Takeaway: We’re writing to update you about the new program for graduate funding extensions announced on all three campuses this week, what we are still fighting to achieve university-wide, and what comes next in our fiscal emergency negotiations.
This week, management unveiled programs on the three campuses to extend funding for graduate students whose work has been disrupted by the pandemic—something our union has been fighting for since the start of the crisis. That there will be any funding extensions at all is due to our union’s efforts, led by our grad leaders. However, the programs announced on each campus all fall short of what we need, leaving out critical elements of equity and security and making each program overly complex and confusing.
In the past week-and-a-half, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Prabhas Moghe worked collaboratively with our union to negotiate the terms of a program that mostly addresses the needs of our members. However, the programs announced on each campus fall short on important points. We intend to reiterate our bottom-line demands during fiscal emergency negotiations. We must have enforceable provisions that ensure the extension program we discussed is carried out.
Before we go into more details, we want to thank those who are responsible for the advances we’ve made: our grad members for their organizing and leadership, our full-time faculty for the support they expressed, and our Coalition of Rutgers Unions for standing together to fight for grad extensions, as they did at our Coalition press conference.
We have consistently called for a program with clear, university-wide criteria for eligibility, under which grads can apply directly for an extension of the funding and benefits they currently receive. Grads who are currently TA/GAs would get a TA/GAship for one or two semesters, with union salary and benefits, including continuation of state health insurance and tuition remission. Grads currently on fellowships would be extended as fellows and keep their current health plan. Unfunded grads can apply for stipends. The extensions would be for any pandemic-related disruptions through the end of 2021. We are pushing for extensions to continue through the Spring 2022 semester.
We have also argued that the grad extension program should not include academic standing as an eligibility requirement (because of the impact of the pandemic), and it must have measures ensuring transparency, including regular reports to confirm that eligible grads are indeed receiving funding extensions. Finally, we have argued, and we believe the administration agrees, that all eligible grads (anyone impacted by the pandemic) should receive an extension, so consequently there should be no financial cap on the program, and the central administration should ensure that all needed extensions are funded.
The programs announced this week differ from campus to campus, but all fall short of our members’ needs. One shortcoming is funding. We have argued that the central administration (which has money from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act earmarked for exactly this purpose) should fully fund these needed extensions. The needs of grads can’t be pitted against their departments that are already suffering financially under the Barchi/RCM budget model.
We have found many other shortcomings in the programs announced this week. Rather than university-wide criteria, the responsibility of determining eligibility is left up to individual departments. Grads who haven’t completed their coursework are excluded. Applicants must produce letters of support on two of the campuses. In New Brunswick, grads must be in good academic standing, whether or not pandemic-related crises are to blame for their current standing. We are in ongoing talks and will push for critical changes in all these programs.
We will demand that all the provisions of the grad extension program we highlighted be included in any agreement coming out of our fiscal emergency negotiations. Our Coalition unions have made significant progress toward our demands—job security, grad funding extensions, PTL reappointments, and a timetable for paying our canceled raises. But there is some distance to go yet before we would accept furloughs for a half-day a week under a work-sharing program that would protect our incomes.
Because of the pressure our union has exerted, we have a better program for grad funding extensions than management wanted to concede. But we need to make sure the program we discussed with the administration is implemented throughout the university. We have a fight ahead of us to achieve that and our other priorities. We hope to have a better update for you on Monday.
Todd, Becky, Alexandra, and Erin
Todd Wolfson, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Rebecca Givan, Vice President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Alexandra Adams, Executive Council, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Erin Santana, Member, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
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