University of Michigan graduate students, faculty, undergraduates, staff, alums, and community members are encouraged to share this letter and to sign their support.

Letter released for signing:                            May 1, 2020

Letter presented (signatures remain open):        May 8, 2020

Signatories as of 12:00 PM, May 18th:                1,818

To the UM Board of Regents, President Schlissel, Provost Collins, and Deans:

In his April 20 message, President Schlissel established core principles that would guide the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to “value, protect and support our people.” We, the undersigned, call upon the university to live up to these principles by supporting all University of Michigan community members, including its graduate students. University of Michigan unions are developing measures to protect patients, workers, students, and the broader community. We stand united with our labor colleagues and seek here to elaborate on the measures that are necessary for graduate students in particular. As scholars and teachers in training, graduate students perform work that is central to the university’s mission. For the University of Michigan to retain its standing and to fulfill its educational mission, it must provide graduate students the requisite resources to weather this crisis.

The ongoing impact of the pandemic on graduate students is multi-pronged. Some have fallen sick; others are caring for dependents; and still others are managing illness and/or death among family members. With reduced access to labs, libraries, and data collection, many graduate students have been forced to delay, modify, and/or fundamentally redesign their research projects. Those close to finishing their degrees are facing a decimated job market as universities across the country announce hiring freezes for the coming academic year and potentially beyond. The crisis poses an especially grave threat to students of color, working class students, students with disabilities, first-generation students, international students, and students with children, who are disproportionately vulnerable. The university must make good on its commitment to support all graduate students if it is to achieve the goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that are inseparablefrom the university’s “dedication to academic excellence for the public good.”

Finally, the effects of COVID-19 on graduate students has critically impacted the university’s undergraduate instruction. Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) provide much of the small-classroom instruction, hands-on learning, and one-on-one contact that are central to the University of Michigan educational experience. Over the past two months, GSIs have contributed to the transition to online learning, largely without additional compensation. They have assisted faculty with setting up online environments and provided pedagogical expertise under difficult working conditions in order to ensure undergraduate students have structure, stability, and fulfilling learning experiences.

While we are relieved to know that the university has allowed assistant professors to apply for tenure clock extensions—recognizing the disruptions in teaching, research and writing these faculty face—we believe it has not provided similar, sufficient support to its graduate students. We call on the university’s administration to honor its commitment to its educational mission and support graduate researchers and teachers in the following ways:

  1. Provide an additional year of funding to all doctoral students and extend all degree milestones by one year including spring and summer terms. This should include guaranteed funding, extended eligibility for health insurance (and ensuring access to physical and mental healthcare regardless of location), and an extra year of eligibility for university grants, fellowships, and teaching positions. Time-to-degree extensions must include the suspension or elimination of “caps” on program time to completion. Students set to graduate should be given the option to delay, retain their student status, and become eligible for the additional year of funding.

  1. Grant an emergency stipend at a minimum of $2,500 as a COVID-19 Relief Grant to all graduate students. Graduate students should receive a base emergency stipend, without means-testing and in addition to Rackham’s existing process for granting emergency funds. This amount is equal to Rackham’s emergency funding grant and therefore reflects the university’s own judgment of an appropriate amount for unforeseen costs. Financial concerns, future funding, and financial aid are the top reported concerns among graduate students at the University of Michigan (RSG COVID-19 Concerns survey), with a reported increase from 6% of respondents in March to 84% in late April. Blanket funding is the most appropriate and efficient approach because the financial pressures that different graduate students face are too diverse to reliably adjudicate through means-testing, and the potential impact of denying funding for real hardships is dire.

  1. Ensure the inclusion of international graduate students. International students may not know when they will be able to return to their home countries, whether they will be able to re-enter the United States if they do, and how the pandemic may affect their visas. Many international students were ineligible for the federal economic stimulus payment, and additional funding from students’ home countries may also be at risk. The university should provide resources to address visa issues (e.g., extension of visas, work requirements, remote classes) and appoint a designated point person at the International Center with whom students can consult. The university also needs to end its $500 per semester international student fee, which was introduced in Fall 2019 and charges international students for their own inclusion in the UM community, a blatant contradiction to the university’s DEI principles.

  1. Fulfill the university’s contractual obligation to protect the health and safety of students and GSIs. Graduate students should have a seat at the table in discussions about working conditions, including when and how to reopen campus. The university should ensure that GSIs and other graduate students have the right to choose whether they teach or work on-campus or remotely during the time that no vaccine is available. Until the risk of infection is eliminated, on-campus working conditions will continue to be dangerous for all university employees, as well as any other people with whom they live or otherwise have contact.

  1. Support graduate students in transitioning to remote work. Teaching, researching, and working remotely represent significant disruptions. The university must provide material resources and tools to graduate students for making these changes, including both those covered in the GEO contract and for emergent needs like improving internet services and purchasing updated hardware and software. The university must provide compensation for overwork during the transition to online teaching in Winter 2020.

  1. Expand allowable uses of the childcare subsidy for working parents and those with dependents. UM’s childcare subsidy requires using a licensed care facility during the term the funding is received, but with most childcare facilities closed due to the pandemic, the only viable option is in-home care. Graduate students may also be caring for other sick family members. The childcare subsidy should be available for unlicensed childcare and expanded for caregiving beyond childcare.

  1. Support graduate students in university housing. Due to leasing schedules, students are being forced to make decisions about their housing in the coming year despite a lack of clarity about both the pandemic and the university’s plans for the future. The university should allow all those in university housing to break their leases without penalty, should allow residents to delay renewing their leases until the university’s 2020-21 plans are clear, and should not increase rent for a year. UM should also work with local landlords to provide these measures to the community more broadly.

Graduate students at institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, NYU, UConn, and University of Chicago are demanding similar resources in order to continue their work. Yale University has already agreed to provide one-year extensions to doctoral students. Furthermore, 28 academic associations have called for universities to pause “time-to-completion measures for graduate students… [and] extend graduate student funding.” Hundreds of academics have also signed a statement of academic solidarity calling for universities to expand the tenure extensions given to tenure-track faculty to all non-tenure track faculty and graduate students. While some departments within the University of Michigan have made efforts to provide relief to their graduate students, this piecemeal approach produces unacceptable inequities. University leadership must enact both universal and targeted solutions to address the situation.

A part of the University of Michigan’s mission is to develop “leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.” Today, we challenge you to fulfill your promises to value, protect, and support the UM community by taking the essential steps described within this letter. We eagerly await your response, which we request by May 15th.

Thank you.

Please share this letter and sign your support here: https://forms.gle/b1BuKfWqYHrWSVXD7 

Signatories as of 12:00 PM, May 18th:        1,818

Organizational Signatories:

Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO)

Rackham Student Government (RSG)

Lecturers' Employee Organization (LEO)

Graduate Rackham International (GRIN)

Queer Advocacy Coalition, School of Social Work

The Society for Music Research, Musicology

View the individual signatories, their testimonials, and department/unit tabulations here:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vRGGmpSbpZ4IheAR4mXvra54CoSuGMKwB6ivdKSy5f50MHYHQOmtGtiE7ilkJTboiOZKHhvpjLl69yw/pubhtml