By Esha Dhawan
On-campus residential programs for this summer are canceled, and Summer Session will be online only, Provost Persis Drell announced Thursday afternoon. Drell’s update also described steps the University is taking to address the financial challenges posed by COVID-19.
“It appears increasingly likely that some level of social distancing will be needed for some time, and a return to ‘normal’ campus activities will not be able to occur overnight,” Drell wrote. “We have concluded that it simply is not feasible to proceed with normal programming this summer.”
Undergraduates who are approved to stay on campus for spring quarter may request to remain for the summer if their circumstances require it. But summer programs that have an on-campus residential component must be canceled or shifted to take place online, Drell wrote.
Drell asked summer programs to provide updated plans to their participants within the next week. This year’s Sophomore College (SoCo) program has already been canceled, according to an email from Dayo Mitchell, associate director of Stanford Introductory Studies.
Drell’s update also included steps that Stanford is taking to respond to the “serious financial challenges” posed by COVID-19 the financial impact, with Drell stating that the “full response will evolve over time.”
Initial steps include immediately freezing faculty and staff salaries, waiving the expectation of summer earnings in undergraduate financial aid calculations, reevaluating discretionary spending and placing a hold on capital projects except for those “deemed essential” by Santa Clara County.
The University announced a pause on faculty and staff hiring on March 26.
“The recent steep drop in the financial markets and likely continued market volatility almost certainly will significantly impact the university’s endowment, reducing resources available in the next academic year,” Drell wrote.
She and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne are voluntarily reducing their base pay by 20% and asking senior leadership of the University to take voluntary base reductions of 5-10%. The individuals asked to take reductions include deans, vice presidents and vice provosts, according to University spokesperson E.J. Miranda.
The University is continuing pay for “regular full-time and benefits-eligible part-time employees,” but will not provide “additional commitments” to workers employed by a contractor, according to Drell’s announcement.
Concern for contracted workers
Stanford’s contracted workers include more than 200 custodians who have been employed through UG2, as well as 56 kitchen staff who have been employed through Student Organized Services (SOS). Residential Education suspended the SOS spring-quarter service contract, saying it would provide two weeks of compensation and benefits for SOS employees “as a gesture of gratitude and goodwill.”
The community has rallied to support workers.
Stanford faculty and staff have circulated a petition to support all employees. Another petition by Students for Workers’ Rights (SWR) calls on the University to extend the pay continuation policy to contracted workers. Collective mutual aid efforts by students and the Stanford community — including a SWR fundraiser to support SOS kitchen staff — have raised more than $100,000 for affected contracted workers, according to SWR member Ethan Chua ’20.
“While Stanford claims that it’s financially incapable of providing contracted workers’ pay, this claim is belied by the fact that peer institutions with significantly smaller endowments such as the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and MIT have all committed to paying their contracted workers through this crisis,” Chua wrote in an email to The Daily.
Alissa Orlando MBA ’20, who advocates for and administers company-sponsored benefits for contingent workers as a co-founder of the platform The Indy Hub, told the Daily that she was “frustrated that Stanford is not supporting the workers who have worked for years to ensure this campus operates smoothly.” She and Chua wrote on op-ed on this issue in The Daily.
“The University needs to negotiate with its vendors, such as Bon Appetit for food services, to insist that full wages are guaranteed through the spring quarter,” Orlando wrote in an email to The Daily.
In response to Drell’s Thursday announcement, SWR has launched a new petition calling on Stanford to extend pay continuation, sick leave and protections to all workers. The ASSU has also passed a resolution in support of pay continuance for “all workers affiliated with Stanford University.”
Graduate students’ financial fears
Acknowledging that some graduate students depend on summer programs for income, Drell asked departments and programs to work with students “to explore alternate work opportunities and sources of support.”
But the announcement has already raised concerns among some graduate students and postdocs.
Jason Beckman, an East Asian languages and cultures Ph.D. student, said that outsourcing decision-making to departments is problematic, given that he is part of a small humanities department with a limited budget to begin with.
“I just don’t know what exploring ‘alternate work opportunities and sources of support’ is supposed to look like in practice, but that is perhaps something the university administration should provide leadership and guidance to determine,” Beckman wrote.
First-year anthropology Ph.D. student Shobhna Iyer lives in graduate housing and was planning to sublet her apartment to students arriving for summer programs while she did pre-dissertation research.
“In the last couple of weeks, it has become clear that I will not be able to return to India for the summer,” Iyer wrote in an email to The Daily. “The summer funding I receive from my department will barely cover rent if I were to stay on campus.”
Irán Román, a music Ph.D. student and co-director of affordability for the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), said he was losing out on summer funding because his department does not have the resources and his plan to earn income from summer workshops is no longer viable.
“The university should just step in and say all the doctoral students at Stanford will be funded in the summer of 2020,” Román said.
“I believe continuing support from the university is critical to the livelihood of graduate students,” Graduate Student Council Co-Chair and mechanical engineering Ph.D. student Yiqing Ding told the Daily. “There are several measures [from the University] that we believe would be helpful right now such as course deadline changes, tuition reduction, etc.”
In response to issues raised by graduate students, Students for Workers’ Rights and the ASSU resolution, Miranda told The Daily to “refer back to the provost’s message to the community regarding these issues.”