COVID-19 has hit UNC’s graduate workers hard, turning what for many was already a precarious economic position into a pressing crisis. On Friday, April 10th, the Workers Union at UNC sent the Graduate School a letter expressing concern for the safety and financial security of our graduate workers, and asking the administration to take some basic steps to stabilize and secure our situation. We received no response from the administration.
However, on Monday, April 13th at 3:02pm and 3:03pm, all graduate workers did receive two emails from the Dean of the Graduate School about “Tips for making progress towards your degree” and “Ways to stay productive.”
While we recognize the positive intent of these emails, the message showed a lack of understanding for the scope of the challenges faced by many graduate workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Suggestions to analyze data, apply for a fellowship, or write a manuscript have been met with disbelief from graduate workers who are locked out of labs and archives, reckoning with cancelled grant and job opportunities, and working overtime to adjust to teaching online.
Graduate workers are struggling financially and emotionally, and they need to know what concrete steps the University will take to ensure our basic needs. As such, we urge the administration to read, consider, and fulfill the basic needs of graduate workers outlined in the letter titled “Demands for Grad Workers & Solidary Statement for Campus Workers” delivered to the graduate school on Friday 4/10.
We note the resources offered so far by the Graduate School to graduate workers in crisis, namely the Carolina Student Impact Fund, and the Graduate Student COVID-19 Impact Fund. However, these are competitive, one-time grants to cover financial emergencies this semester and lost funding over the summer, and we lack details about the programs’ scope that could reassure us that everyone who needs help will get it. We further ask the Graduate School to engage with us on how graduate workers can expect to support themselves, not only during the summer, but in the coming years for those facing a job market heavily impacted by COVID-19.
One crucial source of support should be the $17.3 million in newly allocated federal funding directed to UNC as part of the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), half of which is legally designated for emergency student financial aid. We assert that a portion of this should be allocated to meeting graduate workers’ demands outlined in our previous letter, and ask the administration for details on its plans to disburse these urgently needed funds. We would be pleased to meet with administration to discuss the priorities of Graduate and Campus Workers and how such funding can be applied to best meet our immediate needs.
In Solidarity, UE 150: The Workers Union at UNC
Below is the Email List of Suggestions: