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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.



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:

  1. Dismissal from the University for 1 year, effective immediately.
  2. Two 1,000 word reflective essays.
  3. A trespass notification that prohibits Ivor from setting foot on University property, subject to enforcement by the University Police Department.
  4. A petition letter for University reentry after 1 year.
  5. 80 hours of community service.
  6. 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.