Graduate student organizations allege Georgetown University did not adequately address the needs of graduate students and graduate student workers in its newly released plan for the spring 2021 semester.
Georgetown University Graduate Student Government and the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees have raised concerns that the policies for undergraduate students have been more generous and more clearly articulated than the plans for graduate students, after the university released spring plans Nov. 16.
Members of GradGov specifically raised concerns over discrepancies in the tuition discounts for undergraduates and graduate students and unequal access to campus spaces. Both graduate and undergraduate students will continue to receive the same tuition discounts from the fall semester, but undergraduate students not living on campus received a 10% discount, while graduate students only received a 5% discount. Some graduate students also worry they will have fewer campus spaces exclusively apportioned for them.
The discrepancies between discounts fit into a pattern of the university disregarding graduate students, according to Henry Watson (GRD ’23), president of GradGov.
“GradGov finds it unacceptable, but not surprising, that Georgetown is continuing to implement an inequitable tuition discount,” Watson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This inequity reaffirms the university’s tradition of disregarding graduate students, and is layered on top of the lack of graduate student aid from the CARES Act last Spring and an inequitable tuition discount this past Fall. GradGov will continue to fight on the tuition issue moving forwards.”
GradGov held a town hall meeting Nov. 20 with several deans of graduate schools and programs to discuss concerns about the spring plans after they were released, with many graduate students asserting that the administration consistently privileges undergraduates in their policymaking.
In response, several deans affirmed they had advocated for an equitable tuition discount, but both the Office of the Provost and the Board of Trustees rejected the proposal. The deans related that the administration had made up its mind regarding tuition and that graduate students should not expect a 10% discount.
Several deans reported other steps being taken to help graduate students, including the implementation of an $100,000 fund to help struggling graduate students. Details regarding who would qualify and how the funds would be distributed have not been finalized, however, according to the deans.
Any discrepancies between undergraduate and graduate policies fall out of the disparate circumstances facing the two groups, according to a university spokesperson.
“The tuition reduction for undergraduate students not invited back to campus is in recognition that they will not have access to certain undergraduate-focused facilities and services on campus,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “University administrators have met regularly with graduate student leaders over the last semester and intend to continue these discussions. As demonstrated in a variety of ways, we are committed to protecting and supporting graduate students.”
Revived concerns over the tuition discount come after GradGov submitted a petition Sept. 16 to university administrators calling for a 10% tuition discount for graduate students in the spring semester. Additionally, GradGov submitted a set of questions to university administrators complaining about unequal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act disbursements.
GradGov raised the petition and questions after noticing discrepancies in the university’s disbursements of CARES Act funding, a COVID-19 relief bill that included relief funds for universities and colleges. The federal government calculates CARES Act funding according to the number of students enrolled at a school, and it factors in how many are Pell grant recipients. While graduate students accounted for nearly 40% of contributions to the amount Georgetown received from the act, only 8% of student grants went to graduate students, according to Watson.
The university ultimately rejected GradGov’s petition and did not respond formally to GradGov’s questions by the time it had released spring reopening plans.
The GradGov Senate voted Oct. 30 to approve a spring 2021 statement of principles, outlining GradGov’s official stance on reopening policies. The statement primarily addressed concerns on the topics of campus density, communication, academics, financial support and student safety.
The statement specifically called for equitable tuition discounts, increased financial support for graduate student workers, increased accommodations for students in different time zones, continuation of current grading policies and the establishment of a standard of practice for all professors and faculty.
Separate from GradGov, graduate student workers and members of GAGE raised concerns about the current lack of clear policies regarding graduate student workers.
Though administrators stated in the Nov. 16 faculty senate meeting in which spring reopening policies were announced that all graduate student workers who were teaching hybrid classes would not be required to teach in person, no formal policy has been presented in writing.
Despite confusion over what the ultimate policy will entail, GAGE remains committed to advocating for graduate student worker protections, according to Ellen Jacobs (GRD ’24), chair of the GAGE communications committee.
“Graduate workers have not received a clear message or contractual guarantee that they will have a choice in whether they teach in-person,” Jacobs wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We await finalized plans from the administration and will offer feedback on behalf of graduate workers about these proposed plans and their impacts on graduate work at Georgetown.”
The university said it will not force graduate workers or researchers to work on campus and will work to provide alternatives for those who choose not to do so, according to a university spokesperson.
“The graduate worker policies for Spring have been updated after consultation with graduate school student leaders and with GAGE,” the university spokesperson wrote. “This Spring, we will continue the policy that provides flexibility so that no graduate student will be compelled or pressured to teach on campus. We are also committed to trying to find alternative assignments for Research Assistants whose research work depends on being face-to-face, but who do not wish to return to campus.”
This article was updated Nov. 20 to include the expected graduation of Ellen Jacobs, chair of the GAGE communications committee.