UW-Madison Graduate School Dean <graduateschooldean@grad.wisc.edu>Mon, Mar 30, 8:44 PM
to taa@taa-madison.org, Office, LAURENT, PATRICK, president@taa-madison.org

Dear TAA Leadership,

We appreciate your message regarding issues that graduate students are facing.  As you noted, the university is working to quickly identify and mitigate hardships for students, faculty, and staff during this unprecedented and challenging time. This includes leveraging not only university resources but local, state, and federal assistance.

While we do not have answers to all of your questions right now, we can offer some updates, let you know more information will be shared in the coming days, and point you to existing resources.

Information on the university’s COVID-19 response has been communicated to the campus community from the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, the Graduate School and others. The most up-to-date information for graduate students can be found under the “graduate students” tab on the covid19.wisc.edu website.

Regarding your specific concerns:

Segregated fees: The university has received guidance from UW System that refunds for tuition and segregated fees will not be provided for the Spring 2020 semester.  As you know, segregated fees support important campus services used by graduate and undergraduate students alike. Although some of these services will be functioning at reduced capacity for the remaining six weeks of the semester, they were fully operational for the majority of the semester. All of these services still have employees that still require our support, and many have facilities related debt service which must be paid.  

Some of these services, such as the Open Seat Food Pantry, where student employees are paid through segregated fees, need to remain available to students during this difficult time. UHS is an example of a segregated fee supported service that continues to provide a critical service to campus, offering mental health services via telehealth and phone consultations for medical health concerns.  In-person appointments are available for some medical concerns. Appointments can be made by calling UHS at 608-265-5600 or booking online in your MyUHS account at uhs.wisc.edu.

Student hourly employees: Remote work arrangements for student hourlies are encouraged when possible, enabling many to continue to be paid for the remainder of the semester.  Students should prioritize their health and wellbeing, and remain in close contact with their direct supervisor about the potential to work remotely.

Income continuation has been granted for both federal work study and all other student hourly employees for two weeks. (To clarify, income continuation does not apply to graduate assistants, because they qualify for the COVID-19 leave policy as well as paid sick leave benefits.)  We recognize that income continuation relief only goes so far; please be aware that the university is also providing financial assistance through the Office of Student Financial Aid and the Dean of Students Office crisis loan program. A complete list of grant, loan, and basic needs resources is included at the end of this message and can also be found on the covid19.wisc.edu site.

Rent and housing: Graduate students living in University Apartments who have concerns about their ability to pay are encouraged to contact University Apartments to discuss their individual situations: leasing@housing.wisc.edu.  COVID-19-related updates for University Apartment residents are posted online and emailed directly to residents.

For graduate students who do not live in University Apartments, community resources may be available to help them navigate individual situations with their landlords: the Tenant Resource Center is one such organization for Dane County residents. Note that Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has suspended all evictions and foreclosures statewide for the next 60 days.

Academic flexibility: In addition to extending the course drop deadline to April 17, the Provost has recently announced an adjustment to standard grading policy, allowing students – including graduate students – to change the grading for their courses to a pass/no-credit basis after they receive the assigned letter grade if they so choose.  This extends the time for students to elect a special COVID-19 P/F grade for a qualified course until May 22, eight days after the final grade deadline. Enacting an unprecedented exception like this is complex, and the details for graduate students are in development. We hear your concerns and we expect to have more information for graduate students very soon.  

Mental health services: This is particularly important during this challenging time. The University Health Services Mental Health webpage is updated to reflect current services. Your point about continuation of mental health services is good, because state lines do matter when providing these services. SHIP insurance covers many out of area providers and is still active and available for students who have purchased that coverage.

For students with different insurance plans or no insurance, UHS care managers can help them identify providers in their current location through phone care management sessions. UHS offers free online self-help cognitive behavioral programs available through SilverCloud for all students, faculty, and staff. The UHS mental health crisis line remains available regardless of location. We encourage all students to reach out if they need support. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also has information about Taking Care of Your Mental Health in the Face of Uncertainty.

In closing, thank you for all that you do in support of the education, research, and outreach missions of the university. We are committed to supporting our university community during this time of crisis. As the situation continues to develop, covid19.wisc.edu will be the primary location that we will post updates, with graduate student updates posted at covid19.wisc.edu/graduate-students. Please check the site regularly for the latest developments.

William J. Karpus

Dean of the Graduate School

Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

University of Wisconsin-Madison


Since the University remains unmoved, here’s part of our plan:

  • If you are experiencing financial hardship, we urge you to fill out the University’s Emergency Assistance Form. Some have successfully received hardship grants to cover the amount of their segregated fees. We want to make sure everyone gets the assistance they require.
  • Share your story with administrators. Post a video or audio recording on social media explaining why you signed the letter, and why your peers, students, colleagues, and friends need #ReliefNow (see our Twitter page for examples).

If you are in need of immediate assistance, please don’t hesitate to make use of our Mutual Aid Fund. (And please circulate the donation page to others so that we can continue to provide aid.)

As we wrote to administrators on March 30th, there is something deeply troubling about an institution that compels many of its lowest-paid employees to resort to mutual aid, with their colleagues sacrificing what little disposable income they possess to support their peers. But we are so moved by the outpouring of love and generosity and know that the Fund is a testament to the solidarity that unites this educational community.

As we expressed to multiple journalists interested in covering this story, the demands outlined in this letter are cost effective and within the scope of possibility. Leading institutions like Harvard have already paved the way forward.

We’ll keep you updated in the coming days. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have questions, concerns, or ideas!

Sincerely,
The Teaching Assistants’ Association, AFT Local 3220