Graduate Employees' Organization
Started 2 petitions
REINSTATE ANTONIO RUIZ TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:IN BRIEF - Fourth year PhD student Antonio Ruiz has been unfairly dismissed from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for COVID-19 testing non-compliance while sheltering in place. Antonio has numerous health risks and physical disabilities, including a medically diagnosed inability to take the University’s saliva test. Despite this fact, the University is choosing to expel him and evict him from his University apartment. Antonio has appealed this decision with the support of his department, the Associate Dean of his college, and the GEO, but his appeal has been callously denied. On March 10th, the University revised its testing requirements for graduate students living off campus, but it has continued to issue harsh disciplinary measures for testing non-compliance prior to the change and for non-compliance from students in University housing. After the public outcry and show of support for Graduate Employee Yidong “Ivor” Chen, the University made no modifications to the COVID-19 disciplinary procedures and continues to unfairly, disproportionately, and callously discipline graduate students.PETITION TO REINSTATE ANTONIO RUIZ TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, LAUNCH AN INVESTIGATORY REVIEW ON UNJUST STUDENT DISCIPLINEIn the Fall semester of 2020, fourth-year PhD student, teaching assistant, and member of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) Antonio Ruiz lived by himself in University housing while working remotely for the University of Illinois. For medical reasons, Antonio is unable to take the University’s saliva test. Furthermore, his health conditions place him at increased risk for adverse effects due to COVID-19. The University’s own Staff Physician at McKinley Health Center has testified to Antonio’s inability to participate in the University’s saliva testing program. Because of his increased health risks, Antonio rarely left his house, only leaving for essential activities, or to go on socially distanced walks as recommended by his doctors. On October 20th, 2020, Antonio received a UIUC disciplinary notice of testing noncompliance. Antonio communicated with a University case investigator, and did not dispute his prior testing non-compliance. He was not given the opportunity to participate in a hearing or argue his case in front of a panel representing the Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR). As a consequence of this disciplinary notice, Antonio was placed on University Probation. Following this disciplinary charge, Antonio attempted to apply for a testing exemption. In the University's January 15th Massmail about COVID-19 testing exemptions, the University stated that “only students who are living locally and NOT coming to campus are eligible to request an exemption”. Since Antonio lives in University housing, he was not eligible for an exemption. No information was given in this or future emails about the nasal swab alternative test until later in the Spring semester. Even during Antonio’s initial disciplinary procedures, the University’s case coordinator did not inform Antonio of alternative testing measures. After failing to secure a testing exemption, Antonio received a second UIUC disciplinary notice of testing non-compliance on March 9th. Having witnessed the University’s callous attempts to dismiss Ivor Chen, and observing the GEO’s efforts arguing for Ivor’s reinstatement, Antonio contacted his union to learn what his options were to appeal the initial charges. Antonio met with an advisor, and was in this instance able to argue his situation in front of a panel from the Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR). On March 25th, 2021, Antonio and a representative from the GEO met with the OSCR. At this hearing, Antonio testified to his strong desire to remain testing compliant, his medical inability to test, and his ineligibility for a testing exemption. He then asked for a more lenient punishment than dismissal. He provided numerous supporting documents demonstrating his existing medical conditions, and letters of support from his advisor, his TA supervisor, the Chair of his department, his department’s Director of Graduate Studies, and an Associate Dean of his college. In response, the panel told Antonio that he should have proactively sought out accommodations for his disabilities. When asked to consider the letters of support testifying to Antonio’s character and the effects dismissal would have on him, the panel demonstrated disinterest towards this supporting documentation, failing to accurately summarize the contents of the letter or their signatories. After deliberating for less than 15 minutes, the panel reconvened and issued the following discipline for Antonio’s testing non-compliance: Dismissal from the University, effective immediately. Trespass Notification, excluding Antonio from entering any University property effective immediately: including Antonio’s primary residence in University housing. One 1,000-word reflective essay. A petition letter for University re-entry after 1 year. Evidence of successful academic or work history during his 1 year dismissal. Antonio appealed to these sanctions on April 1st, presenting new medical documentation attesting to his inability to test and pointing to the fact that other graduate students found non-compliant in the Spring semester were given less severe sanctions than probation. Nevertheless, his appeal was denied by the panel. Such sanctions are insulting and it is unclear how Antonio can even remain compliant with these requirements. Antonio is immediately dismissed and has been issued a trespass notification from the University, which prevents him from entering any University building, with the implicit threat of force from the University of Illinois Police Department. However, as a resident of University housing, Antonio was informed separately by his Case investigator that he would have 30 days from the denial of his appeal to vacate his University apartment. At present, Antonio is still unclear what his other expectations are as related to these disciplinary sanctions. For example, he is still participating in the alternative nasal swab testing protocol in order to remain in compliance with University COVID-19 testing. However, all such tests occur in University buildings, precisely those places he was forbidden from accessing. Although Antonio has attempted to comply with the University testing program, he was medically unable to do so, and he was not informed of alternative testing procedures until he received a second disciplinary charge over the Spring semester. Upon learning of the nasal swab accommodation as an alternative means of remaining testing compliant, he immediately applied for and was granted the nasal swab accommodation. Antonio then immediately entered into COVID-19 testing compliance and has since regularly been testing twice a week. This alternative testing procedure was available but was not communicated in any of the University’s prior Massmails until Mid-March. This reflects confusing expectations and messaging from the University, in addition to a lack of empathy for students with disabilities. Antonio has received support from his Department Chair, his Director of Graduate Studies, and the Associate Dean for his college. In emails and letters, they explained that this disciplinary action was vastly disproportionate to Antonio’s alleged offense. Graduate Employees have had the lowest transmission rates for COVID-19 of anyone in the Champaign-Urbana community . It is precisely this type of evidence that led the University to stop requiring weekly COVID-19 tests for Graduate Employees. Consistent with this, Antonio has been an exceedingly cautious individual, following all of the CDC’s recommended guidelines for slowing the spread of COVID-19. After he is evicted from University housing, Antonio will have to relocate to live with his family in Miami, Florida. Moving across the country presents a clear danger to Antonio’s health and well-being. He is at high risk for medical complications due to COVID-19, which makes it more dangerous for him to move to a state with uncontrolled COVID-19 transmission rates. The University appeal committee was made aware of all Antonio’s medical conditions, as well as the disproportionate consequences that dismissal would have for Antonio. However, the committee callously and hastily decided to dismiss Antonio anyway. The GEO is pursuing all available means to support Antonio, reverse his dismissal decision, and ensure he receives pay and a tuition waiver for the Spring semester. But the University administration shows no sign of empathy or willingness to support Antonio in a meaningful way. If the GEO and the University are unable to reach a mutually agreeable compromise, we will be forced to explore other means to ensure Antonio gets justice. In the University's November 10th Massmail, they reported that since measuring transmission rates for specific populations, Graduate students had the lowest seven-day positivity rate of any group on campus.
READMIT IVOR CHEN TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: IN BRIEF - Fourth-year international PhD student Yidong “Ivor” Chen is being dismissed from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for COVID-19 testing non-compliance while he and his mother sheltered in place. Ivor’s VISA status is now being revoked, and he and his mother are being forced to leave the country during a deadly pandemic. Ivor has appealed this disciplinary decision with the support of his department, the Dean of his college, and the GEO, and his appeal has been callously denied. PETITION TO READMIT IVOR CHEN TO THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, LAUNCH AN INVESTIGATORY REVIEW ON UNJUST STUDENT DISCIPLINE In the Fall Semester of 2020, fourth-year international PhD student, teaching assistant, and member of the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) Yidong “Ivor” Chen lived with his mother in Champaign-Urbana while working remotely for the University of Illinois. Due to his mother’s increased risk for contracting COVID-19, Ivor did not leave his home except for the most essential activities throughout the Fall Semester and into the start of the Spring Semester, 2021. Throughout this time, University policy on COVID-19 testing requirements and exemptions changed several times. On December 21, 2020, Ivor Chen received a UIUC Disciplinary Charge Notice for COVID-19 testing non-compliance. Over the Fall semester, Ivor understood the unclear and evolving instructions from the University to mean that if he was working 100% remotely, sheltering in place, and only leaving his home for essential activities, he was not required to participate in the University testing program. Ivor’s participation in the University testing system would only increase the risk to himself, his mother, and the campus community. Accordingly, following the reasonable instructions as he understood them, Ivor Chen did not participate in regular testing in the Fall semester, which the Charge Notice described as testing non-compliance. During the Spring semester, Ivor applied for a testing exemption when it was presented to him clearly in an email, and he was granted the testing exemption by the McKinley health center. On January 29, 2021, Ivor Chen and a representative from the GEO attended Ivor’s disciplinary hearing. At this hearing, Ivor explained the reasons for his testing non-compliance. In response, the members of the disciplinary panel strongly rebuked Ivor’s behavior, and began several irrelevant, demeaning, and unreasonable lines of questioning including whether or not Ivor received health insurance from the University, whether he receives a 401K, and how often he visits the grocery store. Ivor’s union representative was not allowed to speak during the hearing. After less than 10 minutes of deliberation in closed session, the panel reconvened and issued the following discipline for Ivor’s testing non-compliance: Dismissal from the University for 1 year, effective immediately. Two 1,000 word reflective essays. A trespass notification that prohibits Ivor from setting foot on University property, subject to enforcement by the University Police Department. A petition letter for University reentry after 1 year. 80 hours of community service. Evidence of successful academic or work history during his 1 year dismissal. In other words, the same situation that Ivor experienced in the Fall and Spring semesters resulted in two radically different outcomes: In the Fall semester, the disciplinary panel decided Ivor’s reasons not to test regularly were cause for dismissal, whereas in the Spring semester the McKinley health center decided Ivor’s reasons not to test warranted a COVID-19 testing exemption. After Ivor received the disciplinary decision, more than five professors in Ivor’s department and college--including Ivor’s Department Head, his department’s Associate Head for Graduate Programs, the Dean of Ivor’s college, and the Associate Dean for Graduate, Professional and Online Programs--wrote emails and signed a letter of support for Ivor, explaining in clear terms that this discipline was not proportionate to the victimless offense Ivor had inadvertently committed. The GEO promptly filed a Level 2 grievance on Ivor’s behalf, claiming unjust dismissal as well as disparate and discriminatory treatment. The GEO also wrote a letter of support for Ivor. During the time before his appeal was submitted, Ivor was notified that he had received a generic email in late September that served as his notification of testing non-compliance. In this generic email addressed to “student,” Ivor was notified that he “may be contacted by a university Case Coordinator soon regarding [his] status.” The GEO believes it is an unreasonable practice to notify students of possible impending discipline via mass email with no individual salutation, and it is entirely plausible that Ivor missed this email, as it was one of twenty-five that were sent in the month of September. This generic email also did not provide any contact information where Ivor could get more information about his status. In fact, the email explicitly stated, “[d]o not reply to this message or contact the Office of Student Conduct Resolution or the Office of the Dean of Students in response to this message.” Ivor was not contacted by a Case Coordinator following this email, which would have been a more appropriate response and may have circumvented the need for disciplinary action. Ivor does not recall receiving this email, but even if he did, the question becomes: Does missing one email while sheltering in place warrant dismissal? Ivor was also notified that his non-compliant status was ‘discovered’ when he attempted to enter a Prometric testing site for a certification test issued by the Society of Actuaries. As neither Prometric nor the Society of Actuaries is formally affiliated with the University of Illinois, and the testing center was not on-campus, Ivor was understandably not aware that this testing site is technically University property. Upon entering the testing site, Ivor was asked to procure his Safer Illinois App or Boarding Pass to show his University COVID-19 testing status. When Ivor was not able to show evidence of two negative COVID-19 test results within 4 days of his visit, he was asked to leave the building. Ivor left the Prometric testing site immediately, per instruction. Ivor wore a mask during the entirety of this encounter, and set foot on University property for less than 5 minutes in total. Both supporting letters were attached to an appeal document sent to the Office of Student Conflict Resolution through the official student discipline appeal procedures. It was the opinion of all parties involved (Ivor, the GEO, the department, and the college) that the disciplinary action levied upon Ivor was clearly unreasonable, unjust, and unfair, and any reasonable appeal panel would--given Ivor’s excellent academic standing, support from his department and his union, and the inconsequential nature of his infraction--render Ivor’s appeal successful and reduce the sanctions on Ivor. Instead, without further discussion involving Ivor, the GEO, the department, or the college, the Senate Committee on Student Discipline affirmed the original discipline, including dismissal. As an international student, Ivor Chen and his mother’s visas are in the process of being revoked. Ivor and his mother are now stranded in the United States, subject to deportation, or required to pay thousands of dollars to travel home, without a reliable source of income, during a deadly pandemic. The University appeal committee was made aware of Ivor’s status as an international student, the undue, disproportionate, and unjust consequences of dismissal not only on Ivor, but on his mother as well; the committee callously and hastily decided to dismiss Ivor anyway. The GEO is pursuing all available means to support Ivor, reverse his dismissal decision, and ensure he receives pay and a tuition waiver for the Spring semester, but the University administration shows no sign of empathy or willingness to support Ivor and his mother in a meaningful way. If the GEO and the University are unable to reach a mutually agreeable compromise, we will be forced to enter the lengthy process of legal arbitration, which may take up to one year and will not provide the immediate support Ivor needs. PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION TO DEMAND IMMEDIATE REINSTATEMENT OF YIDONG “IVOR” CHEN, AND TO CALL ON THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS TO LAUNCH AN INVESTIGATORY REVIEW INTO THE UNJUST TREATMENT THAT LEAD TO HIS STUDENT DISCIPLINE.