COVID-19 Relief Petition

University of Chicago faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students, alumni, community members, and everyone in solidarity: show your support by signing your name here.

A list of signatories to this petition can be found here.

Demanding Covid-19 Relief Measures for Graduate Students at the University of Chicago

Dear President Zimmer and Provost Lee,

Over the last month, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a host of public health measures to protect students, faculty, and staff at the University of Chicago and at academic institutions across the world. This has resulted in the closure of collections, archives, libraries and laboratories and brought academic research across the university to a virtual halt. The University of Chicago, along with over sixty fellow institutions, has recently acknowledged the impact of the health crisis on tenure-track faculty by extending the tenure clock by one year.

This is a decision that we, as graduate students, researchers, and teachers, applaud. However, it remains for the university to acknowledge and address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on graduate student research, which has been impacted in the same ways as faculty research. Indeed, the Modern Language Association and 23 other professional academic associations have already called for the extension of graduate student funding packages.

We are therefore calling on the university to immediately:

  • Extend time-to-degree and funding for all PhD students for a full additional year (including summer quarters), regardless of date of admission.
  • The extension must cover the university’s eligibility requirements for dissertation completion fellowships and postgraduate teaching fellowships.
  • Extend all intermediary program deadlines (e.g., qualifying papers, exams, dissertation proposal and filing) for a year.
  • Guarantee extended eligibility for health insurance for all students commensurate with the extended time-to-degree and funding.
  • Guarantee university resources for visa status extensions for international students and an extension on all I-20 renewals needed for international students commensurate with their extended time-to-degree and funding.
  • Guarantee an emergency stipend of at least $4000 as a Covid-19 Relief grant to all graduate students.
  • Ensure that no PhD student be forced to defend early or drop out during this crisis due to program “caps” under the Funding Overhaul.

Across all areas of the university, graduate students are facing travel restrictions, the cancellation of fieldwork, the loss of external funding opportunities, and the closure of libraries, laboratories, archives, museums, and the inter-library loan network. Moreover, the cancellation of hundreds of conferences and colloquia has severely limited opportunities for graduate students to establish themselves as scholars in their respective fields. As with faculty, each of these unprecedented issues have resulted in significant delays in carrying out and completing original research across the Divisions. While administrators have recently written to reassure us that funding will continue as planned, this offers no comfort to those who enrolled prior to 2016, who due to the unilateral Funding Overhaul announced in the Social Sciences Division, Humanities Division, the School of Social Service Administration, and the Divinity School in the autumn of 2019, are not all guaranteed funding after this quarter. Whether currently doing research which has slowed, or facing completion deadlines to which we agreed to prior to the pandemic, no graduate worker should face the current situation unfunded or at risk of being pushed out.

Moreover, in the wake of the pandemic, many graduate students (like many members of our university community) must simultaneously grapple with personal health problems, significantly increased childcare responsibilities, and care for family members. Graduate work is already a full-time job. Meeting these demands will ensure that graduate workers do not have to choose between managing personal responsibilities during this global crisis and trying to advance their research despite the overwhelming obstacles.

Finally, over 160 universities have already implemented hiring freezes for the upcoming year. In light of these hiring freezes, PhDs entering the academic job market face an extremely precarious situation. This situation is rendered even more severe by the possibility of a global recession and unprecedented unemployment rates across the country, limiting even employment opportunities in academic-adjacent careers. There is no doubt that those of us headed to the job market in the upcoming year will face dire job prospects.

Graduate students across the university stand united to demand that the university administration immediately implement the measures proposed in this petition, which will ensure that graduate students and their research are supported for the duration of the pandemic and its aftermath. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that the voices of graduate workers inform the decisions being made to ensure the continued health and stability of our academic community. As the acting union of graduate workers on campus, any further plans affecting teaching, research, and the conditions of work at UChicago need to involve UChicago Graduate Students United.

Now is the time to support one another. Now is the time to care for one another. And now is the time to heal wounds, old and new, within our communities. It is a time when the character of individuals and institutions is put to the test. The real values of our university will be displayed in the actions and commitments which we undertake together as we face this historic crisis.