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

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 to find out more and get involved!

Zoom Info:

Meeting ID: 852 1790 0932

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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!

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 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:


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


  • 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


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

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:

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

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! 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.


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 and we’ll put you in touch with an organizer.

Housing, UCSC Strike, and More!


We’re continuing last week’s discussion on housing this week by focusing on the ways that the neighborhoods around the University are changing, and what the University’s role is in this transformation.

As we discussed previously, over the past several years, the University has been selling off its own affordable housing occupied by graduate workers, leaving us to compete for rentals going for higher rates from private companies—sometimes the same exact units that UChicago just sold off. This, of course, affects the overall cost of housing in the area: as rents for grads increase, we can’t forget that rents for all of our neighbors are also increasing.

Of course, there’s been new housing being built over the past few years—but it hasn’t been affordable. Luxury apartment buildings have dominated: since 2015, we’ve seen Vue53 and three new towers from MAC properties: Solstice on the Park, City Hyde Park, and the new 5252 South Cornell. There’s no doubt that these apartments are not geared towards the typical grad student or renter already living in Hyde Park. Rents for a one-bedroom at City Hyde Park are over $1,800/month; over $2,000/month at Solstice on the Park; and over $2,100 at 5252.

Vue53, however, does market itself towards both grads and undergrads. Its rents are cheaper—in the range of $1,500-$1,700 per month—but still significantly above the average rental price in the neighborhood, and undoubtedly unaffordable on a grad stipend. But curiously, the University has subsidized housing at Vue53 for two years in a row, using it as overflow housing for undergrads and offering $1,500 directly to students to opt to live in the off-campus building.

It’s unclear why the University has sold off its own affordable housing only to actively promote and subsidize luxury housing that costs well above market price. But one thing is for sure: the University’s actions are contributing to increasing rents in Hyde Park, not only making housing unaffordable for grads, but also changing the neighborhood and pushing our neighbors out.

Later this week, we’ll be talking more about the University’s role in gentrification, particularly in Woodlawn around the Obama Center, and how the community has been organizing to keep housing affordable in the neighborhood.

Have a story about your experience accessing housing while at UChicago? Weigh in on the conversation on social media, or get in touch to share your story!

UCSC on strike

If you’re keeping up with graduate labor in the news, you might already know that graduate workers at UC Santa Cruz remain on strike this semester. Facing a crisis in housing costs, the union began the action in December by withholding grades in pursuit of a cost of living adjustment. In Santa Cruz, workers face an incredibly expensive housing market that they simply cannot afford on their current pay. In the past few days, the movement for a cost of living adjustment has spread to other University of California campuses as well. Picketers at UC Santa Cruz have faced threats from the administration and even violence from campus police.

As we know quite well, prestige doesn’t pay rent! Keep up with what’s going on in California through the website or the Twitter account @cola4all, and be sure to express your support for our colleagues in the University of California system.


As we announced yesterday, nominations are now open for 2020–2021 Stewards and Steering officers. Visit to read more about the roles of the Stewards Council and Steering Committee, and nominate yourself or a colleague by March 9.

GMM next week

The next General Members Meeting will be held next Wednesday, February 19, in the third floor lecture room of Swift Hall. This is an important meeting, as we will continue to discuss our future affiliation options.

The meeting location is wheel-chair accessible and childcare will be available. If there’s anything else we can do to help make the meeting more accessible, please let us know. In particular, if you need ASL interpretation, please contact us at in advance of the meeting so we can hire interpreters.


Anti-union comments submitted to the NLRB are still open for rebuttal. As we initially reported a few weeks ago, the NLRB has extended the initial rebuttal period “in order to allow sufficient time for responses to the large number of initial comments received.” We now have until February 28th!

You can set the record straight on some of these comments through AFT’s new portal at Once again, the more unique comments we submit, the more work we create for the Board, so take just a few minutes to respond to one or two and remind them that We Are Workers!

NLRB Rebuttals, Faculty Responses to Funding Changes, and More!

NLRB Rebuttal Period Extended

“The collective bargaining process would necessarily insert third parties, whose priorities are economic, not educational, into the learning process. This would have a potentially profound, deleterious impact on the educational relationship among the students, the faculty, and their college or university.” — American Council on Education

“The teaching is part of the training to be a professional, and is compensated as financial aid — the aid is offered to students in recruitment as financial aid, not an offer of employment.” — Anonymous (NLRB-2019-0002-0172)

These are excerpts from some anti-union comments that were submitted during the NLRB comment period that ended two weeks ago. Fortunately, there’s still time to rebut them! Earlier this week, the deadline was extended through February 28th. You can set the record straight on these comments and others through AFT’s new portal at Once again, the more unique comments we submit, the more work we create for the Board, so take just a few minutes to respond to one or two and remind them that We Are Workers!

Faculty Also Concerned by Funding Overhaul

Last Thursday GSU hosted a funding town hall to discuss the broad changes that were made to PhD program structures in four divisions last quarter. Members got together to discuss the different ways these changes have affected them, highlighting concerns about how cap sizes would affect their department, changes in their time to degree, and more.

And it turns out we’re not the only ones who are concerned. According to a recent article in the Maroon, over 100 UChicago faculty recently signed on to a letter sent to President Zimmer and outgoing Provost Diermeier, expressing their worries about the effect of the new funding model on the University, and their concern at how it was implemented. The letter calls the new model “a purely top-down, non-consultative imposition of a comprehensive transformation of the structure and substance of academic life in this university.” It also raises concerns about how graduate programs will be able to comply with the new size caps that are being put in place: “Only by pressuring our graduate students to finish or leave in far fewer than 9 years will we be able to preserve the possibility of admitting new students, and thereby preserve the viability of our graduate programs as wholes.” The whole article and letter are worth a read and echo many of the concerns we’ve been discussing among members and on social media since October.

And as we were preparing to send this newsletter today, the Maroon published another article about the University’s response to GSU, with details from minutes of Faculty Senate meetings going back to 2017. Keep an eye out for more articles in this series, and expect a recap in next week’s newsletter.

Revisiting the Issues: Healthcare and Housing

Since we began revisiting some of the major issues identified by our bargaining survey two years ago, we’ve received many messages from members describing how they’ve been personally affected by these problems. Sadly, it seems like everyone knows someone with a negative story connected with our insurance or the Student Health Center. We’ve extended our discussion of healthcare into week four in order to give these members’ stories adequate attention.

We’d like to draw particular attention to problems with mental health services. Several studies have identified that graduate students are disproportionately faced with mental health issues. It’s self-evident that the University must prioritize mental healthcare, providing appropriate funding and resources to support our physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being.

However, as undergraduate student groups have been signalling for quite some time, the University is sorely lacking on providing those services for its students and workers. Long wait times and inaccessibility of services, including the limited hours of the Student Counseling Center, are major issues in the face of high demand. Although undergraduate groups have been leading the fight for improvements, these issues don’t just affect undergrads: graduates also depend on SCS for mental healthcare and face the same problems that impede us from receiving the care we need.

Additionally, for long-term care, SCS often relies on referrals to outside practitioners who, for graduate workers with USHIP, are paid by our insurance. It’s not unusual for graduate workers—who, again, are disproportionately faced with mental health issues due to living in precarity and the stressful nature of PhD programs—to need ongoing therapy or other services. Unfortunately, in the face of this dire need and already inadequate on-campus services, students have also reported problems with the referral process and getting insurance to pay for mental health care.

Mental healthcare, like all other forms of healthcare, isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential, and we need the University to treat it that way.

We’ll be discussing issues with housing next, so be sure to stay tuned and get in touch if you have a story you’d like to share about challenges with finding affordable housing as a graduate worker.

Transcript Changes, NLRB Rebuttals, and Healthcare

Dean’s Response to Transcript Changes

Two weeks ago week, several of our members in Humanities were concerned to find that new courses with “PTPT” call numbers had been added to their transcripts during quarters they worked as TAs or lecturers. After the changes were pointed out on social media, the Humanities Dean of Students, Shea Wolfe, sent an email to the division explaining that the PTPT “courses” were an “unintended consequence” of an attempt to note our teaching in the University’s Academic Information System and would be removed. While we’re relieved that our altered academic records will be corrected, the Dean’s message does not allay concerns about the University’s repeated attempts to redefine our work as job training that solely benefits us—the same argument that the University has been making since we held our election in 2017.

Submit NLRB Rebuttals

The period to submit comments for a proposed change to NLRB rules ended last week, but that doesn’t mean the chance to make your voice heard has passed. Over 13,000 comments have been published and are available for rebuttal until Friday, February 28. Just like during the original comment period, AFT has created a web portal where you can submit rebuttals at While this page looks similar to the one where you may have previously submitted an NLRB comment, this is a different part of the commenting process, so be sure to write a rebuttal even if you already submitted an original comment!

Revisiting the Issues: Healthcare

It’s week four of the quarter, and we’re talking about healthcare! Two years after our bargaining survey, which identified major healthcare issues facing our members, the administration has made no effort to improve conditions.

Most of our members don’t have vision or dental insurance because it’s not paid for as part of our funding packages and costs are too high for graduate workers to afford on our own. And the insurance that we do have is woefully inadequate: amid steadily rising premiums and deductibles, members have told stories of inaccessibility, denied coverage, and dissatisfaction. Prenatal and birth care is often denied or poorly covered, and dependent coverage is expensive.

As graduate workers, we have different needs than undergraduates, and USHIP just doesn’t cover it. If the University administration were serious about improving the lives of grads on campus, they would agree to bargain with our union on the issues like healthcare that matter to us.

Defend Our Rights to the NLRB, Member Issues Survey, and Upcoming Events

Comments on NLRB Ruling

Back in the Fall, we reported that our rights were under attack from the National Labor Relations Board, which had proposed a new rule that would define us as unprotected by labor law. There was a long period in which to push back against the rule with public comments, offering what seemed like plenty of time. But the deadline is almost here. We have one day left in which to submit as many comments as possible, and we all need to swing into action.

Here’s how it works:

Because it’s a rule change, not a law, there’s no vote on this policy. BUT that does mean that it’s open to public comment. The agency is supposed to address/engage with the comments, and so if we can get thousands and thousands of people weighing in, it may help stop it, or at least slow it down.

You can submit your public comment at

The federal rule-making process is different from pressuring a legislator. Anyone can submit a comment, regardless of whether they are a grad worker, a US citizen, a voter, etc. It can be in any living language, and individuals aren’t limited to one comment—so if you’ve submitted one, and you want to make another point, please do!

The one caveat is that this can’t be used as a form letter: if comments are too similar, the NLRB can lump them together and not count them as unique comments. The site may suggest text, but please delete that and write something in your own voice, even if it’s just a few lines.

There are some prompts at the link, but you needn’t use those. What you write is up to you. If you want more ideas on what to write, here are some additional prompts. After you comment, please pass the alert along to friends, colleagues, partners, and any others who might weigh in.

Please comment now.

The deadline is January 15th, one day from today. If you comment before midnight this Friday, our friends at the American Federation of Teachers in DC will print it out and hand-deliver it to the NLRB. After that, you can still comment; the site will simply redirect you so that your comment goes to the NLRB digitally.

This may not be as exciting as being on the picket line. But we need to respond to this attack however we can. If the proposed rule goes through, GSU will still fight on. But for now, let’s put up as strong an opposition to it as possible. The link, once again, is at Please make your voice heard today.

Thanks so much.

Why We Need a Union: Revisiting the Issues

In February 2018, fresh off of our recognition vote, we conducted our bargaining survey to identify the issues that were most important to our members as we fought for recognition and a contract. Two years later, despite many smokescreens from the administration, there’s much that hasn’t changed. In spite of various unenforceable admin promises and program changes meant to make it look like we’re not workers, we’re still seeing issues with healthcare, housing, pay, harassment and discrimination, and workplace safety that are going unaddressed.

This winter, we’re returning to the major issues identified by the last bargaining survey to put the spotlight on the problems affecting our members every day that we know we can only fix with a union and collective bargaining. Keep up with the newsletter and our posts on Facebook and Twitter to weigh in with your experiences as a graduate worker!

We’ll also be distributing a new survey to see what has—and hasn’t—changed for our members. Keep an eye out on your inboxes for the new survey, coming soon!

Email from the Outgoing Provost, Looking to a New One

A month ago, we received word that Provost Diermeier would be leaving this summer to become Chancellor of Vanderbilt University. At the time, we reviewed his legacy at UChicago, which has sadly been characterized by unilateralism and ongoing efforts at union-busting. The following week, he sent us an “Update on PhD Education,” which raised a number of questions. We touched on those in our December 12th newsletter, and started to explore them in depth on Facebook. Watch our social media channels for more on that email—as the most recent statement from the administration on our work, there’s lots to unpack.

Last week, we learned that Professor Ka Yee Lee, currently Vice Provost for Research, would become the new Provost on February 1. We would love for her tenure to mark a change in direction. To that end, we would recommend two simple steps that would benefit the entire university: to press pause on the harmful aspects of the Provost’s unilateral overhaul of programs, and to recognize GSU.

Upcoming General Members Meeting

The first GMM of Winter Quarter will be next Wednesday, January 15, at 6pm (location: Swift Hall, Third Floor Auditorium). As always, we do our best to make sure our meetings are accessible to all members. Please let us know your access needs. In particular, if you need ASL interpretation, please contact us at in advance of the meeting so we can hire interpreters.

Funding Town Hall

GSU will hold a Town Hall on Thursday, Jan. 23rd, at 6pm (location TBA) for graduate students to discuss the overhaul of graduate programs that was announced last quarter by outgoing Provost Diermeier. As a reminder, these program changes include a revamp of the funding policy, as well as introducing enrollment caps in the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions, Divinity School, and School of Social Service Administration. The Town Hall is meant for members to share how these changes affect graduate students’ work and life, and to consider ways of action in response. All members are welcome!

End of Quarter, Email from the Provost and More!

Want to know if we’re workers? Ask a grad instructor at the end of the quarter.

Week 11 is one of the busiest times for grad instructors. Whether as TAs, lecturers, or tutors, this is often when we’re supporting students through stress and self-doubt, talking through drafts, running exam review sessions, and answering a wide range of questions—and then grading for hours on end. This is work, and while we pour effort and enthusiasm into it, no mental contortions from administrators or anyone else can deny that fact.

We’re sending love to all of our members getting through the end of the term, and particularly to those teaching this quarter. When someone tries to say that we aren’t workers, your sweat and tears this week tell a different story.

More emails from the Provost, more questions

On Monday, outgoing Provost Diermeier sent another email to faculty and grads about recent “efforts to strengthen doctoral education at the University.” The message opened with an update on the unilateral revamp of doctoral programs that he announced in October (to the surprise of students and faculty alike). In that paragraph, the Provost claimed that by the 2022-23 academic year, “we will have increased the number of funded PhD students in those schools and divisions by 15 percent over last year.” But how is this possible when the overhaul involves deep cuts to the number of doctoral students, with at least one division proposed to shrink by 25%? Is this an acknowledgement of how many of us currently work without funding, in programs designed to take well over the 5 years covered by GAI? Or is it another case of the Provost using misleading statistics?

The Provost’s email also included some nice words about issues that GSU and our allies have been raising for years. We were glad to see it, but we had serious questions about the substance. For instance:

  • Diversity: The Provost made it a point to claim that the new approach “maintains and strengthens our commitment to recruiting, supporting, and graduating diverse students.” However, this explicitly ignores the structural problems that the new framework will certainly create. By capping the number of students in programs and making admissions a “one in, one out” system, these changes incentivize departments to admit students that are a sure bet to finish their programs quickly. This will inevitably lead to a preference for students who already have Master’s degrees from familiar and highly ranked institutions. And who becomes less like to receive admission offers? Students who cannot afford to fund their own Master’s degree or go into further debt and those with degrees from less recognizable or non-U.S. institutions. Admitted students will likely become whiter and from higher-income backgrounds under this new framework, as departments play it safe to ensure their students move through their programs quickly.
  • Food “Access”: Do we even have to say that there’s something wrong at a university where any worker is paid so little that they have to rely on vouchers to local grocery stores to put food on the table? This issue arose in the Provost’s own survey over a year ago, and we’ve been highlighting it. The Provost’s email claimed that they’ve made efforts to respond to reports of food scarcity, but included no links or specific program eligibility info. for those needing help, simply telling students to write to the general email address of a university department. As our members in SSA point out, this is what some call system-level rationing: setting up hurdles to accessing a program. Is the Provost interested in addressing food insecurity among UChicago grad workers, or simply being able to say that he did something?
  • Space: The Provost reiterated that the fourth floor of the bookstore would be converted into “a dedicated graduate student space for meeting, studying, socializing, and other needs.” He wrote that the design team had “the goal of opening the space by the end of Winter Quarter.” But back on May 16, when the Provost announced this initiative, he wrote of “the changes we anticipate for the fall.” With Fall Quarter ending, it seems that the goalposts have moved, reminding us that even on an issue that the Provost chose to highlight, his commitments aren’t binding without a contract.

There was more in the email, and we could go on. But overall, it’s hard to see how the Provost believes he is strengthening graduate education when the new framework imposes completely unnecessary austerity measures. Since the Chicago Maroon reported in October that the number of graduate students in the Humanities Division was to be reduced by 25%, reports have been trickling in from departments indicating that they’ll have to significantly reduce their populations in the next three years in order to comply with the newly imposed caps. Meanwhile, UChicago’s endowment has hit $8.5 billion. Departments faced with these cuts will have to make hard choices about what kind of courses and areas of specialization they’ll be able to continue offering, and may force students at advanced stages of their degrees to finish abruptly or leave the program. Undoubtedly, important spaces of academic inquiry and the quality of departments will suffer.

We don’t need more committees that demand grad workers’ time and labor for “input” that the administration can easily sweep aside. We need a collectively bargained contract.

NLRB Comments

With slightly less than a month before the January 15th deadline, we have a lot of work to do to flood the NLRB with unique comments opposing their proposed rule that would define us as non-workers. So once you’re through the quarter—or better yet, if you want to take a ten-minute break right now—please go to and submit yours. And then urge colleagues, friends, and family to do the same!

Comments can be in any (currently spoken) language, of any length, on any aspect of the proposed rule. One important note, though, is that the comments have to be unique. There’s boilerplate text on the website, but it may be best to delete that and write in your own voice. If the NLRB gets 2 or 20 or 200 comments saying the same thing, they can count it as one comment. It’s not like contacting a legislator, where, they simply count the number of calls. As little as one or two sentences in the commenter’s own voice will go far further than clicking the send button on the pre-populated text.

We have less than a month. Let’s get the comments pouring in!