Indiana Daily Student

Media School graduate workers concerned about replacements, communication, pay

<p>Members of the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition protest Nov. 10, 2019, on Jordan Avenue. Some graduate students are concerned about the IU’s response to their work situation surrounding COVID-19.</p>

Members of the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition protest Nov. 10, 2019, on Jordan Avenue. Some graduate students are concerned about the IU’s response to their work situation surrounding COVID-19.

Media School graduate students expressed concern about policies regarding their employment with the school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some struggled to find their own replacements for their work in case they get sick. Some said communication from the school has been insensitive or unclear. Some worried about access to resources.

The school’s understanding of these concerns led Media School Dean James Shanahan to authorize a Media School Graduate Emergency Assistance fund to help graduate students in the Media School during this crisis. The fund will cover connectivity issues, equipment needs and other situations interfering with teaching. It also covers issues the students might run into in their day-to-day lives such as unexpected medical bills, difficulties in paying utilities, housing costs and tuition.

Stephanie DeBoer, Media School director of graduate studies, said the school had graduate students fill out a survey to let administrators know what concerns workers had about technology, teaching or living situations.

“I need to hear from the graduate students,” she said. “My hope is to be in communication with them about what their concerns are.”

“I need to hear from the graduate students. My hope is to be in communication with them about what their concerns are.”
- Stephanie DeBoer, Media School director of graduate studies

Workers will still be paid the same amount if they fall ill and are unable to do their work, DeBoer said.

All Media School faculty members and instructors were asked in an April 5 email to nominate colleagues as replacements to teach their courses or take on their workload should they fall ill. The email stated they were expected to find a replacement by 5 p.m. Tuesday. The email doesn't state whether replacement instructors will get additional pay.

Cole Nelson and four other representatives from the Media School Graduate Association met with Shanahan on Thursday to discuss their concerns.

Nelson, a first year master’s student and grading assistant in the Media School, said he thinks the expectation for instructors to find their own replacements is an unnecessary burden. He also took issue with the fact that the school won't tell instructors if they've been nominated as someone else's replacement.

“It adds an additional amount of anxiety for us as graduate employees because there’s a level of guilt when we’re nominating our colleagues to potentially take on further responsibilities,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he feels there is a lack of policy and communication from the Media School, but he said these concerns are arising in many departments within the university. He said most of the communication about IU employment has been about undergraduate student workers or non-student instructors. 

“I think we are overworked and underpaid as graduate employees at IU-B,” Nelson said.

Ph.D. candidate and Media School associate instructor Pallavi Rao said she has been frustrated with the Media School’s communication. She said she feels the school has been trying to move on as if everything is normal by asking instructors to find their replacements.

“It’s not like we’re trying to shake off those responsibilities,” Rao said.

She said there needs to be better communication between the school and employees. The school has communicated to workers that they are replaceable, Rao said, and it should have more concern for workers’ wellbeing. She remembers reading an email advising people to take a walk to destress, but she said her concerns can't be fixed by taking a walk.

Rao said she feels bombarded by emails and would rather talk to someone directly about her concerns rather than fill out a survey. She said the Media School should make a representative more accessible to instructors.

“I don’t think asking for people to care about their students and care about their workers is really a trivial thing to ask for,” Rao said.

Clarification: This story has been updated to include that Media School faculty and instructors were asked to nominate colleagues as replacements should they fall ill. It has also been updated to clarify what the Media School Graduate Emergency Assistance fund covers and who the Media School asked to fill out a the survey for concerns regarding technology, teaching or living situations.

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