Since March 24th, representatives from Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), the Homewood Graduate Representative Organization (GRO), and the School of Medicine Graduate Student Association (GSA) have been meeting with Vice Provost Nancy Kass and Vice Provost Stephen Gange to present concerns based in part on a drafted by TRU, and to discuss further ways the university can support graduate students dealing with the fallout of COVID-19. The Vice Provosts have heard our demands to extend funding and relax requirements for “satisfactory progress” as means to ensure that graduate students are able to complete their studies, continue with their research, and provide strong teaching and instruction. Despite these ongoing conversations, the Provost’s Office gave involved student groups only a ten minutes warning before sending their email, leaving no time for questions or challenges on areas where their communication lacked clarity and specificity. There is still an urgent need for post-graduation contingency plans for students set to graduate this term and who risk losing health care and income, as well as new sources of emergency funding for all the departments to meet students’ needs. If there was ever a time to think critically about the university’s financial priorities, and to access emergency funds, it is now.
The Provost’s Office seeks to make funding extensions and time to degree extensions available in monthly increments based on individual application, where each of us will be forced to prove how we have been affected by this pandemic, potentially revealing personal family and medical history, and having to go through several gatekeepers to do so. The office seeks to limit funding and time to degree extensions only for those “experiencing extraordinary circumstances”. Frankly, all of JHU is experiencing extraordinary circumstances, and an amorphous extended funding application process will not be capable of fairly adjudicating who has been most disrupted in a time of unprecedented global disruption.
Even though students who are in different stages of their research have been impacted in different degrees and ways (the suspension of non-essential research, the closure of many on-campus facilities and resources, the inability to travel for fieldwork or archival access, the labour burden of the transition to online classes), the pandemic has had serious effects on everyone. Rather than wasting resources judging who should be deemed “extraordinarily affected,” JHU should be committed to all its graduate students. The university should ensure funding, health insurance, and time to degree extensions of at least one semester (with more forthcoming if closures continue) for everyone across JHU. Graduate students should be able to expect the continuation of their existing funding packages and the school should open sources of funding for students not fully materially supported by the University. This needs to be a blanket policy, though the Provost’s Office has repeatedly claimed that such decisions ought to be made by the Deans of individual schools.