experience heard.

Things That Make You Go 🤔

By now, many of us have probably seen UChicago Professor of Sociology Kimberly Hoang’s op-ed in the Maroon, “Preparing for the Academic Job Market in an Economic Recession.” While it doesn’t explicitly mention unions, the piece uses the same rhetoric that we often find in more blatantly anti-union communications from the admin. After suggesting that grad students think about shifting their research to COVID-related topics and reminding us—especially, for some reason, those of us from working-class backgrounds—that rejection is common in academia, Prof. Hoang ends by urging that we recognize our extraordinary privilege in making more than our colleagues at UIC. We could devote this entire newsletter to pointing out the issues with Prof. Hoang’s advice, but instead we’ll let Dr. Karen Kelsky, author of The Professor Is In book and blog, have that honor.

Funding overhaul petition, COVID-19 relief campaign in the news, and Mutual Aid Open House

Sign the Funding Overhaul Petition Today!

Last year, on May 1, 2019, GSU members joined with nurses, library staff, administrative and custodial workers, and other members of the UChicago Labor Council to stage a march and rally in the quad in honor of International Workers Day. This year, the pandemic and social distancing measures have made such actions impossible—but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to advocate for our rights as grad workers. On Friday, May 1, 2020, we have submitted an online version of our funding overhaul petition to the Provost’s office (Note: you can still sign this petition after 5/1).

GSU in the News!

On campus and nationally, GSU’s organizing is earning media attention. Late last week, the Chicago Maroon reported on our calls for relief during the current crisis, as research is halted, teaching and parenting work increases, and we all deal with the anxiety and stress—and for some of us, grief and loss—of a global pandemic.

That was followed by an article this week in Vox. While focused largely on campaigns for tuition relief (including here at UChicago), this piece also highlighted GSU’s calls for extended funding and deadline flexibility. A GSU representative particularly pointed to the impact on grad workers supporting families, as well as international students facing costs and uncertainty around visas.

Both articles centered on the demands in our Covid-19 relief petition, which you can sign today, and share with colleagues! It’s easy to find at http://bit.ly/GSUcovid.

Mutual Aid Open House

In this moment of crisis, precarity, overwork, and deep, deep uncertainty, it is crucial to build practices of solidarity and care in our community. To this end, the GSU Mutual Aid Committee is hosting a Zoom Open House next Thursday, May 7th, at 5:30pm. At this event, members of the committee will briefly introduce the history and basics of mutual aid, present on what they believe are the immediate needs of GSU members (gleaned from our last two member surveys and their experiences) and will facilitate break-out groups to start coordinating mutual aid actions. These actions can include mental health support, Covid support-check-ins, grocery deliveries, childcare support, peer support and peer mentoring, food delivery and food solidarity actions, mutual aid relief funds, and many, many more.

If you have felt alone and would like some support, please attend and tell us about what you need and we will do what we can to get it to you. You are not alone. If you have felt restless and have been looking for concrete ways to get involved in helping others in our community, please attend and join us!

Join us on the call next Thursday, and write to us at gsu@riseup.net to find out more and get involved!

Zoom Info:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85217900932

Meeting ID: 852 1790 0932

One tap mobile
+19292056099,,85217900932# US (New York)
+13017158592,,85217900932# US (Germantown)

Dial by your location
+1 929 205 6099 US (New York)
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Meeting ID: 852 1790 0932
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kbbWSgzWyf

Special Update: Sign the Funding Overhaul Petition This Week!

As our members said in a recent Maroon interview, COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time for the university and its workers. The University’s unilateral overhaul of the funding structures of the Divinity School, Humanities Division, Social Sciences Division, and School of Social Services Administration, announced suddenly and without any faculty input last October, has brought discussion of enrollment caps and reduced teaching experience to departments in these divisions. These enrollment caps mean that advanced-year graduate students, particularly those who began before 2016 and can’t depend on funding next year, are under threat of being forced out by defending early or are now being encouraged to drop out by their departments as “attrition targets.” In some affected departments, the enrollment caps being discussed might mean cutting the graduate student numbers by a third. This austerity will mean a radical and deeply harmful restructuring of research work at the university away from deep, methodologically varied, and challenging research projects, to only those kinds of graduate students and research projects that are “safe bets.” Given the racial and class hierarchies structuring higher education and graduate admissions, we know well who this will exclude.

Faculty have spoken out against the funding overhaul and how its rollout demonstrates a deep threat to faculty governance at the University. Last week we asked you to sign our petition concerning COVID-19 relief measures from the University. Today, we are following up with an electronic version of our funding overhaul petition demanding clarification and democratic accountability from the governing bodies of the University. We will be contacting the Provost’s office around these issues late this week so be sure to sign as soon as possible. And if you already signed the original paper version of the petition during Winter Quarter, don’t worry—your name has been added to the electronic copy already!

We want to work with the incoming Provost Ka Yee Lee to understand exactly what this funding overhaul entails, especially in this moment of crisis. We want to have input in the decisions that define our conditions of work and research, and we want to protect our most vulnerable members. Please sign and circulate this petition, and reach out to your Department Organizer or reply to this email to get involved!

Our Petition, Fair Tuition, Trustee Liaison Endorsement, and the Return of Things That Make You Go 🤔!

Solidarity with UChicago for Fair Tuition

Early this month, GSU circulated the UChicago for Fair Tuition petition for tuition relief in the midst of the current economic crisis. Now we’re excited to announce that our steering committee has voted to endorse their campaign.

The University of Chicago has enough money to support all those who work and study here. That includes funding doctoral students in this crisis, and providing tuition relief to undergrad and AM students, as well as cancelling the hefty fee charged to upper-year doctoral students known as “advanced residency tuition.” The Fair Tuition campaign has been clear that they will not accept tuition reduction at the expense of workers, including grad workers. Such trade-offs are not necessary—the money is there.

COVID Petition: One Member’s Testimonial

Last week we launched our new petition enumerating basic COVID-19-related demands for the University. The petition has already garnered a lot of response, including testimonials from grad workers whose research has been affected by the outbreak. Member Hilary Barker sent us the following:

I was five months into a fourteen-month archival research stint in Rome when I returned to the States in late February for a short visit with my family and found myself unable to return to Rome. My project is entirely formulated around archival work which may not be possible to resume for many months. I was lucky enough to be fully funded for the proposed research period by two external fellowships, one of which is now “on pause‚” and the other one is continuing but obviously contributing to my current at-home expenses rather than funding time in Rome. It’s a serious question when I’ll be able to resume onsite research and whether I will be able to stick to my planned schedule for completion as it will be difficult for me to write significant sections of the dissertation without the archival data from which to draw conclusions. Furthermore, because my trip home was scheduled before the lockdown in Italy began and I had thought I would be able to return, I left nearly all my possessions including books and research materials in an Airbnb there, which I am having to continue to pay for to ensure that the owner does not dispose of my things.

Many of us have been feeling increased work pressure as the pandemic has limited our access to labs, libraries, archives, and field sites—this is why our first demand is an extension of time to degree and funding for all grad student workers.

In the following weeks, we’ll continue to share members’ stories as we work collectively to advocate for COVID-19 relief measures. If you’ve been experiencing issues with your research or work, you can contact us at gsu@riseup.net with your story. Even if you don’t want to share your story publicly, our union is here to offer assistance. Recently our organizing efforts helped a member fight for—and win back—a teaching job that had been offered by the University and then unfairly revoked.

And if you haven’t already, read about the petition on our website and sign it here!

Get more involved!

GSU’s strength is in the work of members. And though we aren’t able to gather in person, that work still continues, in union committees and throughout departments. Cliche as it may sound, the need for organizing in the current may be greater than ever before. So we invite you (yes you, reading this!) to get more involved. This form from last week’s General Members Meeting offers a number of ways to plug in. Let’s come together across social distance to defend our rights as workers. Join in!

Vaughan Collins for Trustee Liaison

This week, the GSU Steering Committee voted to endorse Vaughan Collins’s candidacy for Graduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees. Vaughan is a first-year Masters student in the School of Social Service Administration and served on the Advisory Committee to the Office of the Dean of Students at their previous university. You can read Vaughan’s candidate statement here, and contact them directly here to share your concerns or comments.

The Graduate Liaison serves as a representative to the Board for grad workers, bringing our concerns and recommendations directly to the University Trustees. We’re excited to support Vaughan’s campaign, and to continue building coalitions across the university so that we can advocate for our members, even as we keep fighting for recognition.

Things That Make You Go 🤔

Tuesday morning, we got an email from the Provost that inspired us to dust off the “Things That Make You Go 🤔” feature of this newsletter. With three bullet points proclaiming the university’s financial support, there were only two direct links. One of those led to university web page which linked to other FAQs geared specifically to undergrads; another linked to emergency funding programs from the Bursar that max out at $3,000. Grad workers who might be facing greater expenses were referred to their deans of students—a suggestion that neatly ignores the difference in available resources between departments and divisions. Moreover, whatever the official policy, we’re getting reports that members are being denied assistance.

But the questions really started to flow in the latter part of the Provost’s message. In response to questions about why the admin claims to be unable to reduce tuition, she wrote that “the vast majority of the university’s endowment is legally restricted.” But “vast majority” is a vague term. On its own, the Impact and Inquiry campaign that ended in December raised $5.43 billion. Even if 90% of that were hopelessly restricted, it would leave $543 million. That covers our funding packages MANY times over. And might that be more in line with the mission of the university than, say, subsidizing a neighborhood luxury apartment building? It kind of makes you go 🤔

“Financial Implications of COVID-19”: An Email from President Zimmer

On April 7, 2020, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer sent an email to all faculty, academic appointees, and staff announcing the measures that the University will take in response to the financial impact of COVID-19. These cuts will undoubtedly have huge effects on the nature of graduate education at this institution. We are providing screenshots of the email below, followed by the text of the email for accessibility.

Screenshot 2020-04-07 14.41.25Screenshot 2020-04-07 14.41.33Screenshot 2020-04-07 14.41.42

To: Faculty, Other Academic Appointees, and Staff

From: Robert J. Zimmer

Subject: Financial Implications of COVID-19

Date: April 7, 2020

During recent months, the University of Chicago and our faculty, students, and staff have been focused on the health impacts of COVID-19. We have taken significant steps to protect the health and safety of our University community. We have worked to act responsibly in this global pandemic towards the larger communities of which we are a part and to which we have a responsibility, and through several initiatives to offer support to and partnership with our South Side communities.

While the health issues continue, the global, national, and local economic impact of the pandemic is already profound, and for some time likely to become only more so. This will have severe consequences on the finances of the University. The expected financial impact on the University and its duration is likely to be as great as or even greater than in the financial crisis of 2008-09. It will be complicated by the uncertainties of the trajectory of the ongoing global pandemic. These financial challenges for the University will be similar to those faced by universities and colleges around the country. 

Some salient aspects of financial challenges include:

•                     Increased national economic stress, resulting in economic challenges for many families and requiring increased financial support for a number of our students, which we are committed to providing.

•                     With the dramatic decreases in equity and other financial markets, a corresponding decrease in the value of our endowment and hence in the annual payout from the endowment to support the University’s work.

•                     For similar reasons, a decrease in the expected philanthropic contributions to the University from our alumni and friends.

•                     Significant decrease in net revenue in the Medical Center due to the extensive work connected to COVID-19, with a corresponding decrease in available Medical Center support for academic work.

•                     Increased costs associated in programs dealing with COVID-19 health matters.

•                     Uncertainties in the credit markets that are important for new capital projects.

•                     Uncertainties in private and federal research funding opportunities following the COVID-19 crisis.  

As a result, the University will be asking every academic and administrative unit to make significant adjustments in expenditures, both immediately and in the next academic year. It may be necessary to continue some of these adjustments into the future as we gain clarity about the trajectory of the pandemic and the resulting national global economic dislocations. Certain underlying principles will guide these adjustments.

•                     All student financial support commitments will be fully honored and increased financial support will be provided to those College students with increased demonstrated need. 

•                     The University is deeply committed to maintaining the most intellectually free and challenging environment and in doing so to provide the most empowering education for students and foster the most original and impactful research of our faculty.

The provost will be working with the deans, vice presidents, and other leaders to articulate and implement financial adjustments. Every unit of the University will be called upon to participate. Among high level steps we will be taking as a University and that will apply broadly include:

•                     All individual faculty, staff, and administrative salaries for the academic year 2020-21 will remain at current levels (except when contractually required). 

•                     New staff hiring will be strictly limited to those fully supported by external grant funding or critical to the core mission of the University.

•                     Academic hiring will be slowed.

•                     Discretionary spending will be suspended.

•                     Non-personnel expenditure reductions will be implemented. The details of implementation will be directed by the provost through the work with deans, vice presidents, and other leaders.  

The University’s financial support for students is dependent upon the philanthropic contributions of our alumni, friends, and parents. The Odyssey program began with a $100 million anonymous gift in 2007. We have made it a priority to systematically expand this program, which has been enabled by thousands of individuals – including trustees, alumni, friends, parents, faculty, and staff – providing further philanthropic support for the Odyssey program. Given the increased demand for financial support, we will be prioritizing this direction for philanthropy in the coming year. As a start, every officer of the University (president, provost, and vice presidents) will make a significant new personal financial commitment to the Odyssey program, and we encourage those in our community who are in a position to make such a commitment to seriously consider doing so in this time of increased financial challenge for many of our students. To make a contribution, please click here.

The financial actions we will be taking are necessary to protect the University’s ability over time to support students and their education, faculty and their research and teaching, and the impact that we can have on the betterment of the quality of human life. These will be difficult actions for all of us. I thank all of you for the hard work that implementing these steps will entail, and for your commitment to the mission of the University.

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.

Election Results, SARS-CoV-2 Mutual Aid Resources, and More

SARS-CoV-2 Mutual Aid Resources

Over the next few weeks, many of us will be spending unprecedented amounts of time at home, as we follow CDC and WHO guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. This is a stressful time for all of us, but in particular for members of our community who are immunocompromised, who live or spend time with elderly family members, who are missing paychecks or housing insecure, who rely on public transportation to access resources like grocery stores, and others. Fortunately, people in the UChicago community and across the country have been organizing online to create mutual aid networks. If you need assistance with accessing things like groceries, medications, and other necessities, we have collected a number of links to these resources on our website—you can find them here. Likewise, if you are wondering how you can help while sitting at home for the next two weeks, you can donate or volunteer to help with aid collection and distribution. Not in the Chicago area at the moment? Don’t worry—we’ve also got links to national resources. We’ll also be reaching out to members via text over the next couple of weeks, and you can always contact us at gsu@riseup.net if you have questions or need assistance.

UCLC Letter

GSU is a proud member of the UChicago Labor Council, alongside unions of nurses, non-tenure-track faculty, cleaning, maintenance, administrative, library, and other workers across the university and Medical Center. Yesterday the Council released this letter to the administration with a number of demands to ensure the protections of workers, students, and community members amidst the COVID-19 response, and we invite our members to sign on.

Student Services Fee

We’ve been receiving news over the last week regarding the extent that closings and emergency measures due to coronavirus will disrupt campus life. It’s not surprising that the University libraries, recreational facilities like Ratner and Henry Crown, and other elements of student life will be largely shutting down. This is absolutely necessary to reduce the spread of the virus and protect workers and community members from exposure.

However, we’ve also received repeated reminders that most of us are still expected to pay the Student Services Fee (formerly known as the Student Life Fee). Only those living over 50 miles away from campus will be able to apply to have the fee waived. That fee totals $416 per person for this quarter.

At a time like this, when most of the things that the fee funds are shutting down and many graduate workers and their families are facing lost income due to the virus, those hundreds of dollars can make a huge difference. With most campus facilities closed, we are essentially paying the fee only to fund the Student Health Center—on top of our insurance premiums, which already cost $1,522 per quarter.

The letter above from the UChicago Labor Council demands that the administration not assess the Student Services Fee when student services are being drastically curtailed, and also that it ensure that Student Health and Counseling Services do not turn anyone away during this emergency due to inability to afford such fees. Be sure to sign on!

GSU Election Results

Earlier this week, GSU held elections for a number of positions on the Steering and Stewards Committee. Thanks to everyone who voted! Here are the results of the elections:

Steering

  • Co-President (Bargaining): Mike van der Naald
  • General Secretary: Will Kong
  • Divisional Rep (Humanities): Lex Ladge
  • Divisional Rep (SSA): Tadeo Weiner-Davis

Stewards

  • Anthropology: Abhishek Bhattacharyya, Yukun Zeng
  • Art History: Lex Ladge
  • Astronomy: Nora Shipp
  • CompSci: Will Kong
  • EALC: Yueling Ji
  • English: Michael Stablein
  • German: Davd Kretz
  • History: Laura Cremer, Corbin Page, Alyssa Smith
  • Math: Josh Mundiger
  • Music: James Skretta
  • Philosophy: Stephen Cunniff
  • PoliSci: Lilly Judge
  • Psychology: Ben Morris
  • SALC: Zoe High
  • Sociology: Rishi Arora
  • SSA: Emily Ellis, Kit Gindler, Durrell Washington

WOW, THERE’S A LOT HAPPENING. WE NEED EACH OTHER MORE THAN EVER.

Election Nomination Extension

Over the past few weeks the GSU Elections Committee has been accepting nominations for governing positions. The elections committee will be extending the nomination period for Steering Committee and Stewards Council until Saturday, March 14 at noon for self-nominations only. Are you looking to get more involved in our union? Consider running to represent your department as a Steward or your Division as a Divisional Representative! Ready to take on more of a leadership role? Why not run for Co-President? If you’d like to nominate yourself for a position, you can find more information on the nomination form or email gsu.elections.team@gmail.com.

Get Out the Vote

Remember to vote in the Illinois primary next Tuesday, March 17th! The primary will select candidates for President, Congressional Representative, States Attorney, and other offices.

You can find more information on registration (as well as information for voting in other state primaries) here: https://www.uchivotes.com/

Find your polling location here: Chicago Elections: Polling Locations

You can vote early now through March 16th at the locations and hours listed here: Chicago Elections: Early Voting

You can also apply to vote by mail until Thursday, March 12th (that’s today!) at 5pm: Chicago Elections: Vote by Mail

Coronavirus Updates

Tuesday, the Provost announced the cancellation of study-abroad programs as a measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Then last night, the Chicago Maroon published the news that all undergraduate and graduate classes will be conducted via remote (i.e., online) learning for the Spring Quarter. Official word arrived to the campus community this morning via a mass email from the University President. Despite the obvious impact to our work, we as grad workers–along with faculty and staff) were left in the dark until the last minute.

To be clear, we support social distancing for public health. We are concerned for the health of our community, and particularly those who are immuno-compromised or otherwise at risk.

We also have major questions about this news. How will it impact our work? Our financial security? Our progress in programs that have become significantly harsher around time to completion over the past year? And there are even more questions about how this impacts our students, our co-workers, and so many others. Although the President’s email made clear that “students will continue to receive financial aid and stipends,” some details are still uncertain. Will those of us who were meant to teach or TA study abroad courses receive the pay they were planning on? How about those with on-campus jobs that cannot be done remotely? The insistence on referring to our pay as “stipends,” rather than acknowledging that we are paid for our work, only heightens this uncertainty

This news also impacts the undergraduate members of our community, as most are being asked to leave their campus housing by March 22nd. There is a crowdsourced resources google sheet, that you can reach here (on last checking, you need to request permission to edit, probably due to the high volume of traffic to the spreadsheet last night).The Student Government recently announced that they have donated $10,000 to The Emergency Fund, which both grads and undergrads can access. You can find out how to apply for that support at http://facebook.com/ucemergencyfund.

As the situation unfolds, we appeal to all of our members to share stories. What questions do you have? What are your worries? What are you hearing from your division or department?

For the administration to leave us wondering about all of these questions, with no power to bargain on behalf of our members during this crisis, is a stark reminder that we must continue to push for the recognition and respect we deserve.

Have You Filled Out Our 2020 Issues Survey Yet?

This survey, our first in two years, will only take a few minutes of your time (really!), and the information you share will help to provide an up-to-date snapshot of our individual and collective concerns. By now, all of you should have received an email with the subject line “Graduate Students United Survey” providing you with a unique survey link. If you experience any issues taking the survey or have not received a link, let us know at gsu@riseup.net! If you’re interested in checking out the results from our last survey and seeing what has (and hasn’t) changed, you can always view them here.

Petition

Even amidst the coronavirus response, the administration’s proposed overhaul of PhD programs seems to proceed apace. And so too must our organizing for transparency in the changes, and to mitigate their most harmful effects. We continue to circulate an in-person petition to the new Provost, Ka Yee Lee. This is a paper-only petition, so ask for a copy from your DO or Steward. Not sure who that is? Email us at gsu@risuep.net and we’ll put you in touch with an organizer.