Daily file photo by Alison Albelda
University officials answered questions about relief measures for The Graduate School students in the May 13 Faculty Senate session.
Interim Provost Kathleen Hagerty told faculty members the University is monitoring issues concerning TGS students’ situations during the COVID-19 pandemic, which include difficulty accessing in-person materials and lack of childcare.
“We know that the graduate students are very concerned,” Hagerty said. “Now, the graduate students are a very heterogeneous group, so there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution for every graduate student in the University and what we really have to do is work with the deans.”
Issues like access to materials and childcare, Hagerty added, are also a matter of safety for the staff at the library and daycare centers. The University currently doesn’t have an answer to these issues “in the short run,” Hagerty said.
However, she added that the University will honor standing financial commitments such as grants and will compartmentalize TGS students by disciplines, timelines and grant status and figure out solutions.
“We’re not going to sit on it,” Hagerty said. “We need to move quickly but it just takes a little while to sort of get it all done.”
Still, Hagerty said the future may be “terrible” for the academic job market. The University is not hiring for next year. Hiring freezes have become common throughout industries, including other academic institutions, she said. She added that retirements will not occur until a few years later. While the University will help TGS students finish their theses, Hagerty said, it is unclear on what the University will do after that.
Neurobiology Prof. Fred Turek raised concerns about Northwestern’s national ranking being endangered by financial constraints, calling funded research a “moneymaker” for the University.
“Northwestern has risen into the top, top, top ranks of research institutions relatively rapidly,” Turek said. “If we began to begin to cut back on that research enterprise, we’re going to be essentially eating our seed corn.”
In response, Hagerty told the Faculty Senate that the University will prioritize the research enterprise, while also considering immediate concerns of safety and shelter-in-place laws.
The research community is a more “controlled group,” Hagerty said, composed of adults who tend to stay within the vicinity of the campus. The University will plan to reopen research around June 1, in accordance with Illinois law, Hagerty said.
Whether the University will provide the means for research contributors to continue in the long term remains unclear.
Northwestern University Graduate Workers maintains that the group hasn’t received direct communication on receiving an additional year of funding due to the fact that TGS students’ academic timelines have been delayed by the pandemic.
The organization published a COVID-19 petition in March, and the #universal1yr campaign has since received support from various University departments and is part of a network of universities included in an academic solidarity statement that spans global educational institutions.
“The University works because we do and Northwestern has a material, financial, and moral responsibility to take care of all of its workers in return,” the letter read. “The pandemic has put many of our research plans on hold, affecting timelines for completion of our dissertations, publications, and further promotion of our careers.”
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