TGS extends milestone deadlines, though policy shift “does not imply a funding extension”

Rebecca+Crown+Center.+Northwestern+is+going+back+to+letter+grading+this+fall%2C+according+to+an+email+from+the+Provost%E2%80%99s+Office.

Daily file photo by Catherine Buchaniec

Rebecca Crown Center. Northwestern is going back to letter grading this fall, according to an email from the Provost’s Office.

James Pollard, Summer Managing Editor

Current graduate students will have one more year to complete their milestone deadlines, though the “extension does not imply a funding extension,” The Graduate School announced Thursday in an email to the TGS community.

Among the milestone and degree deadlines included in the policy change are the qualifying exam, prospectus, Ph.D. degree and master’s degree deadlines.

“It is still in students’ best interests to reach their milestones as soon as they are able and on a typical timeline,” the email stated. “The Graduate School strongly encourages programs and students to work together in the context of their field of study to manage this difficult period and, insofar as possible, to remain on a trajectory toward normative time to degree.”

The email, signed by Interim Dean of TGS Kelly Mayo and other administrators, said programs with their own internal milestone deadlines may keep those in place. While the programs are not expected to shift deadlines for all students, the email added they are encouraged to work with individual students to “make reasonable allowances” if warranted.

The decision comes after many students and faculty expressed concern over the deadlines in light of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the email.

“Our hope is that this milestone adjustment will alleviate some of the pressure students and faculty are feeling as we continue to navigate this period together,” the email stated.

In a statement on the milestone extension, Northwestern University Graduate Workers said the policy change is “completely insufficient” and does nothing for graduate students without “concomitant funding.”

“The announcement acknowledges our need for funding in order to pursue milestones, while simultaneously denying us that funding,” the statement said. “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.”

The group demanded the University implement a universal one year funding extension, divest from Northwestern University Police Department and Chicago Police Department, subsidize NU-SHIP coverage for children of graduate students, and strengthen protections for lab workers, among other demands. The statement also demanded the University meet Coalition NU’s demands as well as laid off service workers’ demands for full compensation.

NUGW co-chair Zorimar Rivera Montes, a fifth year Ph.D. student in the department of Spanish and Portuguese, said it is not realistic for the University to extend the timeline but not the funding. The administration, she said, assumes graduate students and workers are privileged people who can rely on their parents for money.

“But that’s not the reality of who we are,” she said. “We are working professionals. We have families. We are married. We have children.”

A first-generation student who moved from Puerto Rico, she added the coronavirus pandemic has left members of her family without income. Now, she said she must support them with only the income she gets from Northwestern, “which is very little.” The extension, she said , is also necessary because the already bleak job market for academics has become “the most dire, almost non-existent” job market graduate students have seen in years.

For Andrew Hull, NUGW’s Unity Chair, the shift is “welcome” and “a start.”

“They do recognize that this has been massively disruptive for a lot of people,” Hull said. “However, I am really definitely disappointed to hear that so far no funding extension has come from this.”

For graduate students earlier along in their graduate program — around their second year, or in their prospectus, for example — he said he has seen how a milestone extension will help significantly. But students in their fourth, fifth and sixth years especially need this funding, Hull said, as they are more likely to be “economically exposed to COVID(-19).”

It is “really strange” and “counterintuitive,” Hull added, that the University would grant that academic work has been disrupted and will take longer but maintain the funding timeline of six years.

NUGW will continue to fight for universal funding, Hull said. The language of the email, which said a funding extension is not implied, suggested to him that “the door is still open there.”

“The fact that the phrasing is weak enough…still shows we can push the administration further on this,” Hull said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently announced that international students taking online classes this fall may risk deportation if their entire course load is conducted online. In light of this rule, Hull added that the issues of immigration and funding are linked.

In its statement, NUGW said this lack of funding is particularly detrimental for international graduate students. Without guaranteed funding, the statement said that international students unable to secure external funding will lose their visas and be forced to return to their home countries.

“Northwestern has an opportunity right now to really show international students that they care,” Hull said. “They can show that by giving true material support to international students.”

Yunkyo Kim contributed reporting. This story has been updated to include comments from NUGW co-chair Zorimar Rivera Montes.

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