On March 10, 2020, New York University went remote in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Almost immediately, graduate student life and research was disrupted, while travel and research funds were cancelled, or postponed (see testimonials of affected graduate student workers here). COVID-19 disruptions such as laboratory, library, archive, and studio closures, new family responsibilities, indefinite border closures, and health risks delay time-to-degree on an already limited stipend–the main source of income for graduate student workers. If graduate student workers were precarious before the COVID-19 crisis, they are even more precarious now.
That’s why graduate student workers launched the Universal Extension campaign when the COVID-19 crisis first hit in March. In early April, graduate students sent an open letter to the Provost signed by almost 800 hundred graduate students. There, we outlined the first list of universal extension demands, among them the following:
- Extend all university graduate student funding packages and time-to-degree deadlines by one year.
- Provide tuition waivers for all masters students who opt-in to degree extensions.
- Waive maintenance of matriculation and health care fees for all graduate students.
- Provide three-month emergency summer funding proportionate to the AY (Academic Year) fellowship amount.
Although the university initially planned to go remote for two weeks, by April it was clear that the closures would last longer, perhaps indefinitely. Students shared testimonials with the union, attesting to the various ways COVID-19 impacted almost all aspects of their research and financial security, and emphasizing the urgent need for a funding extension.
Despite the urgency of student need, NYU failed to address graduate student worker demands for months. The Universal Extension campaign decided to hold a reverse town hall. We invited administrators, professors, as well as students to come together and discuss why NYU Can Afford It (see more on why and how NYU can afford universal extension here)
Included below is a report on the town hall proceedings. You can also download them here.Reverse Town Hall report
So where do we go from here? We are still fighting for a Universal Funding Extension for all NYU graduate students. The administration has left the decision to extend up to individual departments, which creates an uneven situation where some students are funded and others are not. This pits individual students against one another, and fails to adequately support student research through the disruptions of this crisis.