Northwestern University Graduate Workers Statement on Milestone Extension

July 9th, 2020

Earlier today, July 9, 2020, Interim Dean of TGS Kelly Mayo announced that in response to COVID-19, TGS would automatically extend the milestones of all graduate students by one year but explicitly declined to grant a one-year funding extension to all graduate students. 

This policy change is completely insufficient to meet the pressing needs of graduate workers at Northwestern. A one-year milestone extension does nothing to help graduate students without concomitant funding. Indeed, TGS did not even lift its severe restrictions on eligibility for GAships for students beyond their fifth year in light of the pandemic. The announcement acknowledges our need for funding in order to pursue milestones, while simultaneously denying us that funding. Students who get extra time to complete their degrees nevertheless will be forced to take other jobs outside the university to feed themselves and their families, maintain their housing, and obtain healthcare coverage, jeopardizing the quality of our research. 

For international graduate students this lack of funding is particularly detrimental: without guaranteed funding, those unable to secure external funding will lose their visas and be forced to return to their home countries, where many will have to find work while somehow continuing to make progress on their degree. Make no mistake, the university’s failure to marshal sufficient resources means that a whole generation of Northwestern scholars, almost certainly disproportionately first-generation, working-class, international, parenting, and BIPOC, will not be able to complete their research and obtain their degrees. We refuse to stand idly by.

Over the four months that COVID-19 has imposed extreme damage on graduate worker livelihoods, research, and job prospects, TGS and NU has failed to meaningfully address both the COVID-19 crisis for its workers and its legacy of racial violence. Our funding, health and safety, and equity demands still stand:

  1. Funding:
    • Provide a universal one year funding extension to all currently enrolled students; extend all time-to-degree deadlines by one year; and guarantee six years of funding for all graduate students entering Northwestern in Fall 2020 or after.
    • Remove all eligibility restrictions on GA-ships and remove limits on the number and usage of banked quarters of funding. 
    • Support International Students by providing a one year funding extension, without which extension of students’ I-20s/DS-2019s would be jeopardized, as well as financial and legal assistance with maintaining visa status, such as reimbursement of all fees associated with visa renewal. Match any federal financial aid accorded to US citizens and permanent residents with an equivalent amount for international students who are not eligible.
  2. Health and Safety:
    • Divest completely from the Evanston Police Department (EPD) and Chicago Police Department (CPD), two departments with a history of violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. This includes cancelling all contracts with EPD/CPD, barring the police departments from campus protests organized by the Northwestern community, ending all joint-patrols and information-sharing, disbanding the Northwestern University Police Department, and entrusting the safety of the university community to unarmed mediation and intervention teams with third-party oversight.
    • Implement emergency three-day sick, family, and bereavement leave without documentation for all graduate workers, and commit to covering all health costs resulting from COVID-19 that are incurred by graduate workers and their dependents. This coverage must also extend to all graduate students who finish their degrees during the crisis, until coverage is provided by another employer. 
    • Subsidize NU-SHIP coverage for children of graduate students and offer resources to student parents who are balancing research with full-time caregiving.
    • Strengthen protections for lab workers under the Return to Research Policy by implementing third party oversight of lab safety plans, proactively planning for a return to essential research in the event of a secondary outbreak, allowing for anonymous reports of non-compliance specifically related to COVID-19 safety protocols, and guaranteeing protection from retaliation for individuals who report non-compliance with a transparent protocol for enforcement. 
  3. Equity:
    • Meet all of the Coalition NU’s demands, including that TGS center diversity, equity and inclusion in its leadership, staff and funding; equitably support graduate student associations (GSAs) that serve underrepresented and underserved graduate students; and support the Native and Indigenous graduate community at Northwestern (specifically the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research).
    • Meet the demand of laid off service workers for full compensation and benefits equal to their full-time status for the entire Spring Quarter.