We’ve attached the full letter below:
To the Wolfpack Community,
On June 18th, Chancellor Woodson sent an email to all faculty and graduate student instructors with the request to increase the number of face-to-face classes being offered in the Fall 2020 semester. Since that email, departments have been asked to increase the sections offered face-to-face to at least 60% of their total courses. He contextualized this request by noting that “fulfilling our land-grant mission, maintaining the public’s trust, and ensuring our financial stability is dependent upon a successful reopening.” He also highlighted the importance of, now more than ever, transforming the lives of “new freshmen and transfer students, under-represented, first-generation, and students from under-resourced families and communities.” By all appearances, the goal of this request is to ensure the academic, community, and personal success of students in the coming year. This is an important focus to maintain, especially after the chaos and dissatisfaction that many students felt in the Spring 2020 semester.
Students deserve and have the right to an enriched academic experience, and more importantly, to feel safe on campus. With this request, graduate students and faculty are being told to do something that is explicitly not safe.
We are not safe.
With the Chancellor’s request, graduate students have been told that the economic welfare of the University is more important than not only our health, but also the health of our families and the health of our communities. Graduate students will become the expendable arms of the University’s academic mission, as we will be the ones forced to teach these in-person classes. We do not have tenure. We do not have effective access to Human Resources. We do not have the economic means to protect ourselves, especially when our healthcare is tied to our employment.
Graduate students are already overworked and underpaid by the University, and are now facing the dangerous reality of having our health and wellbeing expended in the name of the institution’s financial security, while the University continues to deprive us of that same security. This cannot be separated from the issues of systemic racism our university is complicit with, especially in the context that COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color. While faculty members are receiving $1,000 bonuses for teaching during COVID-19, many graduate students are still making less than $20,000 for the academic year and have to pay $1,288.80 in fees per semester. Over and above this, College of Engineering students pay a $750 Engineering Enhancement fee per semester. Our health insurance is also not sufficient, as we are saddled with an in-network out-of-pocket limit of $5,500 and an out-of-network out-of-pocket limit of $11,000. We live in one of the most expensive counties in the state and are not paid a living wage, which is approximately $27,000 a year.
The worth of an education is invaluable. However, the current worth of an undergraduate education at NC State is apparently the cost of at least one graduate student’s health, and possibly, their life. We sincerely appreciate the University’s drive to support and enrich the lives and education of “vulnerable students.” We do not appreciate the lack of consideration for the lives of vulnerable faculty and graduate students, especially with increasing cases of COVID-19 in 20 and 30 year-olds. We should not be sacrificed for the “financial stability” of an institution. In many University speeches, we hear that we are a part of the campus family. However, we constantly ask what kind of a family acts in such a way. Top management in major companies across the world sacrifice their salaries and bonuses in order for a company to prosper, yet NC State struggles to support U.S. and non-U.S. graduate students.
To the Student Body: Support one another. Unfortunately, our classes will not exist in the same format to which we are accustomed. Online classes are difficult, and Zoom seminars are exhausting. However, if we truly believe that we are an inclusive and equitable campus, we need to commit to protecting the Pack and ensuring that we are not putting ourselves and others in danger. Online classes present unique challenges, but those pale in comparison to the health and safety risks we face if we must teach in these unsafe environments.
To the NC State Administration: Focus on our needs instead of focusing on your convenience. Graduate students, primarily graduate instructors, have been shut out of conversations and are not being afforded the opportunity to advocate for themselves. If you want to balance the safety of the campus with the quality of education then ask the individuals who simultaneously teach and take classes: graduate students. We need protections for the fall semester and the future.
We demand the following changes be implemented immediately:
- Ensure the campus reactivation plan is in line with up-to-date CDC recommendations and guidelines.
- Reverse the current requirement that departments have 60% of classes be offered with a face-to-face option and create a plan for minimizing face-to-face instruction by offering an online option for all courses.
- Establish a formal, written policy that graduate students will not be forced or pressured to teach face-to-face sections if they are not comfortable doing so.
- This policy should include:
- Protections from retaliation for not teaching a face-to-face section
- A provision that graduate students are not required to disclose medical history when saying they are not comfortable teaching face-to-face sections
- A provision that graduate students will not lose funding if they teach an online section of their courses
- This policy should include:
- Establish a confidential mechanism for graduate students to report if they are being pressured to perform their assistantship duties in an unsafe or dangerous environment due to COVID-19, or if they are receiving backlash for refusing to complete their duties.
- Work with graduate students to establish a graduate student Bill of Rights that includes specific protections and rights for graduate students at NC State.
- Establish a University-wide standard for departments to increase graduate stipends to match the cost of living in Wake County, North Carolina.
- Outline a clear plan for accommodations for extending GSSP and departmentally-tied assistantship funding for graduate students whose research has been impacted by COVID-19.
- Re-charge the Mandatory Student Fees Task Force to continue critical discussions of decreasing mandatory graduate student fees both during COVID-19 and once operations resume normally.
- Adjust student fee amounts to account for reduced campus operations for the 2020-2021 academic year.
- Increase transparency of healthcare negotiations — specifically healthcare costs, insurance plans, out-of-pocket limits, and deductible payments — between NC State University and BlueCross BlueShield.
- Ensure that graduate student healthcare plans have affordable healthcare coverage for treating COVID-19.
- Critically evaluate and address inequities in graduate student healthcare and medical insurance plans to protect students working in unsafe and hazardous environments due to COVID-19.
- Outline a clear plan for supporting international students about their visas, assistantships, and recourse for dropping or adding classes.
- By July 22nd, 2020, establish a University task force in partnership with Student Government and the Graduate Student Association to identify and address current issues faced by graduate students, both in relation to COVID-19 and long term issues.
- The membership of the task force should include:
- Co-chairs: 1 graduate student and 1 member from the Graduate School leadership
- Representation from Student Government
- Representation from the Graduate Student Association
- Representation from the Black Graduate Student Association
- Graduate student representation from the Campus Community Centers
- At-large graduate student representatives
- Equal student to faculty membership ratios
- The membership of the task force should include:
NC State has existed and thrived for 133 years. We have been through wars, economic collapse, recessions, natural disasters, and the Pandemic of 1918. NC State will survive COVID-19. We must make sure that our community members survive as well. We must Think and Do better.
We request a public commitment to accomplishing these demands by July 15th, 2020.