Updated June 25, 2020 at 4:51 p.m.
The Student Bar Association submitted a letter Tuesday calling on administrators to lift a hiring freeze for research assistants and student workers and refund students for the spring semester.
More than 400 recent graduates and current graduate students, in addition to the SBA, Trachtenberg Student Association and the GW Immigration Law Association, signed the letter addressed to University President Thomas LeBlanc and Provost Brian Blake. The letter also includes demands for officials to provide “cost adjustments” in the event of a remote fall semester and assistance with graduate student housing.
The letter states that professors have attempted to hire students as research assistants to “ease their financial burden” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic but have been unable to do so due to the hiring freeze currently in place.
“The hiring freeze is additionally troublesome for international graduate students at GW, who often rely heavily on ‘on-campus employment,’ which has very few limitations as compared to off-campus employment,” the letter states.
The letter calls for a partial refund of tuition and fees from the spring semester, including the “student activities fee” and other unused fees.
“In moving educational programs completely online, students have had a loss of facilities, professional development opportunities, commencement related activities and the face-to-face interactions that are vital to graduate education,” the letter states.
The Student Association Senate passed a resolution in April calling on officials to provide financial compensation for students who registered for in-person classes for the spring semester that were moved to an online format.
The letter asks officials to provide “cost adjustments” in the event of a remote fall semester, citing higher interest rates for graduate student loans and that many graduate students have private loans that limit their ability to receive federal funding through the CARES Act. The letter also lists 13 academic institutions like the universities of Pittsburgh and Chicago that have proposed or adopted tuition freezes for graduate students.
“Graduate education, unlike undergraduate education, includes experiences that cannot be conducted online, including clinical experience, lab work, research projects and work placements,” the letter states.
The letter states that although officials have announced plans to hold classes in person in the fall, they have left some graduate schools to “their own determinations” regarding in-person instruction. The letter also states that the elimination of any graduate student housing on campus leaves students “at the mercy of private landlords.”
“Additionally, some private landlords have not been signing any leases until D.C has lifted the declaration of a public health emergency, leaving many students unable to even find housing over the summer in preparation for the fall semester,” the letter states.
The letter states that the four demands are not an exhaustive list of concerns but are the most pressing that the signers feel officials need to address before the start of the semester.
“The Student Bar Association, and our graduate peers, recognize the difficulty faced by all members of the University administration in both their professional and personal capacities,” the letter states. “However, it is the University’s responsibility to its students to provide transparent, immediate and thoughtful leadership.”
University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said LeBlanc and other officials have received the SBA letter, and Blake and the deans are reviewing the requests.