#HearUsHarvard - Student Body Petition for Changes in the 2020-2021 Academic Year

#HearUsHarvard - Student Body Petition for Changes in the 2020-2021 Academic Year

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Petition to
Harvard University

Why this petition matters

(Please view the petition in PDF form HERE)

To the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences,

On July 6th, 2020, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences released its plan detailing which undergraduate students would (and would not) return to campus for the 2020-2021 school year. It is our belief that Harvard has committed a gross oversight as it pertains to issuing plans that adequately support its student body. More specifically, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences has failed to implement reasonable and sound measures that alleviate the burden placed on students as a direct result of tuition costs, storage costs, the number of students permitted on campus, and the costs of mandatory meal plans for on campus students. Likewise, Harvard has failed to implement infrastructural support for working students, students experiencing domestic violence in their environment, students facing housing instability, and for international students. 

Rather than follow the lead taken by institutions such as Johns Hopkins University- the leading epidemiology institution as it relates to COVID-19- and use its endowment towards bringing more students onto campus in a safe, more equitable learning environment, Harvard has decided that using its funds towards providing for students in this way is not a priority, instead inexplicably taking a smaller draw from the endowment for this academic year. Although Harvard has had a series of student focus groups that have expressed their concerns regarding the Fall semester, Harvard has failed to listen to their suggestions and by doing so, omitted taking into account the very serious implications and challenges posed by a completely remote semester. Moreover, this lack of situational awareness is best reflected by the increase in tuition and the lack of planning around additional costs, such as Olympia storage- which was also unaware about Harvard’s decision to not bring students back to campus, thus placing unnecessary financial and mental stress on students.

We, Harvard students, faculty, and alumni, write to express our deepest concerns about and resistance to the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences 2020-2021 plan. We have seven primary concerns, listed here and expanded upon below: 

  1. Low income and working students should be given more support.
  2. Advocacy and alternative housing for students facing domestic violence, domestic abuse, and other cases of domestic instability.
  3. International students cannot be left to fend for themselves.
  4. Tuition is too expensive.
  5. College-provided storage relief is inadequate. 
  6. More students should be allowed on campus.
  7. Students should not be compelled to participate in an unlimited meal plan. 

We also invite students to provide testimonies about their experiences and challenges they may have faced during remote learning in the spring of 2020, Student Testimonials, these testimonies will be anonymously published in a document given to the administration.

1. Low income students, working students and those with difficult home situations, including but not limited to abuse and housing instability, should be given more support. 

Without the additional income provided to these students through their on campus jobs, the financial strain they already experience will inevitably be heightened, at the detriment of both their health and education.

Room and board at Harvard College for the full 2020-21 academic year costs approximately $18,389 ($11,364 for room and $7,025 for board). The stipend of $5000 for students off-campus is seemingly an arbitrary number -- we demand to know what went into planning for that specific amount. Furthermore, students on financial aid do not all have similar financial situations. Being on 5% financial aid, for example, is not nearly similar to being on full financial aid; the financial situations are vastly different, yet the stipend for both is the same: $5000. Additionally, this does not take into account varying costs of living in different locations. 

We ask that off-campus students on full financial aid receive the full cost of living on-campus -  $18,389 - and then potentially prorate that amount based on financial aid. Students on full financial aid will rely on this stipend to provide room, board, and several other expenses that they must now cover as they will not be on campus (i.e. essential services). If it is reasonable to ask $18,389 of students to live on campus every year, then it is reasonable that Harvard provide that same support so that students can afford to live off-campus in places that are conducive to learning and the academic experience, in compliance with Harvard’s decision. This stipend is intended exclusively for a students’ own sustenance in a time when Harvard cannot provide room and board; the very least Harvard should provide is enough financial assistance to replace their room and board for students not on campus.

The following is an excerpt from the FGLI Advocacy Group’s statement regarding Harvard College’s plans for the 2020-2021 school year:

"The Harvard College administration’s plan for the fall semester does not adequately address the financial challenges faced by many FGLI students on a regular basis, much less in the midst of a global pandemic, nationwide racial unrest, and a severe economic crisis. This plan includes no concrete measures to provide access to health insurance and mental health resources for students who depend on Harvard for both of these essential services. While we list action steps on these topics below, we ask that the requests of this petition and the associated student suggestions also be addressed in full.

In the midst of these untenable circumstances, Harvard has chosen to permanently shift away from their previously adopted emergency SAT/UNSAT grading policy, and have done so with little explanation or student input, making the academic consequences of Harvard’s inequitable reopening policies permanent for students suffering from these policies.

In addition, we highlight that many FGLI students face additional challenges, such as that of international students facing the reality of the July 6th SEVP Broadcast Message; as well as students who face abusive or adverse home conditions and other inaccessible learning environments, all of whom’s best hope of returning to campus for the fall is Harvard’s inadequate “Learning Environment Questionnaire.” This is unacceptable.

For students on financial aid who will not be on-campus in the fall, the semesterly $5,000 “COVID-19 Remote Room and Board” allowance paired with the $1,750 work-contribution waiver are wholly insufficient. Especially for the fifth of the College’s students on full financial aid (some of whom are supporting themselves, their families, and/or are experiencing homelessness), $6,750 is insufficient to ensure an adequate learning environment for the entirety of the fall semester, and $13,500 is insufficient to ensure them that environment for the duration of the academic year. This is a clear breach of the financial aid office’s promise that “[a student’s] financial circumstances will not keep [them] from Harvard,” and will cause tremendous undue distraction from those students’ academic and other pursuits. This amount must be revised in line with actual cost-of-living and other expenses incurred by the majority of Harvard College students who receive financial aid. At the embedded link, you will find a detailed spreadsheet outlining the cost of living in a number of locations, which reveals that fully aided students will, under the current plan, face at minimum between US$11,000 and US$22,000 in unmet expenses in the coming year. Though this spreadsheet could not include a full picture of all students’ cost-of-living, it provides a realistic estimate. In addition to being the just and necessary thing to do, if Harvard wishes to maintain a fruitful relationship with future FGLI alumni, it must support them in this time of crisis by substantially increasing this stipend and meeting other requests laid out hereafter. 

Further, the $5,000 being offered will only be given to students that are enrolled in online classes, which leaves students taking a leave of absence woefully unsupported. Such lack of financial support creates a situation where students from working-class households—whose families have likely taken a hard economic hit during the pandemic—will be disincentivized from taking time off. Instead, low-income students may feel pressured to enroll, as a $5000 credit could provide help with family expenses or compensation for income lost when their term-time employment was suddenly terminated. For the 55% of Harvard undergraduates who receive financial aid, the decision to take time off may be based on whether the student can afford to pass up on that $5000 or not, instead of whether the student’s circumstances will allow them to achieve their full potential this semester. 

In light of the inevitably diminished support we will receive in a remote setting, the fact that many low-income undergraduates will be dissuaded from taking a leave of absence for financial reasons is especially worrisome. After students’ departure from campus last semester, the administration guaranteed support to its FGLI students, offering numerous resources to those who would be returning to home environments which would interfere with their successful completion of the semester. After months of student advocates’ labor gathering experiences and feedback from the last semester of online learning, Harvard has rolled back its initial avenues of support (e.g., the adjusted grading system). The administration has aimed to create an environment that will look as “normal” as possible, while failing to acknowledge that our experiences and circumstances have not changed. Indeed, for many students, due to the continued worsening of the COVID crisis in the U.S. and the July 6th SEVP Broadcast Message, circumstances are at their worst yet. 

Harvard College administrators’ response to COVID-19 is deeply negligent and shallow compared to the responses that peer institutions have developed for Fall 2020. Such institutions in the Boston area and across the Ivy League have developed more comprehensive, transparent, and accommodating plans for their students than Harvard has. Particularly salient measures include the creation of low-workload in-person courses designed to curtail new immigration violations, a 10% decrease in tuition, and a reduction in room and board costs, as well as the removal of activities and athletics fees. We call upon the University to consider these responses and implement similar measures of tangible, immediate support for FGLI students at Harvard. 

Lastly, we would like to emphasize that this statement, and the following list of demands, is far from exhaustive. We want to highlight that we, the FGLI community, are facing countless intersectional challenges, and the following demands are only a starting point to creating a proactive, comprehensive response to ALL of our needs. Therefore, in addition to our demands below, we demand that the Harvard College administration recognize the specific challenges facing international FGLI students and international students impacted by abusive home environments, adverse home conditions, and inaccessible learning environments; and address the needs highlighted by PRIMUS, other student organizing groups advocating for undergraduate needs, and the #HearUsHarvard petition. 


With all this in mind, we, as first-gen, low-income students, demand that Harvard University:

Health & Insurance

1. Ensure all FGLI students have access to Harvard’s health insurance, free of charge. This includes students who take a leave of absence. For students who cannot obtain specific medical services in their home states with Harvard insurance, Harvard should provide students with insurance-specific funding that matches respective costs.
2. Expand mental health resources for FGLI students and BIPOC: Students who were on campus this past spring semester have spoken about the lack of support that administrators/deans/CAMHS provided for them. To hold students in isolation as they make the difficult transition to Harvard as first years will increase their propensity to mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and countless other difficult behaviors and disorders. For students returning to campus, to adjust to a different campus than they left will be equally difficult.  Social support and integration is an essential component in reducing the risk of various mental health disorders. We make these demands on behalf of concern for the mental health of all students. 
        a. Subsidize copays for students’ local mental health providers.
        b. Waive the yearly cap on therapy sessions covered by Harvard in order to provide at least one session per week each full year (not just each academic year.)
        c. Provide students with local, national, and international mental health professional database resources to support them in finding a provider that can meet each student’s needs.
         d. Provide programming for FGLI BIPOC with online CAMHS support
         e. Provide group therapy sessions both virtually and in-person (with proper social distancing precautions) to foster community and support for students both on and off campus.
          f. Regularly provide a space where students can submit anonymous suggestions for ways in which mental health can be better supported by Harvard’s administration.
          g. Hire more mental health professionals to check in on students and provide them with resources and support when necessary.
          h. Require regular (i.e., weekly) check-ins for students to provide support for students before a mental health emergency arises.
          i. Require check-ins to be performed by professionals with sufficient mental health training to support students in need.
          j. Safe spaces for students on campus to have recreational activities and use gym equipment.
          k. Allow students to utilize spaces in libraries and residential halls to study.
          l.  All resources made available to support on-campus students (e.g., mental health support, financial support, employment, etc) should also be made available for students living off-campus or taking a leave of absence. 


Adopt a Universal A/A- or Universal Pass grading policy, with an emergency SAT/UNSAT format as a bare minimum to accommodate all unforeseen circumstances, especially for students with unideal learning environments. Furthermore, Harvard must commit to awarding a SAT grade weight in one’s GPA, as opposed to the punitive measures of the spring, when only an UNSAT grade affected GPA. In the event that the University irrationally refuses to implement any of these reasonable demands, any courses taken Pass/Fail must count for all concentration, General Education, and degree requirements.
         a. Extend the drop deadline from the 5th Monday of the semester to the end of the semester, especially as some students will be burdened with unexpected challenges throughout the semester. Not only would this extension help students who are dealing with these situations, but the added precaution would certainly not hurt any other students.
          b. Accommodating all unforeseen circumstances will require staff to be lenient and flexible with the completion of assignments. We demand that Harvard institute a form of anonymous accountability for faculty that are not supportive in this national emergency, including a subcommittee made up of AEO staff and a select group of students to review complaints and address issues with faculty to ensure that students feel supported.  Students who will serve in this role must be compensated.
           c. To truly provide a fair learning environment for all students, classes must be accessible for international students in different time zones as well as students who work during the semester. The mandatory attendance of live class meetings does not accommodate these needs and prevents these students from having the opportunity to be fully successful in their classes.
           d. Require professors to alter their syllabi readings to articles/other academic works that are free/available online at no additional cost 
           e. Extend sustained and accessible ARC support for FGLI students.
            f. Provide a technology fund of $350 for students to purchase learning equipment for online instruction such as headset/headphones, adapters, printers, etc., given that students will not have access to the in-person resources that “establish equity” while on campus. This fund and first-year reimbursement should be available to students in late July or early August to give students enough time to prepare for classes. 
             g. Provide alternatives to exams for ALL students such as creative learning projects in lieu of final papers and the elimination of time constraints for students while taking exams. Many students who will not be able to leave their homes will continue to face struggles such as loud households or neighbors, lack of a private space, and other inequities that are uncontrollable to the students.  If the traditional 1-2 hour exam time allotment continues to take place, Harvard will be ignoring that not all students can have the optimal test taking settings and permeate a lack of equity in exam administration.  Additionally, it is extremely inaccessible and unreasonable to expect first-year students to adequately prepare for traditional college exams (their first ones, at that) after potentially having to vacate campus and prepare for finals back home. 
On-Campus Students

Give all on-campus students the opportunity to stay on campus past November 22nd to prepare for and finish finals on campus, and support those who cannot reasonably return home with winter-recess housing and dining.
Commit to supporting on-campus students by ensuring their access to resources. In particular, recognizing the cruelty of forcing students to choose between a safe learning environment and a large sum of money, ensure that students facing a choice between a home environment not conducive to learning and a substantial sum of money in the form of the “COVID-19 Remote Room and Board” allowance are adequately equipped to make this choice and are not unduly incentivized to remain in dangerous home environments. To do so, we suggest a dedicated line of counseling accessible by phone and significantly increasing funds received by on-campus aided students, up to and including 100% of the amount received by off-campus students. In this crisis environment, the College must ensure that students can prioritize their learning, as well as their physical, emotional, mental, and psychological wellness without jeopardizing their financial wellbeing and that of their families’.

Cost-of-Living Reimbursement

Based on the costs of living off campus mentioned in the above statement,

       a. Fully refund the original room and board costs, $8840.00, to all aided students. This includes students who must take a leave of absence. As things stand, students are faced with the decision of choosing between petitioning to return to campus, accepting a stipend, or going on leave without promise of financial security. For many students, leaving home is unfeasible at this point (especially when many are concerned about the health of their immunocompromised family members), but $5,000 can’t provide them enough stability to justify their return to online school. Additionally, since financial aid packages for FY 2020-2021 are based on families’ 2018 tax returns, current financial aid packages do not account for any changes to families’ financial situations due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and an unprecedented number of Americans facing job loss and precarious economic positions. On a case-by-case basis, provide students reimbursement beyond $8,840 for all their documented cost-of-living expenses and non-documented expenses where an undue burden for documentation exists (i.e. receipts cannot reasonably be expected.) The latter expenses, self-reported under an honor system, should be reimbursed to the same fullness as documented expenses.
Refund students’ federal-work study from the Pell Grant and ensure that international students maintain their current US work authorization, or are compensated their full expected earnings and connected to employers who can legally compensate them. For international students, independently filing students, and other low-income students ineligible for FWS, a stipend should be given to them to compensate them for all lost wages for the full duration of the COVID-19 emergency.
Make all refunds and stipends readily accessible for all students on financial aid, rather than having them be a reduction to students’ term bills.These reductions will be of little use for students who need financial assistance while living off-campus. 

Work Opportunities

Provide on-campus and online work opportunities for students on full or significant financial aid, and prioritize them in the hiring process. 
       a. Create and reserve jobs specifically for low-income students, like the FDR fellowship, which offered funding specifically for SEF-eligible students. On-campus employment gives FGLI students the opportunity to earn significantly more than local jobs usually offer, and they also provide students with important networks, support, and career-building opportunities that are difficult to find off-campus. Additionally, on-campus jobs offer a degree of flexibility to our academic schedules and responsibilities that off-campus jobs do not. 
Leaves of Absence

Additionally, provide more support for FGLI students who took a leave of absence before the pandemic, and are trying to and being denied the opportunity to enroll in the upcoming semesters. 
        a. Provide students currently on a leave of absence with a definitive decision regarding their enrollment in the fall semester before the current date of August 11.
        b. Allow all students who need to re-enroll and / or live on campus in the fall semester the opportunity to do so, regardless of  the amount of time they may have already spent on their current leave of absence.

Deadline Extensions

Extend the deadline for completion of the “Learning Environment Questionnaire,” the acceptance of a student’s place on campus, and the confirmation of their fall plans until 1) students receive a detailed account of living and dining arrangements for the fall, and  2) international students are made aware of a detailed plan in response to the July 6th Broadcast Message and the outcome of associated pending litigation, notably Civil Action No. 1:20-cv-11283.
         a. FGLI students should have the opportunity to see what classes are going to look like before we have to decide whether to take a leave of absence. 
         b. Extend the deadline to decide plans for the upcoming semester (e.g., taking a leave of absence) until the end of shopping period, August 21st, and accordingly modify the LOA Fee schedule to ensure all students, and especially aided students, can do so free of charge.
Shipping & Storage

Commit to fully bearing the cost of shipping or storing, at each student’s discretion, the belongings they stored on Harvard’s campus due to the March 2020 COVID-19-related move-out."

We have also included an excerpt from PRIMUS’ official statement regarding the circumstances:

"As the primary advocates of the FGLI community, Primus is working to promote transparency with relevant offices and working to address the following concerns:

● Securing funding to cover Olympia storage costs;

● Addressing grading inequalities and concerns;

● Providing mental health resources and accessibility;

● Guaranteeing health insurance coverage for students off-campus or choosing to take a gap year;

● Increasing the $5000 room and board fund to fully match room and board costs;

● Concerns with financial aid coverage for students taking a gap year/leave of absence;

● Advocating for transparency in the on-campus housing petitioning process;

● Working to ensure that international students are able to have access to necessary resources for their education

We are disappointed to see that the administration seems to have overlooked the ways in which these decisions will disproportionately impact our FGLI community as a whole. As one of the most vulnerable communities on campus, we encourage Harvard to be better. Noting that there are many unanswered questions, please fill out this google form with any questions or concerns you may have regarding Harvard’s decision on Fall 2020. Primus is speaking with various on-campus offices, including the Financial Aid Office, HUHS/CAMHS, and the Academic Resource Center, among others regarding the Fall decision and how we can best serve the FGLI community."

2. Advocacy and alternative housing for students facing domestic violence, domestic abuse, and other cases of domestic instability

Domestic violence and domestic abuse are increasingly prevalent issues. It is well cited in the news that within the US and globally, domestic abuse is on the rise during the pandemic. The requirements for social isolation and limits on travel during the pandemic especially exacerbate issues of domestic violence and domestic abuse for students’ facing these issues. Students facing domestic issues may literally feel trapped in their places of residence and their struggle is invisible within Harvard. Harvard must acknowledge its responsibility and obligations to this issue as it is one of the forces keeping these students in their home environments for an undetermined amount of time with no help. This issue  bears great consequences for the affected students’ physical health/wellbeing, mental health, and their abilities to perform at equal standing when classes are remotely occuring inside of the very environments that can cause them great harm and instability.

We cannot be certain how many Harvard students are facing these issues but can be certain that Harvard students are facing issues of domestic violence, domestic abuse, and domestic instability during the pandemic. However many in number, this is a high priority group of students. In addition, students are also facing other situations of domestic instability such as having to be a caretaker to younger siblings or other family members and having to provide for their family. These students cannot be ignored either and need more resources/clear avenues for support. 

Harvard currently has no offices, individuals, or resources with specific training on how to help students facing domestic violence and domestic abuse. In the emergency semester of Spring 2020, students facing these issues had nowhere to turn to and no clear avenues, structures, or processes for advocacy. No acknowledgement or extra resources were allocated for students forced into situations where their health and well-being are threatened at home. Without proper advocacy structures and training, students are forced to openly bear their trauma and turn to their professors, resident deans, the AEO, or anyone who will listen and they face the consequence of still receiving no help. This is not a full Harvard experience.

Bearing this in mind, we offer a series of steps to be taken as a solution to this issue:

A. Help students who have not been invited back to campus seek alternative housing for remote learning at home in their local areas. 
      a. It is not enough to force students facing domestic violence and abuse to come back to campus as the solution to the inadequacy of their home living environments. Some students may have complex and inextricable ties to their homes during the pandemic (i.e., needing to look after other family members) or other issues forcing them to stay away from campus during the pandemic (i.e., pre-existing health conditions). Moreover, Harvard may not deem all of these students as having sufficient need to return, and they may still need alternative living situations. It is necessary to have options to support various scenarios. 
       b. Students on financial aid may already be looking to use the Room & Board stipend to assist them, and all of the demands for fully refunding Room & Board similarly apply for students facing domestic violence and abuse at home. As this pertains to the administration’s responsibilities, help and advocacy from the College as well as additional resources for living expenses are vitally needed. Independent financial resources are needed as domestic violence and abuse appear across varying levels of financial need and financial support from the students’ families cannot be expected. 
B. Immediately add new systems and processes for advocacy within the College so that students facing domestic issues may be assisted beginning this Fall 2020 and ongoing. 
       a. Students cannot be left waiting as they are already being affected and will continue to be harmed by the intersection of COVID-19 and Harvard’s remote learning requirements. Even if students do reach out to their resident deans, professors, and the AEO, these entities are not adequately trained to handle issues of domestic violence and abuse with sensitivity and advocacy. 
C. Add proper mental health and academic support. 
        a. Students struggling with domestic abuse and domestic violence face great risks to their mental health and numerous interruptions to their learning. The stress of having to maintain regular letter grades while not receiving assistance from the college is overwhelming and not a fair playing field. The ARC and CAMHS are not equipped to help students in these situations. 
        b. Furthermore, the AEO does not include domestic violence and abuse as an accessibility issue that would grant these students’ firm and consistent accommodations. Such emergency expansion of the AEO or another office combined with adequate training would better protect these students’ privacy for the time being and provide the proper academic support needed for the inconsistent and long-term nature of domestic violence and abuse as well as its effects.

3. International students cannot be left to fend for themselves.

Students on F-1 and M-1 Visas cannot be left to fend for themselves. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement altered the Student and Exchange Visitor Program such that “students attending schools operating entirely online may not take a full online course load and remain in the United States.” According to the new SEVP policy, under Harvard’s new online-only academic policy for the fall, students on F-1 and M-1 visas would be forced to depart the country or transfer to a university which is offering in-person academic coursework or hybrid programming. All enrolled Harvard international students, irrespective of their whereabouts, have equal right to take classes for credit, as domestic students do.

We call on Harvard to consider the following options to ensure equality of access to education:

Ensure that international students still based in the US have the ability to enroll in an in-person tutorial with a low risk or immune advisor and in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Alternatively, there should be the option for international students still residing in the US to sit a class in one or several of the large lecture halls to ensure that they can enroll. This will permit students to take four or more classes while remaining in the US. This will help reduce uncertainty surrounding travel bans, reissuance of VISAs given the closure of Consulates, uncertainty around OPT and CPT applications.

Enable international students still residing in the US to cross-register at other local institutions that will not be operating fully online. These students should be able to enroll in classes at not only MIT but also Tufts, Brown, Wellesley, Berklee, Northeastern , Boston University etc. and receive full credit by Harvard on their transcripts automatically without the need for individual petitions.

Collaborate with the university's network of international institutions to provide students unable to return to the US the option of taking for-credit classes in their home countries. This model, adopted by Cornell University, allows increased access to educational resources and communities, particularly for international student groups that face exceptional issues due to time zone disparities or political climate. A collaborative model with overseas institutions has also been adopted at the University of North Carolina, New York University, Duke University, UIUC, Tulane University, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Ensure that Harvard qualifies through some other means as a hybrid institution or campaign for international students outside of the US to take a full course load. This is crucial if seniors are to finish their theses and if all students are to maintain their knowledge level and avoid difficulties later on in taking higher level classes needed to complete concentration requirements.

In the event that international students must leave the US, we call on Harvard to:

Provide additional support to cover the current inflated flight costs and storage/shipping (see below).

Campaign on behalf of international students to waive the need for international students forced to take a LOA to spend one year in full-time, US-based education in order to qualify for CPT.

Regarding international students who will be forced to return to difficult domestic living situations, Harvard must either accommodate these students on campus, or actively support alternative accommodations in their home country. For example, Harvard could help in leveraging the global alumni community to provide safe places to stay and study and ensure equality of access to education. Harvard should also support international students’ mental health by extending CAMHS counselling sessions to those forced to remain abroad.

Harvard must alter their academic and residential policy to accommodate students in danger of being affected by the new SEVP. It should do so immediately and keep international students kept abreast with detailed plans for the fall, as opposed to leaving them adrift in uncertainty. The statements of being unsure are unacceptable, particularly as many international students may face difficulties returning if they are forced to depart the country. 

Furthermore, students residing outside of the U.S. face various unexpected financial burdens as a result of the shift to remote learning. 

        a. Some students in class of 2024 have taken out loans to pay the SEVIS fee, a charge of $350 which is required for first time applicants for an F1 visa. In the circumstance that the SEVIS form is not required (wherein F1 visas are unusable due to an online semester), Harvard should refund the SEVIS fee to these students to alleviate unnecessary financial burden.
         b. International students face increased financial barriers with regards to shipping their belongings to home countries in the case of a remote semester. A subsidy of only $175 could potentially only cover one regular moving-size box for overseas shipping, where in many cases students have 7-8 boxes of belongings. This would further be exacerbated by the cost of delivering back to the U.S. come Fall 2021.
          c. A lack of communication regarding how time-zone disparities will be resolved places an inordinate burden on those who reside in crowded living spaces, particularly with young children. Those who are least advantaged are also most likely to be encumbered with extraneous cost of housing or workspace due to lack of basic provisions at home.

4.  Tuition is too expensive

Tuition has been raised by nearly $2,000. This comes at a time when our tuition is not paying for what it traditionally pays for.  As stated in the UC’s op-ed (statistics are updated given the tuition increase), 

“An online undergraduate education looks remarkably similar to the [Harvard] Extension School, which offers an online degree program to students who are living at home and who often have significant career and family obligations. Based on the Undergraduate Council’s comparison of Extension School courses to Harvard College courses, there are at least 150 identical or nearly identical courses and at least 95 more that are roughly equivalent. These courses are a good representation of the breadth of Harvard’s course offerings, ranging from large lectures (Economics 10: “Principles of Economics”) to intimate seminars (“Arrivals: British Literature from 700 to 1700”).For each of these identical classes, a remote Harvard College student paying full tuition last year would have paid over [$6,206.625] per class, while students at the Extension School paid just $1,840 per class — a mere [30] percent of our tuition. 

What does this $[4,366.625] per class tuition premium pay for? It can’t be resources. Extension School students are offered a number of resources also offered to Harvard College students, including personalized academic and career advising, access to the Writing Center and Harvard libraries, and several clubs that overlap with undergraduate student organizations. Any additional resources offered to undergraduates (House tutoring systems, Counseling and Mental Health Services, Harvard University Health Services, etc.) all come out of the Student Services Fee and various health-related fees separate from our tuition.

So, the [sic] tuition premium can only pay for two intangible things: the brand of Harvard College and the “life-changing moments and conversations” we have with our peers.

Shifting online might not reduce the value of the Harvard College brand, but it does severely diminish, if not fully impede, our ability to make connections. Though it’s hard to place a numerical value on these intangibles, if we value both equally, it’s only ethical for Harvard College to reimburse students approximately $[2,100] per class, or $[17,500] for the academic year — one half of the tuition premium.”

Harvard also has historically refused to accept credit from online summer school courses and the Harvard Extension School. If Harvard has not viewed such classes as equivalent to a standard Harvard education before, it should not charge us more for them now. Tuition should not be increased. We call for a tuition decrease of $17,500. At the very least, Harvard should institute a tuition freeze until the traditional Harvard College experience is made available to every student and a 10% tuition decrease (comparable to Princeton University’s procedures moving forward.). We ask for a detailed and clear financial response detailing why Harvard did not pursue a tuition reduction and why there was a smaller draw from the endowment, and we also ask for a plan that would make a tuition reduction possible. 

5. College-provided storage relief is inadequate. 

When we were compelled to evacuate campus, we were given few options for storage: to either use the College-subsidized option of Olympia Storage, or find storage options within less than a week’s time ourselves. In the wake of Harvard’s decision to offer few on-campus residential options to those students whose belongings reside with Olympia Storage, Harvard must provide more support, financial and otherwise, such that students can deal with the circumstances of their possessions without risk to their own financial security. Similar to their coordination in spring 2020, Harvard also should formulate a concrete plan with Olympia, which has expressed concern over its ability to store items over a prolonged period of time.

6. More students should be allowed on campus. 

The residential experience is one of the most important factors of a Harvard education. Living on campus allows students to connect, form friendships, and foster a spirit of growth in a nurturing academic environment. Dean Khurana has spoken countless times about how conversations that take place in the dining halls will be the most transformative conversations we engage in during college, and this is reflected by Harvard’s official policy regarding meal plans. It speaks volumes about the Administration that they consider this sentiment to no longer hold any weight. 

We are concerned about the allowance of only one natural cohort back to campus at a time, effectively boxing sophomores and juniors out of the residential experience. This is compounded by the fact that peer universities including Yale University, Cornell University, Dartmouth University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, Brown University, Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University have all chosen to allow at least two cohorts of students back for at least one semester. We would particularly like to compare Harvard’s plan to that of Princeton University. Similar to Harvard‘s 97%, Princeton houses 94% of its undergraduates on campus, yet has been able to bring back every class year for at least one semester. Columbia University, located in densely packed NYC, is allowing first and second year students to return in the fall, and third and fourth years to return in the spring, the announcement is outlined here. Brown University offered a 19 page pdf document outlining their procedures extremely clearly; the three-term calendar will allow each class cohort two full semesters of on-campus time. Furthermore, Northeastern University has been reported to be offering 2,000 beds in hotels and apartments in Boston to expand its socially-distanced housing capacity. Because hotels have been so hard-hit by this pandemic, it seems reasonable to assume that a deal between Harvard and, for example, the Sheraton Commander or the Charles Hotel could be mutually beneficial. 

We find it interesting that these institutions have found it reasonable to provide accommodations to ensure a safe return for at least two or more grade levels at a time, whereas Harvard, an institution with similar residential space and financial ability, has neglected to do so. We urge the university to reconsider the number of students it is bringing back for the fall semester, and encourage it to follow the model presented by Stanford University by admitting First-Years and Sophomores on campus in the fall, and Juniors and Seniors in the spring, or Princeton University, by admitting First-Years and Juniors in fall and Sophomores and Seniors in spring. 

7. Students should not be compelled to participate in an unlimited meal plan. 

As stated by Harvard’s own meal plan policy, the reason students at Harvard are forced to participate in an unlimited meal plan are the life-changing moments and conversations that are had there. That is also why meal plans for non-resident students (i.e. students who do not eat in the dining halls) are flexible. With dining halls not in their traditional social capacity, there is no longer any reason to compel students to join the unlimited meal plan. Instead, we would advocate for a menu-pricing option similar to that offered to non-residential students. For planning purposes with HUDS, a simple survey can be conducted to ensure that the demand for dining services is measured accurately and can be planned for. 

For students on-campus, there must also be a supporting stipend for their meal plan. During the later half of the spring semester, students remaining on campus had a meal plan that consisted of bagged meals that often consisted of frozen options. This fall, first-years and other on-campus students will be subjected to fluctuating dining restrictions that will interfere with their online class schedules. Term time work will not allow students to cover the cost of meal payments outside of Harvard’s dining plan. Therefore, we are calling for all on-campus students to receive a $2,000 food subsidies for the fall semester to cover dining options that the Harvard dining halls will inevitably fail to cover on a campus with 40% density. Students should not be required to come out of pocket for the extra food and grocery costs that will come from this unique dining experience.

We, Harvard students, faculty, and alumni, ask that Harvard seriously consider these requests and look towards ameliorating the poor plan it has chosen to implement for the Fall semester. It is truly disappointing that an institution with a $41 billion endowment and a plethora of resources has failed us to this extent and has left its students to bear the burden of its errors. Harvard, if there is ever a time for you to listen to us, it's now. #HearUsHarvard


Harvard students, faculty, and alumni





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