Graduate Student Federation Cites Virus-Related Needs


The Graduate and Professional Student Federation called on UNC to “establish additional funding resources to mitigate the loss of summer incomes for graduate professional students.” (Grant Halverson ’93)

The organization that supports UNC graduate and professional students has reached out to University administration for special aid due to conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown of UNC operations.

“Our chief concerns relate to the potential loss of income for students from a diverse range of programs, the lack of appropriate protections for all who participate in research activities on campus and the loss of benefits every student should be entitled to while we remain in crisis,” the Graduate and Professional Student Federation said in an April 3 letter approved by the federation’s senate, which includes elected representatives from all graduate and professional degree programs at UNC.

Many graduate students earn stipends for only nine months out of the year, requiring them to seek out additional monetary resources to supplement their incomes during the summer months.

“While at this time, we have limited knowledge about the impact of COVID-19 on internal summer awards, it has come to our attention that many external organizations that offer grants to graduate students have rescinded awards that were already offered because they question the ability of students to proceed forward in pursuing their work during the pandemic,” the letter said. “The loss of external funding will ultimately create greater competition amongst specific programs for summer research assistantships, leaving many without an income for three months.”

Paid summer internships for professional students, who typically have incomes that are independent of their education, also are starting to be rescinded, the letter said.

“Stipends and summer funding already fail to provide students with a wage considered to be livable in this area of the country; the complete loss of these funds will exacerbate the economic hardship most graduate and professional students face.”

The federation called on UNC to “establish additional funding resources to mitigate the loss of summer incomes for graduate professional students.”

The letter also said that transitioning to online instruction, navigating issues related to the pandemic and working within the constraints of the campus shutdown have “created obstacles for graduate and professional students to complete degree requirements in a traditional timeframe. We thus urge the University to direct programs to extend deadlines for degree requirements, such as comprehensive exams, thesis and dissertation defenses, prospectus defenses, clinical hours, and PhD funding timelines, and any other program requirement.”

In a separate letter, the federation urged support for international and undocumented students who may not be eligible for federal stimulus payments.

Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Provost Robert Blouin and Graduate School Dean Suzanne Barbour responded on April 16, citing aid programs put in place and changes to academic protocol in response to the pandemic.

Graduate students can seek help through the Carolina Student Impact Fund, which is available to Carolina students who have immediate financial needs that were triggered by the pandemic. The Carolina Graduate Student COVID-19 Impact Program supports doctoral students whose paid summer experiences have fallen through due to the crisis.

Graduate assistants, the letter said, are eligible for paid administrative leave if they cannot work remotely.

“Several of the major federal funding agencies have also given universities permission to continue paying research personnel (including graduate students) even if they cannot work remotely, and the University has committed to ensuring that graduate students can retain their stipends,” it said.

Further, it said, graduate course directors can request to convert their courses to pass/fail grading. The Graduate School has made a no credit course available to students who must be enrolled in Summer 2020 to complete their thesis or dissertation milestones.

In addition, the letter said:

• The University’s research office can grant exceptions to graduate students who need access to their laboratories to complete work necessary for a May, August or December 2020 graduation;

• The libraries will purchase e-books that graduate students need for their research, and the libraries have made a variety of research and teaching resources accessible free of charge for the duration of the pandemic; and

• For students who need additional time to complete their degrees, the Graduate School has a formal process that is handled on a case-by-case basis.

The Graduate and Professional Students Federation’s letters are separate from a letter sent to University administrators April 16 that made more elaborate demands and was signed by hundreds of graduate students.

The demands included higher pay and emergency stipends and guaranteed employment and health insurance. It called for University administrators to take a 10 percent pay cut and that the savings go into relief funds for all students. It also demanded UNC pay international students the equivalent of federal stimulus funds and ensure that international and undocumented students retain their visas and immigration status.

The letter, which did not have the federation’s endorsement, was addressed to Guskiewicz, Blouin, Barbour, the Board of Trustees and unidentified UNC administrative officials.

The students referred to themselves as “graduate workers,” explaining: “This emergency and the resulting requirements placed on graduate workers to return to campus, continue teaching, research, and support work while undergraduate students were sent home demonstrates that graduate workers are workers, and that our labor is essential to the functioning of the University. We are proud of the work we do teaching, researching, and supporting students and faculty, and we demand that we be fairly and adequately compensated for our labor.”

UNC had no immediate response to that letter.

In a new petition published June 12, graduate students not under the banner of the federation said, “We will not commit to a plan or an ‘experiment’ that puts the lowest-paid workers and marginalized students on our campus at the most risk.”

Initially signed by 435 people, it demanded that UNC not reopen in-person in the fall, not lay off or furlough any staff, continue to pay graduate students and provide their health insurance and compensate all on-site workers with hazard pay.



Share via: