support equitable & accessible education
Dean Hoynes and Dean Zeifman’s email regarding Spring 2020 Grading Policy asserts that “Covid-19 calls for compassion.” However, it’s up to the discretion of each professor how “compassionate” they want to be. This policy does not protect students, and it guarantees that students will have varying degrees of pressure and stress, all depending on what their professor decides. The College’s current universal NRO grading policy does not ensure a no-fail outcome for all students, specifically students facing the most hardship during this global pandemic. We are demanding a truly equitable grading model, which we believe can only be achieved with the True AA model or Universal Pass. We require a model that ensures NOBODY fails this semester. We maintain that a compassionate and equitable NO-FAIL model does more than just ensure that no “F” style grades (such as the Z option seen at The New School) appear on transcripts; we demand a grading policy that guarantees students will not be forced to withdraw or graduate late due to the compounding pressures of COVID-19. This means NO forced withdrawals, NO opt-in incompletes, and NO unnecessary stress added to students and their families because of the inherently inequitable structure of academia.
The classroom environment has shifted dramatically for all of us, and many students have significantly less time and energy to complete their work. While some professors made helpful changes to their syllabi after asking for student input over spring break, many professors did not alter their syllabi or teaching styles at all. We demand that ALL professors provide their students with an anonymous survey that allows them to state their needs and ask for more relief. We recommend that faculty make as many assignments ungraded or optional as possible. All faculty resistant to the necessary support we students have demanded must recognize that there are MUCH bigger problems in our lives than grades right now, and we should not be penalized for something so wildly out of our control.
Vassar should immediately create a separate emergency fund to directly transfer to students who are in need. Opening a new organizational account would allow for the transfer of funds to directly cover costs such as rent, groceries, and other bills and expenses that students are not able to meet during this crisis. This fund should continue to support students at Vassar as we move past this crisis, and we know that the economic consequences of the pandemic will carry with us well into the future. Moreover, we need transparency as to how the fund is being distributed and how students may access it. We thank the Office of Student Growth and Engagement for facilitating a fund to support some students with travelling costs during the pandemic, and we would like to collaborate with SGE and Student Financial Services to expand its reach.
We are advocating that every student allocated work study in their financial aid packages receive their full allocation. Many students have shared frustration with receiving work study payments that do not reflect their usual amount of hours. At this rate, many students will not receive their full work study allocation. We believe during this time of global crisis, the minimum the college can do to financially support students in vulnerable positions is to follow through on completing every students’ full work study allocation for the spring semester, which according to the 2016 Student Employment Handbook is $1,080 for first years, $1,350 for sophomores, and $1,500 for juniors and seniors.
While we understand that Vassar is losing money due to this situation, we believe tuition should not be increased by more than 4%. MANY Vassar families cannot work, are not receiving proper financial compensation, and have lost jobs during the pandemic. Vassar families are worried about keeping themselves and others alive and healthy while making rent, paying large hospital and health insurance bills, unexpected travel expenses, and more. Asking for such a large increase in tuition at this time will force many families to take on essential work at this time, potentially threatening the lives of other people in their household and anyone they come in contact with. Students will be forced to take off-campus jobs in addition to their work study positions to pay tuition, making academics even more difficult to manage than they were previously. The “full demonstrated need” Vassar claims to meet often falls short of the actual needs for students, especially during times of financial insecurity The tuition increase is prohibitive, dangerous, and uncalled for.
We expect the continued employment, salaries, and benefits of all faculty, staff, and student workers during and after the pandemic. Creating an emergency relief fund to cover the needs of faculty and staff members is highly recommended. We demand when the financial shifts we have outlined in our other demands occur, that no cuts will be made to faculty and staff salaries. While faculty and staff may not be able to directly participate or outwardly support our strike because they are at higher risk of facing severe repercussions from the college, a significant number stand by the demands we’ve outlined for you.
It is not our wish to have to take such drastic measures to get these demands met, but Vassar Administration has not been receptive to the MANY student voices who have asked for a more equitable learning environment during the pandemic. We do not want to remain in a stalemate with the administration until the end of the school year, however, and hope to organize regular meetings with administrative members to meet as many of these demands as best we can in our limited time left in the year.