We know that things are changing rapidly on campus in response to Covid-19, and that our members are being faced with unprecedented disruptions in our workplaces and lives. We’ll be updating this page with resources and frequently asked questions as information becomes available.
What demands has GSU made of the administration in response to current circumstances?
In the past few weeks, we’ve fought to ensure that necessary public health measures do not do economic harm to us or other UChicago workers. And we’ve seen victories, in specific divisions and university-wide, on our own, and in coalition with our fellow unions in the UChicago Labor Council and others. Here is a summary of demands that are specific to graduate workers that have gone out in various letters and petitions over the last month.
Closures of libraries, archives, labs, and field sites due to the crisis are impeding the ability for graduate students to conduct research and complete their dissertation projects. A collapsing job market characterized by cancelled searches and hiring freezes is leaving those of us who are advanced in our degrees in the lurch. Conducting remote learning is requiring significantly more of our labor even as impacts upon our health and the need to provide care for our families and children reduce the time we have available to dedicate to our own research. We are calling on the UChicago administration to support us by immediately:
-Extending 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 and postgraduate teaching fellowships.
-Extending all intermediary program deadlines (e.g. qualifying papers, exams, dissertation proposal and filing) for a year
-Guaranteeing extended eligibility for health insurance for all students commensurate with the extended time-to-degree and funding
-Guaranteeing university resources for visa status extension for international students and an extension on all I-20 renewals needed for international students commensurate with their extended time-to-degree and funding
-Guaranteeing an emergency stipend of at least $4000 as a Covid Relief grant to graduate students
-Ensuring that no PhD student be forced to defend early or drop out during this crisis due to program “caps” under the Funding Overhaul.
2. A letter put out by the UChicago Labor Council, of which we are a part, has called for the following accommodations relevant to our members:
-An extension of time to degree and fellowships for all
-The University must commit to not penalizing anyone who normally teaches face-to-face for a loss in effectiveness when teaching online
-All current tenants in University housing shall not be evicted under any circumstances
-Quarantine housing shall be provided, free of charge, in University-owned or affiliated properties for workers and students who become infected with SARS-CoV-2
-The University shall not revoke benefits such as access to Student Health Services and Student Counseling Services
-All student fees shall be canceled for each remote learning quarter
-The University must explicitly allow instructors to retain full intellectual ownership rights to any online materials created as part of remote teaching made necessary by this emergency
-Decisions regarding remote teaching and other changes to instruction must be made with those teaching. The University of Chicago must begin immediate consultation with Graduate Students United before further unilateral changes are made.
3. GSU organizers in the School of Social Service Administration have sent a letter to Dean Gorman-Smith urging the following on a divisional level:
-Allow AM students to protect their health by no longer having to report in person to unpaid field placements
-Establish accessible alternative plans for students to meet field requirements if the current situation does not allow them to complete the required number of hours
-Allow instructors to teach remotely without reporting to SSA in-person
-Provide flexibility around requirements, including but not limited to time-to-degree benchmarks, for doctoral students whose research is being disrupted by this unprecedented situation
-Make plans to provide additional funding as needed for students whose programs are delayed by the current crisis
-Provide affirmative support and deadline flexibility to parents who are facing new and unplanned childcare duties as a result of school and childcare facility closures.
4. To address the diminished quality of instruction and opportunities due to the transition to remote learning, students in the Division of the Social Sciences MA programs (MAPSS, MACSS and CIR) have put out a letter to the administration calling for:
-A 50% reduction in tuition for the Spring quarter
-Greater flexibility in the fulfilment of degree requirements, including the thesis, and in preparing for later professional and academic opportunities
-The option to take free courses for credit next year, either before or after graduation, to assist in resume and PhD-application building.
5. Undergraduates, MA, and PhD students have created a Tuition Reduction Petition that demands the administration:
-Reduce tuition by 50% and waive all fees for the duration of this crisis, beginning Spring Quarter
-Waive advanced residency tuition for doctoral students
-Release a budgetary breakdown of university expenditure and spending.
-Permanently reinstitute part-time status for all students
-Institute a tuition freeze by pledging not to raise tuition in future quarters.
What accommodations have graduate workers already won?
- The Student Services Fee (formerly known as the Student Life Fee) has been reduced from $414 to $125 for the Spring quarter, which is a partial win.
- Student Health Services and Student Counseling Services will remain open, and our health insurance will not require a referral from either for us to access providers.
- AM students in SSA no longer have to report in-person to field placements.
- Instructors in SSA do not have to report to campus to conduct their remote instruction.
How will this affect tuition and fees?
The administration has announced a reduction of the Student Services Fee from $414 to $125 for this quarter. However, the University has not made indications that it will otherwise reduce tuition and fees for any students. Although many graduate workers have their tuition covered as part of their funding packages, doctoral students in upper years of their programs are still charged advanced residency tuition and master’s students are paying full price for instruction that will inevitably be negatively impacted by the transition to remote learning. In response, undergraduates, MA, and PhD students have created a Tuition Reduction Petition asking for the University to reduce tuition by 50% and waive all fees for the duration of this crisis and to waive advanced residency tuition for doctoral students. Students in the Division of the Social Sciences MA programs (MAPSS, MACSS and CIR) have also put out a letter to the administration asking for a 50% reduction in tuition for the Spring quarter.
How will this affect the job market?
Unfortunately, the impacts of the economic fallout from COVID-19 are likely to be significant. Many universities have instituted hiring freezes, including UChicago, which has cancelled searches except for those that are already with the Provost’s office. The recent email from President Zimmer regarding the financial implications of the pandemic seems to indicate that the administration’s approach to the current state of the economy will be one of heightened austerity. Current PhD students are likely to be facing an unfriendly job market that will likely rival, if not exceed, that faced in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. In the face of this downturn, we must fight against a logic of austerity and precarity and advocate for continued support for current and future graduate workers to mitigate these impacts.
What resources for remote teaching are available?
GSU is starting a new google group for folks to share resources and strategies around remote teaching and learning. You can join at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/gsu-remote-teaching. We will also update this page with resources as they become available.
What resources are available for graduate student parents?
We know that, with school closures and work-from-home orders, many graduate student parents are unexpectedly faced limited child care options and the need to home school their children. This, of course, means less time to devote toward teaching, research, and writing, as grad parents scramble to rearrange their schedules around caring for and occupying their children.
One helpful resource is Maroon Tutor Match. MTM matches elementary, middle and high school students with University of Chicago students for tutoring at a rate of $13 per hour. At this point, they still have capacity for more families. If you are in need of tutoring (which will occur remotely for Spring 2020), please fill out this link and MTM will be in touch!
Do I have to pay the Student Services Fee (formerly Student Life Fee) for the Spring quarter?
If you are currently living more than fifty miles from Hyde Park, you are NOT required to pay the Student Services Fee. If you need to request the fee to be waived because you’ve had to move for the Spring quarter, you should contact the Bursar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are still living within 50 miles of campus, the Student Services Fee has been reduced to $125 for the Spring quarter (usually it is $416 per quarter). This is a partial victory! The UChicago Labor Council letter outlining demands in response to Covid-19 advocated for the Student Services Fee to be waived completely for everyone for this quarter. Although this reduction in the fee is a partial win for our organizing efforts, we will continue advocating for the fee to be waived in order to keep much-needed funds in graduate workers’ pockets. The fee is not due until April 29, 2020.
How do I receive healthcare while campus is shut down?
Student Health and Counseling Services are still open during their regular hours. Usually, our health insurance (U-SHIP) requires us to go to the Student Health Center first in order to receive a referral to go to another provider. However, in response to the current circumstances, the $50 non-referral deductible will be waived through Spring Quarter. This means a referral is no longer required before seeking care or treatment from a provider outside of Student Health and Counseling Services this quarter. You should still check to make sure that your provider accepts our health insurance.
Additionally, our health insurance provides 24/7 telehealth services. If you do not want to go to a health provider in person, you can set up a virtual appointment by downloading the HealthiestYou app, going to the HealthiestYou website, or calling (855) 870-5858. These consultations are free.
What if I get Covid-19?
U-SHIP has stated that, if you are tested for COVID-19, “cost sharing will be waived, including copays, coinsurance, and deductibles for diagnostic testing provided at approved locations in accordance with CDC guidelines.” In plain language: you will not have to pay anything if you need a Covid-19 test. You also do not need a referral to get tested or treated. However, if you are hospitalized, you will still have to pay copays, coinsurance, and deductibles as outlined under our insurance plan.
What campus services are still available?
Student Health and Counseling Services are still open during their regular hours and are increasing capacity to provide remote options to deliver medical and mental health care.
The Dean-on-Call and Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call can be accessed by calling 773-834-HELP (4357) 24-hours a day, 7-days a week.
Staff at Student Disability Services and the Office of International Affairs have transitioned to virtual offices and can work with students remotely.
In the Spring Quarter, the Center for Leadership and Involvement will be collaborating with student leaders and campus partners such as UChicagoGRAD, the Center for Identity + Inclusion and Spiritual Life to sustain student communities and support RSOs and other student-led initiatives that can take place remotely.
How will this affect my funding and pay?
The University administration has stated that institutional aid and stipends will disburse on 3/20 as scheduled and should be received by 3/30. Federal loans and grants are planned to disburse to student accounts on 3/27 provided the student is enrolled in 200 units or more.
Pay dates for Spring Quarter assistantships and on-campus employment will not change. The first bi-weekly pay date for Spring Quarter is 4/10/2020. The first monthly pay date will be 4/30/2020. Students in assistantships for Winter Quarter 2020 can still expect their final payment on 3/31/2020.
If you have an on-campus hourly job and are able to work remotely, you are expected to work remotely and will be paid for the hours that you work. If you have an on-campus job that you can’t do remotely, the administration has promised to pay you for the equivalent of six weeks of pay based on the projected hours that you would have worked.
If you need emergency funding, options for assistance through the administration are available at https://bursar.uchicago.edu/emergency-assistance-programs/.
How will this affect my research?
The stay-at-home order currently in effect in the state of Illinois 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 circumvent these instructions or lacking flexibility in creating accommodations for their graduate workers. 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.
How will this affect my job responsibilities as an instructor or course assistant?
Conducting courses remotely requires a huge investment in time and labor from graduate workers, both as instructors and course assistants. Already, we are hearing from graduate workers who are being called upon to provide tech support and other logistical or administrative support for professors as they set up and begin holding online courses. You may be asked by faculty, supervisors, or administrators to take on responsibilities that, in a non-crisis situation, would otherwise fall outside of your job description.
This enormous demand for our labor is coming merely months after the funding overhaul that announced that our teaching would now be referred to as “mentored teaching experiences” and that our funding would be decoupled from our teaching. Undoubtedly, the responsibilities that we will be asked to take on in this crisis will fall far outside of the administration’s definition of mentorship and pedagogical training. It is more clear now than ever that we are workers, and that our labor is fundamentally for the benefit of the University as our employer, not for our own training.
For now, we ask that you keep track of the kinds of tasks that you are asked to take on and the number of hours you spend on them weekly as this situation develops. As always, please be in touch with your steward or a departmental organizer to discuss any problems that arise in your workplace during this time.
Will this affect my time to degree?
Some universities have responded to the disruptions caused by Covid-19 with measures such as extending the tenure clock for junior faculty, and professional organizations such as the MLA have called for extensions of both the tenure clock and funding and time-to-degree requirements for graduate students.. So far, we have not heard from the administration about whether there will be extensions for time to degree or extensions of funding for graduate students whose research, teaching, or coursework are delayed by this crisis. We encourage you to contact your Director of Graduate Studies to inquire about this and let GSU know about how this is affecting your efforts to finish your program.
How can I get help for myself or help care for others via mutual aid?
There are many resources that communities have been setting up to help care for themselves and others in response to this pandemic. See below for links to nationwide and local resources and volunteer opportunities.
A wide-ranging resource directory compiled by South Side Weekly.
A list of COVID-19 mutual aid resources throughout the United States
A sign-up sheet for Chicago area mutual aid volunteers.
A centralized list for requests and donations, focused on the University of Chicago community.