GSU Statement on ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program Modifications

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) just announced that international students with F-1 and M-1 visas whose courseloads will be fully online must leave the United States or face deportation. GSU strongly condemns this policy and demands that the University of Chicago uses its financial and legal resources to act decisively in opposition to this policy. We also maintain that reopening campus is not the solution: it is reprehensible to force students to choose between risking infection to attend courses and deportation, especially when livelihoods and travel are so precarious. The administration of the University of Chicago must do its part to protect graduate students and other members of our community from the harmful policies of the federal government, from the dangers of COVID-19, financial insecurity, and from rising xenophobia and racism in our country. 


International students comprise 25% of the total student population at the University of Chicago. In Spring 2020, 918 undergraduate students and 2998 graduate and professional students were enrolled at the university; all are threatened by this and other xenophobic measures recently proclaimed by the Trump administration. The threat of deportation is a particularly grave problem given safety concerns stemming from the current COVID-19 pandemic. Travel to and from the United States is unreliable, expensive, restricted, or simply closed. International students, already under pressure from this country’s draconian immigration policies and mishandling of the pandemic, are now facing the very real possibility of having their education and lives further interrupted.
Even under the University of Chicago’s hybrid model for Fall 2020, international students on F-1 visas in coursework cannot take an entirely online course load and remain in the United States. Students do not have control over whether their courses will be in-person or online, and the university’s assurances that students with pre-existing conditions or other circumstances that require them to remain in online courses for their own safety can no longer apply to international students. Additionally, students currently abroad can only maintain their visa status if the university offers online-only instruction, which is currently not the case for the University of Chicago, forcing students to return to the United States despite the massive public health risks. If the COVID-19 situation worsens and forces the university to move online, students with visas will be forced to leave the country within 10 days. This would be unacceptable under normal conditions, but it is especially reprehensible during a worldwide pandemic. By leaving the “choice” between in-person versus online instruction to faculty and graduate instructors, the university is abdicating its responsibility to vulnerable students, instructors, and the university community as a whole. This places a burden upon departments to either force their faculty and instructors to risk their safety or to put students in a position to be deported – putting instructors in an impossible position.


Additionally, international students who are currently out of the country will not be able to re-enter the United States, forcing them into an especially difficult and unstable position where they must negotiate how to continue their research and education away from the university. This change comes on top of an already exacerbated situation for graduate students pursuing their degrees under the threat of probation and an already restricted timeline following the university’s recently unveiled funding overhaul program and the university’s refusal to address the unique hardships caused by COVID-19 for graduate students. We have already heard from several students that they have faced difficulties applying for and receiving their visas, an issue that will likely be further exacerbated by this measure. Additionally, it is still unclear how students no longer in coursework would be affected by this policy. Further, it is entirely unclear how this change will affect stipend payments, health insurance, and other forms of university-provided assistance. The university needs to ensure that all graduate students will continue to receive their health insurance, stipends, and other payments in full and on time, regardless of where they are located in the world.  Understandably, this uncertainty is causing considerable distress among students and graduate workers in our community.
We recognize that the best advocates for graduate students and workers are graduate workers themselves, and that the university’s refusal to enter into collective bargaining with graduate students worsens our already precarious position in academia. Quoting from our graduate worker colleagues at Northwestern, the university’s refusal to communicate and bargain with graduate workers “remains a palpable barrier to ensuring international graduate workers have a say over their protection and livelihoods.” 


We call on the University of Chicago to denounce these immigration restrictions in the strongest possible terms, and to take all measures necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of its international community.


In solidarity,
Graduate Students United

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

Solidarity Statement for GEO at UIUC

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We, Graduate Students United (GSU) at the University of Chicago, support the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) in their effort to bargain a fair contract with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Graduate employees at UIUC have been without a contract since August 2017 and have been in negotiations since March 2017. We urge Provost Cangellaris to accept the GEO’s proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement which preserves graduate employees’ tuition waivers, pays them a living wage, and provides them and their dependents with affordable, accessible healthcare and childcare resources.

Graduate employees perform essential work for UIUC as Teaching and Graduate Assistants. At some point, every undergraduate student is taught by a graduate instructor, and over 2,500 graduate workers on this campus provide invaluable labor. In fact, Illinois ranks 6th in the country among universities where graduate employees teach the most classes. Grad employees make Illinois work.

UIUC administration is attempting to cut the tuition waivers that are an essential part of grad workers’ compensation. They insist on removing protections for tuition waivers that GEO won in 2009, and fought to keep in 2012. They want to give themselves “authority to waive tuition” and the “right to determine and modify tuition waivers for each graduate program,” enabling them to not only cut tuition waivers, but to replace waiver-generating appointments with hourly graduate positions not covered by GEO’s contract. They’ve also recently revealed a plan to legally prevent GEO from striking over tuition waivers, a drastic measure that shows their intent to break the union: by replacing graduate appointments covered by GEO’s contract, the administration would have the power to erode and ultimately eliminate GEO’s bargaining unit.

On top of this, UIUC administration refuses to pay graduate workers a living wage, and refuses to provide health care and child care resources for those with dependents. Teaching and Graduate Assistants making the minimum salary earn about $6,000 less than the University’s own published cost of living and most have not received a raise in five years. The administration is also refusing to provide healthcare coverage for dependents of graduate workers, or a childcare subsidy for graduate worker parents. Without these important benefits, graduate workers will not have financial stability and graduate school will not be equally accessible to everyone.

For these reasons, the GEO has declared that it will strike on February 26th to protect both tuition waivers and its survival.

GSU urges Provost Cangellaris and the University bargaining team to work with GEO to provide graduate employees with a fair contract. If the Graduate Employees’ Organization is forced to strike, we understand that this drastic measure signals the University administration’s unwillingness to resolve negotiations at the bargaining table. GSU will support actions deemed necessary by GEO to protect themselves, undergraduates, and the integrity and quality of education at the University of Illinois. All graduate employees, students, and workers deserve better living, learning, and working conditions.

A Message on Faculty – Graduate Employee Relationships by Professor Robert Johnston and Dr. Tom Alter

In a week, University of Chicago graduate employees will vote whether to unionize. Giving more power to grad workers frightens a few faculty members and most administrators, who claim that unions disrupt the harmonious relationship between faculty and their students. Happily, we can attest that graduate student unions do not harm the advisor/advisee relationship.

The two of us, Robert Johnston and Tom Alter, had a positive advisor/advisee relationship throughout Tom’s doctoral studies in History at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), which has had a grad union since 2004. Unionism was part of our relationship from the beginning. Tom joined the Graduate Employee Organization as soon as he arrived on campus. By the end of Tom’s first year, he had become a department steward, and he was active in campus organizing and contract negotiations.

Tom’s unionism did not interfere with our pedagogical relationship. Indeed, we’ve never heard of a case where any faculty member or graduate student at UIC expressed any concern about the union harming collegial and mentoring relationships. The same is true for Yale, where Robert taught for nine years. Unionized graduate assistants and faculty continued to collaborate as before.

Of course, some UofC faculty make claims to the contrary. Economics professor Derek Neal worried that with a union “faculty would no longer see their teaching assistants as mentees and future peers.” Dean David Nirenberg fretted that a union would reduce all collaboration to “an economic calculus.” Such dire predictions, crucially, never come with any factual evidentiary support.

Truth to tell, the situation is quite the opposite. Grad unions provide security, respect, and appropriate rules, allowing master’s and doctoral students to flourish. Union work rule are not dictated by national unions but formulated by graduate students themselves, then negotiated with the administration. They simply do not impinge on areas related to mentorship. This finding has been borne out in peer-reviewed research that examined dozens of universities with grad unions.

A union means having a democratic voice at the table when decisions are made affecting your work. It can profoundly improve the working conditions of grads, and it can also bolster the relationship that you have with your advisor or PI. Don’t be afraid to Vote YES!

–Tom Alter, Lecturer in History, Texas State (UIC Ph.D. 2016) and Robert Johnston, Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago (Tom’s advisor)