Takeaway: Rutgers management has announced that it will maintain salaries and tuition remission for international grad workers even if they will work remotely this fall from outside the United States. But the new guidance from the administration stops short of fully supporting new international graduate students if they are unable to travel to this country. We should celebrate this resolution for our current fellow union members—and especially the role of our international grad worker colleagues in winning this reversal—but we must next organize to stand with our fellow-members-to-be among incoming international grad students.
We learned today that the Rutgers administration has reversed the attack on our international grad worker colleagues that we wrote to you about last week and earlier this week. We’re writing again to let you know about the outcome of this imminent threat to the livelihoods of international TAs and GAs, to thank the grad workers and other union members who leapt into action to confront this issue, and to talk about what still needs to be done to support incoming international grad students.
As the memo we received today states: “International TAs, GAs and Fellows have been able to work remotely (and out of the country) since the University transitioned its operations in March, and this practice should continue.” This guidance overturns a diametrically opposed policy put forward in an SAS-NB memo that apparently originated in the Office of General Counsel. After international grad workers and other members of the union, including department chairs and program directors, questioned the policy with deans, the issue was taken up by top administrators, including President Jonathan Holloway. We’re glad to see that the new guidance repudiates the position of the General Counsel.
This is not only a moral and just outcome but a logical one. In the past, TAs and GAs who completed their work assignments from abroad were paid. Last week, the Office of Research and Graduate Education within SAS-NB committed to paying TA/GAs and graduate fellows who are U.S. citizens if they are abroad this fall. Singling out international TAs and GAs would be discriminating against noncitizen members of our union, pure and simple.
It was heartening that so many deans and others in positions of academic authority reacted against the General Counsel’s attempt to bully and punish some of the most vulnerable among our union’s ranks. Likewise with our new president—reversing the General Counsel’s threat is a welcome change of course within the Rutgers management bureaucracy. Let’s hope this is the start of the “new day” we’ve been waiting on!
But we reserve our deepest thanks for our international grad workers who themselves reacted so quickly to this threat and helped our union respond effectively. Hard on the heels of organizing against the Trump administration’s restrictions on international grad workers, they notified other union leaders and members, compiled the information about how far out of step Rutgers was on this question, and reached out to ask representatives of Rutgers for answers. Our union’s International Students Working Group put together a second video on the new threat they faced (you can watch the first one, too, if you haven’t seen it). Threats like the one from General Counsel are designed to intimidate people into silence. Our international grad worker colleagues refused to be silenced, and that’s why we have a reversal.
Unfortunately, this is not a complete victory. The memo from management acknowledges that “newly admitted and funded international PhD students will be provided with Chancellor scholarships or other forms of tuition remittance.” But it states that international students who have not secured the required documentation—some of which must be applied for at government facilities inside the United States—will not receive a salary or stipend or be eligible for health insurance.
New international students already faced uncertainty because of the latest Trump administration scheme to withhold relaxed restrictions for new students with F-1 visas. ICE was forced to reverse tightened restrictions that would bar already-enrolled students with F-1 visas from taking all their courses online, but it seems to be quietly sneaking in these harsher restrictions for new students. We hope Rutgers will work to overcome all obstacles to new international students beginning their studies this year remotely; no one should have to defer.
All this is a cruel burden on our colleagues-to-be barely a month before the fall semester is to begin. The International Student Working Group has received urgent messages from incoming students who have quit jobs and terminated leases in anticipation of starting their programs in the fall and having an income from Rutgers, but they are now unable to secure necessary documentation to travel to the United States because of coronavirus lockdowns. At the least, incoming international grad workers who might have chosen to stay abroad because of the pandemic are being pressured to travel to this country, amid all the fears about the surging infection rate here. Are these students, who we consider to be members of our Rutgers community, supposed to change all their plans and find new avenues of employment barely one month before the fall semester begins?
We stand with our colleagues-to-be and urge the administration to consider alternative ways of admitting and funding incoming international students. There are complications to overcome—international students on F-1 visas are required by the federal government to apply for various work-status documents in order to be paid. But other universities—including NYU and Harvard—are developing workarounds to support their incoming international students. The International Student Working Group is investigating these alternatives, and our union will stand behind a proposal they develop. We encourage department chairs and program directors (and any other interested faculty) to contact us to collaborate in this effort to not just admit, but to also support, our new colleagues.
With only a month before the academic year starts, this matter cannot wait—Rutgers must create solutions as soon as possible. If not, it will be responsible for the joblessness of those who would be its future graduate students. We urge the new administration under President Holloway to recognize that a just solution must be found that protects everyone in our community, including incoming students.
International Student Working Group
Todd Wolfson, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
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