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 lobbying the university to support graduate students dealing with the fallout of COVID-19.
Vice Provosts Nancy Kass and Steven Gange 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. However, 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.
These problems are only set to continue in the spring. Despite this fact, the Provost’s Office is currently offering funding and time-to-degree extensions only in monthly increments based on individual application, obliging workers to reveal personal family and medical history in a lengthy process with multiple levels of gatekeeping. The administration claims that it is willing to support graduates that are “experiencing extraordinary circumstances,” but realistically, all of JHU is experiencing extraordinary circumstances. Consequently, TRU will continue to lobby for universal funding and time-to-degree extensions for all graduates across the University.
Graduates have been affected in myriad ways, including 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, and the potential health risks involved in the on-campus activities that remain. 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.