The pandemic has been difficult on grad researchers, not only due to medical and health concerns, but also due to the lack of support they have received despite working continuously through this crisis. Back in March 2020 TRU released a petition articulating the demands we believed to be necessary to protect grad workers. Universal extensions of grad pay to preserve our financial security through the pandemic were at the top of the list, alongside no retribution for delayed research progress, suspension of non-resident tuition fees, and extensions of health insurance coverage for graduating students. The petition garnered over 800 signatures and led to a joint “statement of principles” with leaders from the graduate representative organizations, establishing a unified position on JHU’s pandemic response across graduate student organizations.
Over the following months, TRU members authored a series of op-eds and articles to draw attention to the conditions grad workers were facing and garner support for our demands. You can read them here, here, and finally in the Baltimore Sun in December here. Grad workers also wrote testimonials about how COVID-19 had affected their working conditions, accompanied by photos bearing the message “Hopkins Can Afford It”.
In September 2020, TRU sent out a university-wide survey to check in with members about the conditions they were facing and refine our demands. Based on the results, we organized a vehicle caravan for Dec 12, 2020 in which members drove or rode bikes from the Medical Campus up to the Homewood Campus in a socially distant protest reiterating grad demands for pay extensions and a greater say in the COVID safety measures of our workplaces.
Despite renewed calls for support at the vehicle caravan, university leaders excluded grad workers from $500 end-of-year bonus payments to all JHU employees making less than $200,000 a year. The news came just one month after JHU announced a $75 million budget surplus for 2020, on top of billions in existing unrestricted reserves. Over 200 TRU members sent letters of protest to university leaders, as part of our “Grads Deserve a Bonus Too” letter writing campaign. Grad workers shared how they would use an extra $500 on social media. For some, it would be new office supplies or equipment. For others, $500 could help them afford basic necessities like groceries and medications.
In February 2021,TRU organized a forum to facilitate conversation between the Provost’s office and grad workers, after we finally got a response from university leaders to our op-ed in the Baltimore Sun. Unfortunately, the Vice-Provosts declined our invitation. So instead we used the occasion to plan a satirical awards show, the “First Annual Covies”, to highlight the best and the worst in JHU’s response to COVID-19. The show was covered in the JHU Newsletter, and helped bring the public attention we needed to get a resolution of support for our demands passed in the Homewood Faculty Assembly.
On Friday, April 2 2021, President Daniels announced that the university is providing $5 million in aid for Ph.D. students at Johns Hopkins. According to a second message released the same week, this money will fund 100 travel and research grants ranging from $5,000 to $12,000 and another 200 to 300 dissertation completion fellowships covering at least part of their recipients’ stipends, healthcare coverage, and tuition for a semester. Though this is a partial victory for the support we have been campaigning for over the last year, and ultimately is a result of all the efforts taken by grad workers and their supporters, it falls far short of universal pay extensions grad workers need. You can read the full statement from TRU’s Organizing Committee on these concessions here.