University of Arizona graduate students call for transparency, consideration in coronavirus response

UA grad students call for transparency
Updated: May. 5, 2020 at 10:02 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The University of Arizona anticipates a $250 million loss in revenue due to enrollment changes with coronavirus concerns.

As administrators scramble to get the upcoming semesters situated, graduate students who are working for and conducting research at the University of Arizona say they are being left out.

“It’s really a pretty dire situation that’s hard in good times and then when something like this happens..." said Eden Kinkaid. “I feel like we’ve been overlooked and this really isn’t a new thing.”

“There’s definitely a lot of worry," said Ruth Orpeza.

Kinkaid and Orpeza are both Ph.D. students at the UA. They said the financial issues are nothing new, but now, more obvious.

The doctoral candidates spoke to KOLD News 13 on behalf of the UA Graduate Student Coalition, a new group calling for more transparency and consideration in the university’s response to COVID-19.

“Even before this crisis hit, our departments were responding to budget cuts and it cuts in things that come out of our professional development," Kinkaid said.

The academic cycle won’t stop for the virus, so the UA Graduate Student Coalition sent a letter and petition to administration last week, outlining their concerns and demands regarding the handling of the university’s COVID-19 response.

The letter presented a list of issues that graduate and professional students are facing due to the pandemic and made a number of requests of the administration, including an extension to funding clocks, more representation in decision-making, expanded healthcare coverage, protection for international students and a task force to task force to exclusively deal with the hundreds of students and professionals in graduate studies.

“We’re not just students, we’re also kind of workers here and it’s just made everything difficult and precarious," Orpeza said.

Kinkaid said the letter was based on a survey circulated to over 600 graduate students. While the concerns came with the coronavirus, Kinkaid said this is just the start of a movement to build sustainable support for graduate students and faculty.

“Just change the way that this institution is run because there’s a lot of inequity and a lot of precarity that’s not fairly shared and it takes a crisis this to render that apparent and get people angry enough that they are going to take action,” Kinkaid said.

The UA Graduate Student Coalition requested a response from UA administration within five business days. That deadline would be Wednesday, March 6.

As of Tuesday night, Kinkaid said the coalition had not received a formal response from the administration.

KOLD News 13 reached out to the UA to see if administration received the letter and if a response was available. At the time, a spokesperson said he was not aware of a response.

The $250 million loss in revenue is estimated over the next 15 months, through June 2021, according to a letter from UA President Robert Robbins last week.

The university is projected a 45-percent loss in undergraduates returning, that’s both in state and out of state students, based on fall registration data, the letter stated. Robbins noted it’s believed that number is inflated.

Based on the fall registration data, the university is anticipating a 4-percent loss for returning graduate students and new undergraduate and graduate student enrollments are expected to decrease by 11-percent for in-state and 19-percent for out of state. According to the letter, that is about $18.7 million in losses.

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