Search
  • Loyola Graduate Workers' Union

LGWU's COVID-19 Statement to Loyola Administration

Updated: Jun 13, 2020



April 6, 2020


Dear President Rooney, Provost Grzywacz, and Dean Regan:


The spread of COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented and turbulent time for all of us. As the Loyola Graduate Workers’ Union (LGWU), we recognize the stress that this has placed on all members of the Loyola community. We are also well aware of the potential financial strain that the pandemic has placed on the university, but we find it necessary to highlight the ways in which graduate workers’ preexisting struggles have been exacerbated in this time of crisis. To this end, we have surveyed over 100 graduate workers at Loyola to gain more specific information about their needs. The following letter identifies many of the needs raised by graduate workers at Loyola, foregrounding some of the most common struggles that they face.



For instance, our survey indicates that graduate workers at Loyola need an average of an additional $5,323 to make it through the summer months. Respondents anticipate an average loss of $4,281 in income, not including partner/spousal loss of income. 70.5% of respondents report that they are “extremely concerned” about summer funding and/or summer employment; 68.6% of respondents report being “extremely concerned” about their ability to make ends meet with what they have saved from their stipends or other university funding; 68.3% of respondents report being “extremely concerned” about COVID-19 testing and treatment being covered by university sponsored health insurance.


The Loyola Graduate Workers’ Union is happy to collaborate with the administration regarding any of the points in the following letter. Our shared goal is to care for our community, and as representatives of campus graduate workers, we feel the need to bring to light the precarity that we all face. We also recognize the struggles faced by non-tenure track faculty, staff, students, tenured faculty, and those throughout the Loyola community who are experiencing similar hardship at this time, and we want to be clear that it is absolutely imperative that their needs are met as well. After all, we are defined by our ability to provide and support the most vulnerable members of our community. As you will see throughout this letter, the major concerns that graduate workers face include financial insecurity, the precarity that comes with unemployment and a lack of funds in the summer months, and the general inability to make ends meet. This is true for all graduate workers, but it is especially so for our many international graduate workers.



From our survey, it is clear that financial stressors are of utmost concern to graduate workers; studies show that “financial stress is associated with decreases in both mental and physical health” and that financial stress significantly correlates with academic distress [1]. Financial stress corresponds to lower scores of “subjective well-being” and increases the likelihood of student attrition [2,3]. Our survey indicates that the issues of financial stability, mental and physical health, and academic success are inextricably linked for graduate student workers; therefore, in order for us to succeed as students, we must be supported as workers. This semester, we have already been in conversation with Provost Grzywacz regarding graduate workers’ needs and concerns. In this letter, we elaborate on some of these concerns with a focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated our financial, academic, professional, and emotional hardships.



In his March 20th letter to the graduate student body, Dean Regan assured us that “the Graduate School team and I will be doing all that we can to alleviate the legitimate amounts of anxiety that many of you are feeling.” Although he invited us to be in touch with our GPDs and individual faculty (and many of us have been), we are writing today to call on the entire university administration to support some of its most vulnerable employees. In his email, Dean Regan also encouraged the Loyola University community to come together to support one another. Graduate workers have supported our students as classes move online; we have supported our faculty members by adapting our TA and RA roles to fit the current situation; and we have supported our departments by continuing our various service responsibilities remotely. It is time now for the university administration to do its part and support its graduate population. Below we have summarized our most urgent needs:


1. LUC Must Minimize Economic Strain for Graduate Workers


1a. LUC graduate workers need a living wage.


As graduate workers have barely been able to make ends meet up until this point, the financial crisis due to COVID-19 makes sustaining on the current stipend all but impossible.


  • According to the survey conducted by LGWU in November 2019, the mean and median percentage of monthly income spent by LUC graduate workers on rent is 50% (where over 30% is considered cost-burdened).


  • The living wage in Chicago is $28,000, but funded Loyola graduate workers earn $18,000 to sustain them throughout the year. Hourly graduate workers make considerably less.


  • LUC graduate workers anticipate an average loss of $4,281 due to COVID-19 during the spring and summer months; this estimation also does not fully reflect the loss of spousal income.


  • 68.6% of March 2020 survey respondents answered that they were “extremely concerned” about making ends meet with what they are able to save from their stipend and other university funding during the COVID-19 crisis. **Most of those who were not “extremely concerned” noted that they have employed partners whose income they can rely upon, or still maintain employment outside of the university.**


  • It is unacceptable that attending LUC as a graduate student requires a dependence upon spousal income, multiple additional jobs, and/or parental support. The administration must consider the extreme exclusionary nature of this reality.


As many graduate workers have lost supplemental income, the inadequacy of wages at LUC leaves many graduate workers in a state of financial crisis. As members of a Jesuit university with a focus on social justice, we see meeting the basic needs of workers by providing a living wage as a basic step toward living according to Jesuit values.


//


1b. LUC graduate workers need summer financial support and opportunities.


According to our survey of over 100 graduate workers at Loyola, the average amount of income that a graduate worker at Loyola needs to make ends meet throughout the summer is an additional $5,323. Given that many graduate workers must supplement their income due to the low stipend amounts compared to the cost of living in Chicago, many graduate workers are forced to find outside work during the school year, and especially during the summers.


In past years, meeting our financial needs throughout the summer has been difficult, and the economic circumstances we currently face due to COVID-19 only serve to highlight the seriousness of this financial insecurity. Now more than ever, we find it necessary for Loyola to finally meet the basic needs of graduate workers. At present, graduate workers receiving stipends are funded for only 9 months. However, graduate workers live 12-month lives, not 9-month lives. This is indeed a crisis situation, but many graduate workers experience similar economic insecurity each summer, and we believe that now is the time to finally address the need for a living wage.


//


1c. Hourly LUC graduate workers need guaranteed employment.


It is also paramount that we express that, for the majority of hourly graduate student workers, tuition waivers are not provided. Not only are these students tasked with paying for their living expenses, but they are tasked with paying tuition and for health insurance coverage as well. For these students, the financial hardship that is caused by the revocation of graduate student work assignments has the potential to impact the university’s overall graduate enrollment.


Graduate student workers who take on an hourly position within the greater Loyola community do so not only to create an environment that is more conducive to their educational success while attending to their economic needs; they also do so in a manner that reaffirms their commitment to the university as a whole. Though non-funded graduate students are not as frequently included in the overall conversation surrounding graduate student workers’ rights, they are an equally integral part of Loyola’s working environment. To this end, we are also calling on the university to consider ways in which hourly graduate workers can continue to work in some capacity so that they do not face financial insecurity.


  • For hourly graduate workers who have been or will be furloughed, or who have had remote work capabilities rescinded, we ask the university to guarantee positions elsewhere in the university for these workers and/or guarantee positions upon the lifting of social distancing restrictions for the both the summer and fall semesters. Other departments or areas of the university might be in need of additional help at this time, and adapting hourly positions to protect the wages of hourly graduate workers ought to be of utmost importance.


  • Hourly student workers should be allowed to exceed the 19.5 hour weekly university employment cap in order to compensate for the financial strain of COVID-19, especially if they can be of aid to another department. Like their counterparts with stipends, hourly student workers often maintain positions outside the university, such as food service or retail positions, in order to maintain financial stability and make ends meet, from which they have been furloughed or terminated.

//


1d. Gym membership fees must be refunded in a timely manner.


//


1e. Stipulations for departmental, organizational, and student activity funds must be alleviated.

  • As many of our graduate student workers are experiencing extreme financial duress at this time, LUC must alleviate stipulations for departmental, organizational, and student activity funds to allow these amounts to be allocated towards supporting the basic needs of the Loyola community.


  • LUC must allow rollover funding for travel and departmental or organizational spending. Graduate student workers have lost invaluable opportunities to attend or present at conferences, conduct research, network, and expand their research and pedagogy. LUC must allow the funds that had been promised to facilitate these activities to roll over into the next academic year.


2. LUC Must Ensure Paid Sick Time


One of the most important ways to alleviate the problems that workers are currently facing is the guarantee of paid sick time. We ask the university to guarantee and inform graduate workers of paid sick time in the face of COVID-19.


  • We want to ensure that there is proper communication throughout the university so that graduate workers are aware of their ability to take paid sick time. Hourly graduate workers who have accrued sick time should be informed that this is available to them at this time.


  • For those who are on stipends and are either teaching and/or researching, it is important that the university can guarantee that stipends will not be cut due to taking sick time off due to COVID-19. Graduate workers are working around the clock to ensure that classes continue and that the university continues to function, but it is also important that graduate workers can take sick time when needed.


3. LUC Must Limit the Burden of Labor for Graduate Workers


3a. LUC must financially account for any additional labor provided by graduate workers in the University’s transition to online teaching.


Graduate workers across the university are stepping up to help facilitate the move to online learning, often utilizing pre-existing professional skill sets. It is imperative that LUC acknowledges its reliance upon graduate students as workers and its reliance upon the professional skills that these workers bring. This must be reflected in the university’s recognition of graduate students as workers, and serves as yet another reason why a stipend increase for graduate student workers is necessary.


//


3b. LUC must commit to timely and inclusive communication with graduate student workers.


Graduate student instructors were not given adequate warning and preparation time for the shift to online instruction in mid-March. Graduate student instructors had to rely upon word-of-mouth from individual faculty members, rather than receive timely updates about the transition from administration. LUC must include graduate student instructors in communication about course updates to faculty and staff.



4. LUC Must Support and Protect International Student Workers


4a. LUC must support and protect their international graduate student workers at this time through both financial and administrative support.


International student workers are especially vulnerable at this time. International student workers do not have access to unemployment benefits and will not benefit from any federal stimulus package funding. There have been issues with international graduate student workers having access to updating their DS-19s, yet the international student office is closed. Without an updated DS-19, international students will not be allowed to enter the country, thus compromising their programs.


//


4b. LUC must ensure COVID-19-related reporting mechanisms protect international students.

It is also imperative to ensure that during this time, all reporting related to COVID-19 related illness remains anonymous and must not, under any circumstances, lead to any involvement of law enforcement, ICE, or detention of individuals against their will.


//


4c. LUC must prioritize locating summer employment for international students.

For international students who are not repatriating, due to limited ability to find job opportunities outside the university because of visa restrictions, LUC should help to provide summer employment. Indeed, international students are not allowed to work jobs that are unrelated to their fields, thus limiting employment options. We find it necessary for the university to guarantee summer employment for international students at this time.


5. LUC Must Guarantee Support for Students with Disabilities

LUC must provide support and protections for student workers with disabilities whose completion of work duties is affected by university closures, digital access requirements, and lack of technology access.


6. LUC Must Continue to Provide Updated Information and Resources for COVID-19

LUC must continue to provide updated information and resources regarding the spread of COVID-19. These efforts must actively dispel racist, xenophobic assumptions about the disease.


7. LUC Must Provide and Adapt Technology for Graduate Workers


7a. LUC must provide student workers with reliable computers to use from home, for those who do not have them.


7b. LUC must relax restrictions on VPN access for student workers in crisis situations.


7c. LUC must ensure that all databases are accessible to students off-campus.


8. LUC Must Ensure Sufficient Crisis Coverage from University-Provided Health Insurance


8a. LUC must ensure that the university-provided health insurance plan includes free testing and treatment of COVID-19.


8b. LUC must ensure that students have reliable, affordable access to mental health care, including telehealth.


9. LUC Must Adapt Course Evaluations


Graduate student instructors rely upon course evaluations as early-career professionals; therefore, it is necessary for LUC to adapt this term’s course evaluation questions to account for the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.


LGWU is more than willing to collaborate with the LUC administration to craft these revised course evaluations.


10. LUC Must Adapt Time to Degree & Residency Requirements


10a. LUC must extend funded time for degree completion.


Due to the lack of access to resources and research opportunities, changes in life circumstances, additional caregiving responsibilities, and the overwhelming stress caused by a global pandemic, LUC must extend funded time for degree completion for graduate student workers. This situation mirrors that of the extension of tenure clocks.


//

10b. LUC must adapt internship requirements for programs that rely on internship completion.


//


10c. LUC must be flexible in allowing dissertation completion with the full funding package while working remotely or abroad.



11. LUC Must Prioritize Faculty Hiring in Aftermath of TF-VTIP


LUC must not use COVID-19 as an excuse to neglect re-hiring after the significant departure of over 100 faculty members due to the early retirement incentive (TF-VTIP). Loyola promises students intimate class sizes, available faculty, and a diverse range of academic fields. LUC must ensure that these professional promises are met in terms of re-hiring after TF-VTIP.


12. LUC Must Solicit Community Input and Provide Full Transparency Regarding Decisions About Terminating Jobs and Drastic University Changes


We ask that LUC be fully transparent and solicit community input regarding decisions about termination of jobs due to COVID-19. If there are ways to alleviate the struggle for members of our community, we seek to be a part of this solution.


//


An Expression of Gratitude for our Community:


We are also not unaware of all of the hard work that is currently taking place across Loyola University at this time. This is a difficult time for everyone, and we do not want to have necessary and noble work go unnoticed. To this end, we have heard from many graduate students who have expressed specific gratitude for:

  • Access to digital library services, digital ILLs

  • Extending the deadline for Pass/No Pass and Withdrawal

  • Allowing graduate workers to use travel grants towards nonrefundable travel

  • Flexibility and understanding from instructors, program directors, and more regarding deadlines and requirements

  • Information and updates from university concerning COVID-19. This is an immense undertaking, and we are appreciative of the many staff members who continue to work for their community at this time.

  • Individuals and departments actively adapting work for graduate workers to be done remotely (e.g., compensated work that might not have been a possibility otherwise)


The Loyola community is a special one, and we want to ensure that all members of this community are seen, heard, and valued for the hard work that they do.


What preventative measures could be taken to avoid such financial distress in the future?


  1. First and foremost, in order to guarantee the above mentioned needs, we see a seat at the bargaining table and a contract as valuable steps towards legitimate security.

  2. Second, a general increase in stipends and/or summer funding are valuable to protect the basic needs of graduate workers at Loyola. Time and time again, we find ourselves experiencing precarity, and therefore the obvious and clear way forward is a basic increase in stipends.

  3. Third, for those in hourly positions, increasing hourly rates to meet basic living standards is necessary. Just as those who have stipends find themselves in precarity, so too do those working hourly, if not more so, typically because they are also burdened by tuition, fees, and insurance costs.


In closing, we must make graduate study viable; graduate students’ lives are 12 months, not 9 months; in times of crisis, it becomes increasingly evident that the present conditions of graduate workers are not viable or are only viable to those with specific privileges and circumstances (working spouses, parental support, etc.). Even then, many of those in such circumstances are facing heavy economic burdens at this time.


We hope to hear back from you within the next week concerning these issues. Thank you for your prompt response, and we look forward to working closely with you on these issues.


Sincerely,


The Loyola Graduate Workers’ Union

loyolagradunion@gmail.com


//


[1] Jones, Payton J., So Yeon Park, and G. Tyler Lefevor. "Contemporary College Student Anxiety: The Role of Academic Distress, Financial Stress, and Support." Journal of College Counseling 21, no. 3 (2018): 252-64.


[2] Robb, C.A. College Student Financial Stress: Are the Kids Alright?. J Fam Econ Iss 38, 514–527 (2017). https://doi-org.flagship.luc.edu/10.1007/s10834-017-9527-6.


[3] Baker, Amanda R. and Catherine P. Montalto. "Student Loan Debt and Financial Stress: Implications for Academic Performance." Journal of College Student Development, vol. 60 no. 1, 2019, p. 115-120. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/csd.2019.0008.

Survey Feedback Annex


The following includes some of the data collected as a part of our recent survey of over 100 LUC graduate student workers in March 2020.


As noted, our survey indicates that graduate workers at Loyola need an average of $5323 to make it through the summer months.


So far, those who responded anticipate an average loss of $4,281 in income (without wholly factoring in partner or spouse’s loss of income).


//


With respect to the question about how concerned graduate workers are about summer funding and/or summer employment, on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 1 being not concerned and 5 being extremely concerned), 70.5% of respondents answered with a score of 5 (extremely concerned), 13.3% with a score of 4, and 6.7% with a score of 3.

//


With respect to the question about one’s ability to “make ends meet with what you're able to save from your stipend or other university funding,” on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 1 being not concerned and 5 being extremely concerned), 68.6% of respondents answered with a score of 5 (extremely concerned), 11.4% with a score of 4, and 8.6% with a score of 3, 6.7% with a score of 2, and 6.7% with a score of 1.


//


With respect to the question about COVID-19 testing and treatment being covered by university sponsored health insurance, on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 1 being not concerned and 5 being extremely concerned), 68.3% of respondents answered with a score of 5 (extremely concerned).



//


With respect to the question removing stipulations on graduate student activity fees to ensure that these funds can be used to meet graduate worker needs, on a scale from 1 to 5 (with 1 being not concerned and 5 being extremely concerned), 62.9% of respondents answered with a score of 5 (extremely concerned), 18.1% with a score of 4, and 9.5% with a score of 3.


//


Examples of the concerns that graduate workers raised in their additional comments:

Responses have been paraphrased to maintain anonymity.

  • Many of us rely on supplemental incomes that will no longer be available during the summer months due to COVID-19.

  • Many summer paid internships are now cancelled, and additional work as baristas, servers, etc., are also no longer available.

  • International graduate workers face increased trouble due to an inability to apply for unemployment and an inability to receive federal stimulus money.

  • Several workers directly expressed a want for the university to reach out and provide direct financial assistance at this time.

  • One worker expressed a concern about guaranteed availability of assistantships for 20-21. The unknown adds to the already precarious situation that they find themselves in.

  • Several workers expressed that their partners have lost their jobs and therefore face additional insecurity.

  • One worker expressed their concern that graduate workers who are teaching were not adequately informed about moving courses online until late in the process.

  • One worker has expressed that they are already on food stamps during the summer months due to the financial insecurity we face each summer, and this crisis will only magnify existing problems.

  • One worker expressed the need to extend degree completion dates and incomplete dates.

17 views0 comments