Takeaway: International graduate student workers living abroad are stuck in the painful position of not knowing if they will receive salaries for teaching and working this fall. Last week, the university announced that U.S. citizens living outside the country can be paid as TA/GAs and as graduate fellows. The union and the Rutgers International Students Working Group (ISWG) urge the university to make the same decision for our international graduate student workers by the end of this week.
As we wrote to you last week, our international graduate workers have been anxiously awaiting a decision that will affect their livelihoods for the coming school year. On Friday, July 17, the union learned that the Office of Graduate Research and Education in the School of Arts and Sciences in New Brunswick had emailed departments advising international TAs and GAs that the university would categorically refuse to pay them to teach and work and would cancel tuition remission if they remained outside the United States this fall.
When we communicated with Academic Labor Relations and the Graduate Deans about this issue, we were encouraged to learn that this is not a settled policy. Last Friday, in response to our communication, the Office of Research and Graduate Education emailed graduate directors and chairs stating that U.S. citizens who are abroad will be paid as TA/GAs and graduate fellows in the fall. But the email also emphasized that there is no decision yet on international graduate students who are abroad.
Although this is a step in the right direction, it clearly discriminates against non-citizen TA/GAs and graduate fellows. To date, international graduate workers abroad remain in fear about their future at the university, with the fall semester beginning in a little over a month.
Earlier this week, AAUP-AFT President Todd Wolfson met with Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway, who stated that the administration would make a decision on this harmful policy by the end of this week. We welcome this news and hope that the university will reverse course and support international graduate students in the same manner it supports others in our community.
That said, it is critical to understand the harm and anxiety this policy has caused for the last two weeks. Since the policy was communicated in a department memo, some international students have been scrambling to find new jobs in the event that they are stuck in their countries of origin due to lockdowns, international travel restrictions, and/or visa expiration without possibility of renewals. Other students are frantically trying to cancel rent in their country of origin and find flights to the U.S., all while managing anxiety about COVID-19 transmission rates in the United States. Moreover, incoming international students are awaiting a decision on whether their TA/GA positions or graduate fellowships and tuition remission will be paid by their departments.
It is also critical to point out that most universities have been much more accommodating in support of their international TA/GAs. For instance, most of the Big Ten Universities have already guaranteed stipend and tuition remission for TA/GA appointments, whether the grad workers live on U.S. soil or not—and they have promised the same for incoming international students who cannot be in the US for the fall semester. Rutgers must follow the example of these other universities. To that end, we call on the university administration to decide that TA/GAs living abroad, whether continuing or incoming grad student workers, will be paid to teach and work remotely.
We are encouraged by the recent actions of President Jonathan Holloway to defend our international students. We hope that the university administration under his guidance will follow through on its promise to ensure the safety and well-being of some of the most vulnerable members of the Rutgers community. We plan to take further action if we do not receive a concrete decision from the university within this week. If you are interested in advocating for international students and workers at Rutgers, please join us in our efforts at the Rutgers International Students Working Group by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rutgers International Student Working Group
Todd Wolfson, President, AAUP-AFT
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