Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Open Letter: Northwestern, pay your advanced graduate workers!

Dear President Schill, Provost Hagerty, Dean Mayo and Dean Randolph,

“Northwestern deeply values the contributions that graduate students make to its research and teaching missions” — this is your purported stance toward graduate workers that you have reiterated time and again.

Yet, upper-year graduate workers are currently being denied the ability to work and do research. Some of us have been abruptly denied further funding beyond Summer Quarter. Others are anxiously waiting to hear back whether they will be funded next academic year.

The large community of international workers among us are especially in a precarious position. Your website proudly states that “international students … enrich the academic experience of all students by contributing to the cultural diversity of our campus,” but right now, without funding or clear communication, dozens of us are scared of being forced to leave the U.S.

We, as graduate workers at this university, urge you to uphold your commitment to supporting junior scholars and honor your responsibilities toward us as your employees. We demand that your administration provides timely, consistent and transparent information about advanced funding as soon as possible.

Workers in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences enter the graduate school with five years of guaranteed funding. In the past, we have secured additional years of funding through the Advanced Student Quartersfrom Weinberg as needed to complete our dissertation.

This year, however, Weinberg has not only dramatically slashed the funding pool for ASQs but also forced workers to teach more quarters than they have had to in the past. The notifications for these changes are an unpleasant shock and arrived unreasonably late in May, leaving us with very few alternative resources since the deadlines for most fellowship and teaching position applications have long passed.

We are primarily rising sixth- and seventh-year graduate workers and were in the early years of our graduate careers when COVID-19 began. We already experienced the difficulties of pivoting to online learning and teaching, navigating already challenging graduate programs alongside a global pandemic and not being able to conduct research in labs or travel for our fieldwork.

If you do not move to support us, our stipends and healthcare will run out soon. Many of us will be forced to move elsewhere to save living costs or to continue our dissertation research while working another full-time job.

Even those who are fortunate enough to have landed temporary teaching positions at NU and other institutions in the area will be struggling to finish writing a dissertation while teaching multiple courses every quarter. Moreover, we will still be left to pay thousands of dollars for healthcare coverage out of pocket.

Those of us who are international workers are disproportionately affected, especially F-1 and J-1 visa holders — the two main visa categories for graduate work in the United States. To maintain visa status and legally stay in the U.S., international workers are required to show proof of funding, which includes living expenses, healthcare coverage and tuition costs. Unless we show tens of thousands of dollars on our bank statement and purchase NU-SHIP out-of-pocket, we risk deportation.

We feel extremely burdened in showing that level of savings while being on a stipend that had been reducing because of inflation. Not only would finding an on-campus or off-campus job be extremely difficult for us — employment for international workers is subject to very restrictive rules — but a promise of future employment does not qualify as proof of funding and cannot be used to renew our visa status.

If left unaddressed today, new cohorts of graduate workers will likely face the same situation every year. It is extremely unjust for NU to profit off of our research labor and not pay us for it.

As some graduate workers have testified:

“They have informed us of these changes so late that application deadlines for other sources of support have passed. As an international student, my visa is tied to my funding and I am worried that without ASQs I will not have time to finish my dissertation, let alone find another job that will sponsor me to stay in the U.S.”

“Yes, (a) visa is dependent upon funding. For the unfunded quarters, I won’t be able to maintain visa status if I can’t prove that I can fund myself, and being out of visa status means I need to leave the U.S.”

On top of this, the communication from central administration, Weinberg and individual departments has been delayed, inconsistent and contradictory. Graduate workers are forced to shuffle between their home department, Weinberg and the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, without a clear and definitive answer.

If you do not make immediate changes, we will face the untenable reality of working another full-time job, completing our dissertation research and going on the academic job market all at the same time. This will surely lead to a dramatic decrease in degree completion rate and a sharp decline in NU’s placement record.

We note, in addition, that denying workers the opportunity to bank more than four quarters discourages us from seeking out external fellowships and other funding sources, which will negatively impact NU’s academic reputation. To offer more substantial advanced funding is in the interests of both our graduate worker body and NU as a top-tier research institution.

University President Michael Schill, Provost Kathleen Hagerty, Dean Kelly Mayo and Dean Adrian Randolph, we call on you to fulfill the following reasonable and necessary demands as soon as possible: Provide adequate advanced funding for the affected cohorts, including allowing graduate workers to accrue more than four banked quarters; widen access to internal fellowships and teaching assistantships; guarantee healthcare coverage for all graduate workers with active enrollment; and provide international workers with sufficient financial and legal support.

Two weeks ago, a letter was sent to Dean Randolph with signatures from thirty-two current and former directors of graduate studies, chairs and associate chairs in fifteen departments across the College, testifying to the legitimate and urgent need for their graduate advisees to receive continued support to continue their work as researchers and instructors and complete their dissertation work. You still have not moved.

As you, the University administration, sit unmoved while our livelihoods become more precarious by the day, it is time for us to organize and fight for adequate support so we can continue our research and teaching activities for your university.

On Thursday, May 30, graduate workers, along with supporting faculty and staff members, will gather at the Rock at 11 a.m. and march to University admin offices and demand the opportunity to work that we deserve.

Signed,
Adam J. Goldsmith
Adithya Upadhya
Adrien Deberghes
Amanda Fu
Andrew Montequin
Cataldo Lamarca
Charlotte Mencke
Citlayi Guerrero Villaseñor
Divjyot Singh
Drew Weidner
Elisabeth Latawiec
Emma McGorray
Gracie Siffer
Isabel Griffith-Gorgati
Jack Hamill
Jakob M. Reinke
Jorin T. Graham
Kavitha Chintam
Kristen Beckett
Lauren Johnson
Maddie Brucker
Mariam Hirsi
Marie Lamarque
Muhammad Ridha
Nicholas Pogharian
Pietro Zanin
Rivaan Kakkaramadam
Samuel Aftel
Thomas Ie
Thomas McKenzie-Smith
Vineet Gupta
And many more members of Northwestern University Graduate Workers – UE Local 1122

Editor’s Note: This letter may not represent the views of every individual member of Northwestern University Graduate Workers.

Northwestern University Graduate Workers – UE Local 1122 can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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