Note: Organizers from Penn GET-UP (Graduate Employees Together at the University of Pennsylvania) will update this document with signatures and endorsements in batches.
Please click on this link and fill out the Google Form to add your signature to this petition. The form also includes an option to share a testimonial about your experiences or thoughts about the crisis.
March 19, 2020
To President Gutmann and the University of Pennsylvania Administration,
We are writing on behalf of university students, faculty, workers, and community members to express our deep concern with recent measures that the University of Pennsylvania has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We demand the administration to provide a more robust set of protections for ensuring the immediate and long-term economic and psychological safety of the Penn community.
During a moment of global crisis, Penn suddenly forced hundreds of students living in university housing to leave campus on extremely short notice. Many were left with insufficient accommodations and many requests for alternative housing arrangements were flatly denied by the university. Alarmingly, in a March 15th email to undergraduate students’ parents, the university indicated that they contacted landlords to pressure students to vacate those on off-campus housing. This potentially violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student records. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, university-wide policy to “depopulate” the campus takes a serious economic, personal, and psychological toll on many students, their families, workers, staff, and community members of Penn.
These are not reasonable responses to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Indeed, City Councilmember Helen Gym specifically criticized Penn’s decision to immediately remove students from university housing, claiming it contradicts the Philadelphia-wide policy for halting all evictions to stem the outbreak.
The university’s manner of making decisions and communicating them puts us at great unease. We receive intimidating dictates to suddenly evacuate university housing on and off-campus; we see students given no choice but to travel during a pandemic, which, according to the CDC, places them at greater exposure risk to the virus; further, a March 13th email signed by the Provost threatened students on and off-campus with the use of police intervention and academic probation to enforce a social distancing policy, which confusingly contradicted previous messages ensuring that “internal meetings” fewer than 25 people were permissible.
These are objectionable precedents for handling unprecedented crises. They are premised on an unsettling readiness to punish, intimidate, and displace the university’s own students and workers. We cannot allow knee-jerk responses practiced during a moment of crisis to become naturalized into new, routine and unfair procedures.
The University of Pennsylvania still has an opportunity to better care for its students and workers. Many of us–tenured and untenured faculty, adjunct instructors, post-doctoral researchers and instructors, service and maintenance workers, international and domestic undergraduate and graduate students, members of the Penn community–still have many unmet needs.
Because the University of Pennsylvania has the resources, and the professional and moral obligation to meet our needs, we make the following immediate demands:
- Guarantee housing security for all students who require it. The university must approve all on-campus housing requests. Of the hundreds of students who requested housing, a great many of them were denied. They were also informed that they could not appeal the decision. Some of those students remain in Philadelphia in insecure housing situations. The university must guarantee on-campus housing and/or off-campus housing security for all students who need it.
- Provide housing for GAs (Graduate Associates). The GA contracts guaranteed secure and safe housing until June 1, 2020; the university must stay true to the contract by providing housing, utilities, including internet paid for by the university, and all other necessary amenities necessary to survive quarantine in the state of a global emergency. GAs must also be offered testing for COVID-19, as they were working during the undergraduate move-out and potentially exposed themselves to contagions from students returning from travel.
- Cease pressuring landlords to evict students from off-campus housing. Emails from the Provost have stated that Penn is encouraging off-campus landlords to pressure student tenants to leave their homes and depopulate the area. This practice increases the number of students facing housing insecurity and their risk of transmitting or contracting COVID-19. Penn’s protocol contradicts the Philadelphia municipal courts’ decision to put a moratorium on all evictions, as well as the resolution proposed by City Councilmember Helen Gym.
- Guarantee that hourly workers will not face loss of pay because of suspension of university operations. This includes undergraduate students who rely on work-study and will lose hours this semester. While Penn has stated that “At this time, no University paid employee will be put in an unpaid status,” this policy does not clearly protect workers from loss of wages nor does it prevent the university from laying off workers at a later date as the crisis continues. All campus workers, regardless of work status and contract status, should continue receiving full payment by the University. In cases where workers are employed through third-party contractors, the University must demand that the contractors also provide the same benefits, and maintain that our continued association with the contracting agency be contingent on this. We support the Student Labor Action Project’s petition to support Penn Dining Workers.
- Guarantee that salaried and stipended workers, including graduate student workers and post-doctoral researchers, will not lose pay because of extenuating circumstances created by the pandemic.
- Guarantee that all workers on campus have unlimited paid sick and personal leave. In accordance with safety policies recommended by the CDC and other organizations, Penn workers need to be free to take all of the personal time they need without consequence. Considering that Philadelphia schools are closed, Penn workers are facing unprecedented care-taking demands. Additionally, the recovery time from COVID-19 infection is still unknown, and Penn workers must be able to take the necessary time to recover completely.
- Place an immediate moratorium on rent collection for all Penn-owned properties. This includes both properties that are rented by small businesses, such as People’s Books and Culture, as well as the off-campus apartments owned by Penn through University City Associates.
- Guarantee that all workers, students, faculty, and staff on campus are provided with the appropriate protective equipment, including but not limited to: gloves, facemasks, and hand sanitizer.
- Fully cover the costs of COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination. We understand that Penn has stated that all of their insurance plans will cover testing and waive payment sharing for tests, but the current policy for covering treatment is vague and incomprehensive. All payment and access to care should be 100% covered for all university affiliates, regardless of Aetna’s policies and of whether services are provided by an in- or out-of-network provider. The university must also ensure that university health center employees are fully aware that that care will be fully covered for those with insurance through the university or elsewhere.
- Publicly and forcefully denounce opportunistic manipulation of the pandemic to promote racism, especially against Asians and Asian-Americans.
- Guarantee that the Penn Police will never be used nor threatened to be used against students, workers, and community members to enforce COVID-19 policies.
- Reimburse all costs incurred by all university affiliates who leave campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including but not limited to: transportation costs; storage costs; rent for those displaced from university housing; and food and living expenses for students who lose access to meal plans.
- Ensure that any students on F-1 and J-1 visas are able to maintain their visa status as needed to lessen the risk of contracting or transmitting the virus. We understand that universities nationwide are still waiting on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines. But we demand that Penn negotiate and advocate for universal visa extensions on behalf of its students and workers.
- Give all students the option to receive a pass/fail grade in any course this semester, and ensure that all grades account for the extreme circumstances that students have faced this semester. In addition, no student’s enrollment status or academic standing should be affected by the events of this semester.
- Offer all graduate students at least a one-semester extension on program progress milestones. This includes, but is not limited to, qualifying masters or doctoral exams and dissertation progress checkpoints.
Because the duration of the pandemic is unknown and its ramifications for the future are indefinite, we believe students and workers will remain compromised on a long-term basis. We thus demand the following longer-term protections from Penn:
- Affirm that the sudden transition to remote teaching is a temporary response to an immediate public health crisis. We demand a letter from Provost promising that remote learning platforms will not remain a permanent standard for the higher education curriculum at Penn. We believe that maintaining a residential setting for faculty and students to create knowledge and interact in classrooms, laboratories, libraries, museums, performative spaces and studios, and other university spaces, is crucial to the intellectual integrity of this institution.
- Guarantee that all incoming graduate students for the Fall 2020 semester will receive their stipend payments in advance, as well as a guaranteed grant to fund their move and travel to Philadelphia. This should apply to all future incoming students henceforth. See GET-UP’s position on the crisis of delayed stipend payment at Penn here.
- Provide all current ABD (All But Dissertation) PhD candidates facing immediate structural gaps in their funding packages with summer funding. Transform all current university fellowships on a 9-month or 10-month stipend disbursement plan into a 12-month stipend that guarantees payment over the summer. This includes, but is not limited to, graduate students on the Benjamin Franklin Fellowship.
Please click on this link and fill out the Google Form to add your signature to this petition!
Read and share testimonials from the Penn Community here!