Responses to Grad Student Concerns Fall 2020 


8/14/2020

OGAPS joined the Graduate and Professional Student Government on Friday, August 14, to address demands made in a petition by graduate students, as well as questions submitted to the GPSG about returning to campus for in-person instruction. Here, we are sharing responses to the demands and submitted questions discussed during the forum, as well as answers to questions that were submitted, but not discussed during the forum. Similar questions are sometimes grouped and answered together. (We may be still working to provide answers to some questions.)

You may find further useful information in this faculty senate Q&A that addressed faculty questions about guidelines for fall teaching. 

You can watch the Zoom recording here (you must be logged into your TAMU google account to access):  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ytRS1vAGJrjkxLBh0GxnuYCO0tD5tPWR/view?usp=sharing

Responses to Student Petition Demands

  1. No graduate worker should be compelled to teach in person, and any request to teach remotely must be honored without caveats. While undergraduate students have been given the option of attending class remotely without having to justify this decision, graduate workers have been asked to justify their requests to teach remotely with medical necessity. This suggests that the University is invested in protecting some student lives above others, and deprives graduate workers of their right to make their own health decisions regarding exposure to potential infection.
 

The University values the health and wellbeing of all its students, staff, and faculty.

Graduate students have the same option as undergraduates to attend classes remotely. As graduate assistants with teaching responsibilities, you are seen as faculty. And, with regard to teaching assignments, the University took a similar approach with GATs (Graduate Assistant – Teaching) and GALs (Graduate Assistant – Lecturer) as it did with faculty.

OGAPS worked with HR to develop a form and process for GATs and GALs to request remote instruction assignments or teaching modifications for fall 2020 assignments. In the form, GATs and GALs could list, in their responses, any condition they felt could lead to increased risk from COVID-19. GATs and GALs received emails via their departments with the link to submit a request for remote instruction or teaching modifications. 129 requests were submitted. TAMU Human Resources (HR) categorized requests to teach remotely or for teaching modifications according to risk, based on CDC guidelines. Then OGAPS provided the lists of requests to Department Heads, noting those students categorized as having factors that increase the chance of complications related to COVID-19, to use in making teaching assignment decisions. If you have questions about your department’s implementation, you may contact the department faculty or staff who makes teaching assignments or your college GOC Dean.  

To make teaching as safe as possible, classrooms across campus have been modified and precautions mandated:

  • Occupancy for classrooms is set at approximately 33% of normal capacity unless the room configuration allows for a higher percentage. Seats will be clearly identified so that students maintain a safe physical distance.
  • Enhanced Sanitization of classrooms. Classroom will be cleaned and sanitized at least twice a day. Seats will be color-coded by class period to ensure that no seat will be occupied twice between cleanings.
  • We have modified HVAC systems in most rooms on the main campus to increase fresh air flow and decreased the amount of recirculated air.
  • Teaching spaces will be equipped with portable plexiglass shields for use by faculty when lecturing to provide protection from airborne droplets.
  • High traffic building lobbies and teaching spaces will receive an additional cleaning and disinfection.
  • Large computer labs (over 50 stations) will have a stationed porter service to clean stations between student use.
  • Hand sanitizer stands will be placed at entrances to every building and at each bank of elevators at every floor. Disinfectant spray bottles and paper towels will be provided to faculty and staff for use in the library, research labs, computer labs (less than 50 stations), and all classrooms.
  • The new face covering policy (SAP) will be in effect for all on campus. Those without a face covering shall not enter the classroom unless they have a note indicating an approved exemption and communicate this information to the faculty member. Individuals with an TAMU-issued exemption should wear a face shield if consistent with ADA accommodations. Faculty may request a student without a face covering or exemption to put on a face covering or vacate the classroom and join the class virtually. If the student refuses to leave, the faculty member should notify the Student Conduct Office who will treat noncompliance as a conduct violation.
  • Instructors may use a face shield in place of a face covering while lecturing, although face coverings are safer.

For a glimpse of the kinds of classroom modifications that have been made on campus, check out this video:  “Texas A&M University’s First Look at Classrooms for Fall 2020”.

For graduate assistants assigned to lab instruction, all colleges had to submit plans for approval to the Provost Office detailing the safety measures they would put in place in lab classes. The college safety plans for all lab classes were reviewed and, if necessary, changes were required.

Some examples of measures implemented for lab classes:

  • More lab sections with fewer students
  • Divide into cohorts
  • Split lab time in half
  • Cleaning plans
  • Shared equipment plans
Additionally, all students were required to complete COVID-19 Training and Certification before returning to campus. The intent of the training was to enable students to:
  • Identify methods by which infectious diseases can spread
  • List steps to combat the spread of infectious diseases
  • Identify the steps for proper handwashing
  • Define respiratory etiquette and identify methods to practice respiratory etiquette
  • Identify ways to protect other students on campus from spread of infectious diseases
  • Identify actions to take if you think you may have COVID-19
While none of these actions meets the demand that “No graduate worker should be compelled to teach in person, and any request to teach remotely must be honored without caveats”, we hope that it does demonstrate that the University has worked diligently to make in-person instruction as safe as possible.
  1. Graduate workers who choose to teach in person must receive hazard pay in the form of stipend increases for the duration of their face-to-face instruction. This would be in accordance with the increased risk that extended in-person contact poses to short and long term health. The minimum hazard pay must be consistent across all divisions in the University.
 

The University has not approved any “hazard pay” for faculty or graduate students employed and serving in a face to face teaching capacity. However, the University has made new investments to support graduate students starting this semester which are worth noting.

  • Expansion of mandated coverage of tuition and fees.

This fall will be the first semester that the mandate requiring employers to pay tuition for PhD GATs, GARs, and GALs is expanded to include the payment of required university fees for PhD GATs, GARs, and GALs. This new change represents millions of dollars in university investment and ranges from $3,000-$10,000 in new annual support per student, depending on college.

  • Expansion of mandated coverage of tuition and fees.

This fall will be the first semester that the mandate requiring employers to pay tuition for PhD GATs, GARs, and GALs is expanded to include the payment of required university fees for PhD GATs, GARs, and GALs. This new change represents millions of dollars in university investment and ranges from $3,000-$10,000 in new annual support per student, depending on college.

  • Reimbursement of employer insurance contribution for new hires.

Typically, new employees must pay the employer contribution and their premium payment for the first 60 days of hire or go without insurance for those 60 days. This fall, the University has committed to paying the employer contribution for all new employees, including new graduate assistants, for the 60-day wait period. This is also an investment of several million dollars and saves new graduate assistants from $500 to $2000, depending on family status.


  1. Graduate workers who will work on campus must be provided with adequate personal protective equipment by the University, where “adequate” is defined by CDC recommendations. Furthermore, all classrooms in which face-to-face teaching is taking place should be provisioned with portable HEPA filters in accordance with recent research on reducing transmission indoors.
 

Facilities and utilities groups have worked in each of Texas A&M’s more than 800 buildings on campus to optimize fresh air exchange and reduce recirculated air. The university has upgraded to filtration that implements MERV filters that reduce airborne droplets.

As mentioned above, face coverings (cloth face covering, surgical mask, etc.) must be worn by all individuals (faculty, staff, students, and visitors) on campus. It is the responsibility of the individual to provide their own face covering. However, each unit may keep a small amount of disposable face coverings on hand for visitors.

As a small gesture of support, OGAPS distributed masks for graduate students with teaching responsibilities on campus this week and will have additional distributions to graduate students throughout the semester. Also, several other campus units have and will be distributing university branded masks during the first weeks of class.


4. The University must provide one-year extensions of assistantships or other forms of employment for graduate workers whose progress has been delayed due to the pandemic. This would include the creation of research and teaching positions that would allow recently graduated PhDs to retain academic employment. Furthermore, the mandated coverage of graduate tuition and fees must be similarly extended.
 
The University recognizes that COVID-19 has caused profound disruptions for our students. The consequences of these disruption may vary by student, but it is clear that working remotely, as well as restrictions on travel, lab and facility access, and person-to-person contact, has impeded progress to degree for many of you.
 
For Ph.D. students on GAT, GAL, or GAR assistantships, there is University-wide mandate requiring your tuition and fees be covered by your program or alternative sources of funding. The mandate covers you for four or five years, depending on your entry status. See the tuition and fee payment webpage for details.
 
If your mandate period ended in May or August 2020 and COVID-19-related factors have caused a delay in your progress toward your degree, know that the mandate sets minimum coverage. You may request an extension of tuition and fee coverage required by the mandate up to a year to accompany your assistantship. We encourage you to contact your program faculty, graduate director, staff advisor, or graduate student organization for guidance.
 
If your mandated coverage is not expired, but you anticipate needing extra time to degree, know that we are aware expecting requests over the next few years. We are prioritizing requests from students who are in the last year of mandated coverage.
 
If you have otherwise lost funding or incurred unexpected expenses for something related to COVID-19, we encourage you to review available University resources. You can apply for emergency aid through the Financial Aid Office. Financial Aid also offers other types of assistance, including grants for domestic and international students that are awarded based on need. If you are applying due to extenuating circumstances, make sure to include that information in your application.

Additionally, OGAPS, colleges, and departments share a joint commitment to find solutions for students whose academic progress has been impeded by COVID-19 or university actions taken in response to the pandemic.

Recognizing that we are still in a period of uncertainty, but working to enhance student support moving forward, Colleges and OGAPS agree to:

  • Actively foster flexibility, borne out of a spirit of understanding and compassion for students
  • Examine each student’s situation individually, considering all relevant factors that may have impeded progress to degree
  • Understand that non-academic factors (financial insecurity, travel restrictions, connectivity issues, family pressures, stress) may have impeded progress to degree
  • Communicate with transparency and openness
  • Recognize that impacts of spring 2020 will likely extend into future semesters 

Please reach out to your program faculty, graduate director, staff advisor, or graduate student organization for guidance about funding. They are eager to help you. 

If you have exhausted these options and were not able to resolve concerns and funding needs, contact OGAPS at ogaps-info@tamu.edu.


5. The University must enforce oversight and accountability with respect to individual research groups following University COVID-19 protocol. An institution- wide system for reporting protocol violations must be implemented, along with clearly- defined consequences. The University must also provide clear and regular communication on the public health metrics used to determine safe on-campus operations.

If you feel you are being asked to teach, research, or otherwise work under conditions which do not meet university safety guidelines, notify your supervisor or department head. If you feel uncomfortable discussing your concerns with someone in your department, contact the Graduate Ombuds Officer or the Division of Research. You may also submit an anonymous non-compliance report via Ethics Point; however, please be aware that anonymous reports may make specific concerns more difficult to resolve.

The most important thing that each of us can do is to take personal responsibility for the protection of ourselves and those around us.  This means wearing masks or other appropriate facial coverings on campus except when alone in a private office.  It means being vigilant about cleaning one’s workspace, shared equipment, and surrounding areas.  It means honoring work schedules and sign-ups designed to maintain prescribed limits on lab occupancy. It means behaving responsibly both on and off campus. Most importantly, it means that under no circumstances should you come to work when ill or exhibiting any known symptoms of COVID-19.

Ombuds Services
The Graduate Ombuds Officer provides a safe, non-judgmental space where you can share complaints or concerns confidentially and off the record. We are available to assist graduate and professional students as well as staff, faculty, and administrators:
o   Addressing communication challenges
o   Navigating difficult situations
o   Handling abrasive behavior or unfair treatment
o   Navigating academic red tape or roadblocks
o   Funding issues (e.g., assistantship, etc.)
o   Immigration related issues
o   Other questions and concerns related to graduate education
Email ombuds@tamu.edu to schedule a confidential phone or zoom appointment to explore a range of options or strategies for moving forward.


6. A commitment to protections and advocacy for international students for the duration of the pandemic, including but not limited to, financial and legal aid. The immigration status of international students has been thrown into jeopardy multiple times in the recent past. Aside from the pandemic, border closures and limited repatriation measures have made it impossible for international students to return to their home countries. The University must protect its students in every way that it can.

Texas A&M has and continues to advocate for international graduate students. President Young’s July 7 message stated, “For our international students, you are all Aggies. We support you and will keep you informed as we continue to advocate on your behalf.”

International students faced unique challenges as a result of the pandemic: travel restrictions, two-week quarantine requirements, delays—if not denials of visa applications, limitations on employment and Optional Practical Training, questions about access to remote learning platforms, fears over being able to return to the U.S. if they leave.

The University has advocated on their behalf with our congressional representatives, through various national organizations, etc., to influence policy.
For example, our congressional representatives signed on to a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secret of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, urging them to adopt appropriately streamlined processes to ensure international students can enroll this fall and preserve the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, as well as to help ensure consulates can prioritize and process the expected increase in demand for visa services. The letter also included ideas for how to expedite visa approvals and ensure that universities could continue to fulfill our global educational mission.
Also ISS, on behalf of the university, has been communicating regularly with international students.


Graduate Student Forum Q&A

Highest Frequency Questions

If graduate teachers feel unsafe, are you going to allow them to move their classes completely online without requiring a medical justification and without risk of losing their stipend?
See response to Demand #1 above.

Given recent incidents of violence in similar situations, how can you expect instructors to enforce safety protocols in their classrooms and teaching labs when this is a concealed carry campus?
The University policy states that students are required to wear a face covering inside buildings, including in a face to face class. Students who arrive without a face covering should be reminded of this SAP, asked to put on a face covering or to leave the classroom and participate in class remotely. If a student refuses to leave or comply with safety policies, the faculty member may choose to teach that day’s class remotely for all students. The faculty member should also identify the student and notify the Student Conduct Office who will treat noncompliance as a conduct violation (Face Covering Violations).
 
Will students/faculty/staff be required to wear face coverings while inside campus buildings? Will there be face coverings available in classrooms for students/faculty/staff who might forget to bring one or otherwise not have one?
Per the university’s face covering policy, students, faculty, and staff will be required to wear face coverings inside campus buildings (except when working in a private office) unless they have a documented exemption and approval from the university. Individuals will be instructed and expected to have their own face coverings. The university will not be providing face coverings for distribution unless a specific mask is required for certain tasks such as grant-funded research. 
 
What specific policies and plans do you have in place to protect and advocate for international students?
See response to Demand #6 above.
 
How do you intend to enforce all the safety protocols you have outlined? Do you plan on implementing an institution-wide reporting system for violations of the COVID-19 policies?
In accordance with the Face Covering policy, University officials may use the Campus Community Incident Report form to notify the Student Conduct Office (SCO) of incidents where a student has refused to either wear a face covering or leave the area.
When a violation is reported, the student alleged to be in violation will be contacted by the SCO with information regarding the process for determining whether they are responsible for a rule violation.

  • The student will have the opportunity to choose whether to contest the charge and to share their perspective on the reported incident.
  • If the student has received an exemption from wearing a face covering, the student may submit documentation of the exemption.

If the student does not contest the charge or is found responsible for a rule violation, sanctions will be issued.

  • Typical sanctions for a first-time violation will include a letter of reprimand and educational requirements (such as a reading and writing assignment).
  • More serious sanctions may be considered depending on various factors such as: the impact of the behavior on others, previous violations, or other circumstances surrounding the incident.

 
Given that some departments have already decided to grant hazard pay to their GATs, will you make this a policy across the board for all graduate students in all departments who are interacting face-to-face with students, at a minimum of $250 per month?
See response to demand #2 above.
 
Recent research shows that the COVID-19 pattern of spread is overwhelmingly through indoor transmission. Given this, are you willing to outfit all in-use classrooms and teaching labs with appropriately sized HEPA filters?
Facilities and utilities groups have worked in each of Texas A&M’s more than 800 buildings on campus to optimize fresh air exchange and reduce recirculated air. The university has upgraded to filtration that implements MERV filters that reduce airborne droplets.
 
While emergency financial aid and small CARES grants are available, they are insufficient for most graduate workers’ needs. In an effort to maintain retention, are you willing to provide 1-year extensions to existing graduate students by funding them instead of recruiting new students?
See response to demand #4 above.

Questions about University Communication

All University-wide email updates on COVID19 have been addressed to either undergraduates or to faculty, and those guidelines largely are not applicable to graduate students. Graduate students have received no direct guidance from OGAPS nor other University offices regarding the Fall2020 semester. Where can we look to for guidance regarding changes that specifically impact graduate students / teaching assistants? Can we expect better communication standards going forward?
OGAPS works with the University to make sure campus-wide emails include guidance for graduate students. We encourage you to stay up-to-date with the latest guidance on the University, Provost, VPR, ISS, and OGAPS websites. The Keep Teaching website is a resource for those serving in teaching roles. The Faculty Senate Q&A may also provide useful guidance for teaching this fall.
OGAPS is planning to host a monthly forum that would provide a mechanism for graduate students to ask questions and provide feedback on experiences this semester. The aforementioned websites will continue to be updated throughout the semester. 
 
Before this week's open letter, did any student groups provide their input to the planning process for the Fall semester? If so, which groups? 
Provost Fierke established an ad hoc academic planning group in late spring to provide input for operations plans for fall. The Student Body President and the GPSG President were included in that group. In addition, GOC Deans participated in planning meetings throughout the summer, advising OGAPS based on feedback they have received from students, staff and faculty.
 
Could you discuss more productive channels through which these concerns could have been raised, rather than circulating a list of demands on Twitter and by email a week before classes are due to begin?
Concerns can be conveyed to the GPSG senate, during open forums, department graduate administrators, GOC Deans, and to the Associate Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies. 
 
What is the university's threshold for cases or deaths that would result in transitioning back to an online-only format for teaching? An actual answer to this will improve the mental health of your graduate students/employees/whatever we are to the university at this point.
We are not looking at any one metric as we make decisions about operations, but are monitoring several, including:

  • community healthcare utilization (trends in hospitalization rate, ICU occupancy, and ventilator usage)
  • campus caseload (how many students, faculty, and staff test positive, hospitalized)
  • testing capabilities and positivity rates (can we provide sufficient testing on campus, in the College Station/Bryan area, in the region)
  • absentee rates among faculty, staff, and students,
  • rates of quarantine (including self-quarantine and self-isolation)
  • community case rate (especially in K-12 schools, assisted living facilities)

We are also thinking about contingency plans. If metrics warrant, there may be intermediate actions before going 100% remote.
 
What is the contact tracing protocol for a positive case from a student or a TA?
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 across our campus communities, Texas A&M University is implementing the reporting process for students, faculty, and staff and launching a new online reporting system that centralizes the reporting of COVID-19 illness or exposure to the COVID-19 Investigation Operations Center (Operations Center).  The Operations Center was established as part of a collaboration with the Brazos County Health District (BCHD) with the aim of augmenting contact tracing efforts in the Brazos Valley area.

The Operations Center will handle contact tracing by contacting students, faculty, and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact to someone with COVID-19 to provide guidance on self-quarantine or self-isolation, ask about close contacts and notify those contacts, if necessary, provide recommendations and resources (e.g., testing and isolation guidelines), and promote best practices.  The COVID-19 Reporting Committee will have access to the information reported through the COVID-19 Report Forms and will coordinate with key campus offices to contain the spread of the disease while also protecting the confidentiality of the affected individual’s information to the extent possible.
For reporting guidelines or questions regarding the COVID-19 reporting process, contact COVID19Process@tamu.edu.

How is the contract tracing going to work?
The Operations Center will handle contact tracing by contacting students, faculty, and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact to someone with COVID-19 to provide guidance on self-quarantine or self-isolation, ask about close contacts and notify those contacts, if necessary, provide recommendations and resources (e.g., testing and isolation guidelines), and promote best practices.  The COVID-19 Reporting Committee will have access to the information reported through the COVID-19 Report Forms and will coordinate with key campus offices to contain the spread of the disease while also protecting the confidentiality of the affected individual’s information to the extent possible. 

Who should complaints about the current policy be made out to? (eg Provost Fierke, President Young, etc).
Complaints can be sent to your department, college, or university administrators. 
 
Graduate students are employees but they are also students, why are they not also given a choice of if they want to participate in face to face classes? Furthermore, why were TAs not included in discussions on how classes will be run when they are the ones who will risk their lives to teach them?
As students, graduate students, like undergraduates, have the option to attend classes remotely. See the response to petition demand #1 for the process by which GATs and GALs could request remote teaching or teaching modifications. Students, including a representative from the GPSG and SGA served on an academic planning committee that met over the summer to provide input on plans for the fall.  
 
I applied to be a TA. Why was I never notified as to whether or not I received a position? It seems like I should have at least received a “You don’t have a position. Sorry,” message.
TAs are appointed by departments or colleges for college level courses. Some hire TAs through the first week of classes. You may want to check in with the employing unit to inquire about the status of your application and timeline for hiring.

Questions about Managing Safety

If I am a TA and asked to take a lab but I am not comfortable going F2F, how should I manage that?
If you feel you are being asked to teach, do research, or otherwise work under conditions which do not meet university guidelines, notify your supervisor or department head. If you feel uncomfortable discussing your concerns with someone in your department, contact the Graduate and Professional Studies Ombuds Office. You may also contact the Division of Research if the unsafe activity falls under research.
 
In the face of mounting evidence that in-person instruction poses significant risks to those involved, why are we pushing forward with it? If we can provide high quality remote learning, why can't instructors choose to change to that format and thereby help students both learn and stay safe?
We exist as an institution of education for you, our campus, state, and the world. And we think teaching and research are more important now than ever.

Data shows that new student groups, particularly freshmen, and students with disabilities, do better when they have some face to face instruction.
So we’re trying to fulfill our mission to the best of our ability. As Provost Fierke said in a University-wide communication on June 29th, “Our priorities are to provide the best education possible while preserving the health and safety of all of our Aggie family members.”
 
I have seen several people on campus with a face shield and no masks on, I believe you know that shields do not work without masks. Why are such exceptions being allowed especially inside labs? This should be inexcusable, there is no medical condition that prevents one from wearing a mask.
There shouldn’t be any students in classes or individuals without face coverings in indoor public spaces. If they are unable to wear face coverings, they were told to take classes or work remotely. Use the Campus Community Incident Report form to notify the Student Conduct Office (SCO) of incidents where a student has refused to either wear a face covering or leave the area. If faculty or staff violate the mask policy, notify your supervisor or the Department Chair.

Why not let the air circulate through open windows? Windows are always closed.
Opening the windows in a car is effective; in large buildings, however, it is problematic because it changes how air moves. The University has modified HVAC systems in all 800+ buildings on campus to create air flow that reduces the spread of the virus.                                          
 
What's the compensation for TAs if they get COVID-19 from teaching?
See the response to petition demand #2.
 
How will school practice social distancing for TAs?
Movable plexiglass shields are being installed in all registrar-managed classrooms. Also seating instructions will be provided by the university in many classrooms to enhance physical distancing.
 
I'm a GTA, and I will be teaching a lab the same as previous semester. The lab requires group work, which means several students will be assigned together to discuss and perform the job. Considering the limited space of the room, I don't think they can be 6 ft away from each other, which will be against the safety rule of COVID virus. What could be a workaround? For the safety of students as well as TA.
Discuss with your faculty or staff supervisor.  I am sure they have developed a plan that will allow for social distancing. See response for student demand #1 for more details about lab classes.

How do you plan to empower graduate teaching assistants in terms of confronting students who refuse to wear masks on campus or in the classroom?
University policy states that students are required to wear a face covering inside buildings, including in a face to face class. Students who arrive without a face covering should be reminded of this SAP, asked to put on a face covering or to leave the classroom and participate in class remotely. If a student refuses to leave or comply with safety policies, the faculty member should identify the student and notify the Student Conduct Office who will treat noncompliance as a conduct violation (Face Covering Violations). Additionally, the faculty member may choose to teach that day’s class remotely for all students. Students with an approved exemption to wear a face shield instead of a face covering should have a letter documenting this and will be permitted to remain. Students with exemptions from all face coverings and face shields should attend classes remotely.
 
I'm going to teach design studio which requires frequent stops by students desks to evaluate and guide the student work. with the current pandemic situation, how should I maintain the social distancing? Also, I have some students who prefer to have the class remotely, is there a software that can facilitate teaching architectural visual communication skills (drafting and technical drawing) by live feed? Thanks a lot.
Discuss with your supervisor ways you can safely give students feedback. Resources are available at keepteaching.tamu.edu to help all instructors adjust their teaching styles to the current environment.
 
What system is in place to address the concerns of graduate students who feel that teaching is putting them in an unsafe position?
If you feel you are being asked to teach, do research, or otherwise work under conditions which do not meet university guidelines, please notify your supervisor or department head. If you feel uncomfortable discussing your concerns with someone in your department, contact the Graduate and Professional Studies Ombuds Office. You may also contact the Division of Research if the unsafe activity falls under research.
 
Will graduate student TAs be allowed to penalize students who refuse to wear masks or comply with social distancing (through grade penalties, removal from class, etc.) without facing punishment or retribution from their department or the university?
What are the guidelines/protocol when students do not wear masks? What to do if classroom students do not socially distance, or generally do not follow other guidelines set forth by TAMU? 
In accordance with the Face Covering policy, University officials may use the Campus Community Incident Report form to notify the Student Conduct Office (SCO) of incidents where a student has refused to either wear a face covering or leave the area.

When a violation is reported, the student alleged to be in violation will be contacted by the SCO with information regarding the process for determining whether they are responsible for a rule violation.

  • The student will have the opportunity to choose whether to contest the charge and to share their perspective on the reported incident.
  • If the student has received an exemption from wearing a face covering, the student may submit documentation of the exemption.

If the student does not contest the charge or is found responsible for a rule violation, sanctions will be issued.

  • Typical sanctions for a first-time violation will include a letter of reprimand and educational requirements (such as a reading and writing assignment).
  • More serious sanctions may be considered depending on various factors such as: the impact of the behavior on others, previous violations, or other circumstances surrounding the incident.

Questions about Moving Teaching Online

Will the school stop compelling TAs to teach in person?
OGAPS worked with HR to develop a form and process for GATs and GALs to request remote instruction assignments or teaching modifications for fall 2020 assignments. GATs and GALs were able to list, in their responses, any condition that could lead to increased risk from COVID-19.
GATs and GALs were given the opportunity to request remote instruction or teaching modifications. 129 requests were submitted. HR categorized requests to teach remotely or for teaching modifications according to risk, based on CDC guidelines. Then OGAPS provided the list of requests to Department Heads, noting those students categorized as having factors that increase the chance of complications related to COVID-19, to use in making teaching assignment decisions. If you are unhappy with your teaching assignment, you can still request modifications through your department.
 
Questions Pertaining to International Students
What will you do to meet the needs of international students who want to continue studying and working at TAMU while in their home countries, especially when their countries have better medical systems thus more protection from COVID-19?
Is it not possible to teach from our home country, when I have gotten an online course?
After discussion with several TAMU and TAMUS divisions, we have concluded that significant barriers exist to employ new or continuing international and domestic graduate students who cannot physically be present in the United States. As such, Texas A&M will not allow this employment arrangement until we receive further guidance from counsel. This restriction applies to any graduate student employment position including Graduate Assistant Teaching (GAT), Research (GAR), Non-Teaching (GANT), and Lecturer (GAL).

This restriction does not apply to graduate students currently employed and residing in another country on a temporary basis, and for the purpose of conducting research specific to that location. In these specific situations, contact jackieperez@tamu.edu in the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies so that we may support engagement with the appropriate divisions to address issues related to foreign employment.

Questions pertaining to Graduate Advisors

My advisor requested me to physically work 20h/week in the lab as a graduate research assistant, but I think it's unnecessary because we can work remotely without difficulty and it's also risky. Any guidance or requirements on this from the university?
If you feel you are being asked to teach, do research, or otherwise work under conditions which do not meet university guidelines, notify your supervisor or department head. If you feel uncomfortable discussing your concerns with someone in your department, contact the Graduate and Professional Studies Ombuds Office. You may also contact the Division of Research if the unsafe activity falls under research.
 
Questions Pertaining to Research or Assistantships
COVID-19 significantly impacted many graduate students' dissertation/research. Are there any plans to extend time or stipend funding/contracts given that many students have lost semester's worth of work and still face barriers to completing said research because of the pandemic (lab time, fieldwork, etc)?
Does Texas A&M plan to offer any additional support or fellowship opportunities to GAR PhD students who intended to graduate this scholastic year 2020-2021 whose graduation has been delayed to 2021-2022 due to COVID? This would include increasing the number of dissertation fellowships for 2021-2022 or departments offering GAT work to GARs whose current support expires in 2021.
Are you willing to provide 1-year extensions to current graduate students?
See response to demand #4 above.

If you are a graduate assistant, there is University-wide mandate requiring your tuition and fees be covered by your program or alternative sources of funding. The mandate covers you for four or five years, depending on your entry status. 

If your mandate period ended in May or August 2020 and COVID-19-related factors have caused a delay in your progress toward your degree, know that the mandate sets minimum coverage. You may request an extension of tuition and fee coverage required by the mandate up to a year to accompany your assistantship. We encourage you to contact your program faculty, graduate director, staff advisor, or graduate student organization for guidance.
 
If your mandated coverage is not expired, but you anticipate needing extra time to degree, know that we are aware expecting requests over the next few years. We are prioritizing requests from students who are in the last year of mandated coverage.

If you have otherwise lost funding or incurred unexpected expenses for something related to COVID-19, we encourage you to review available University resources. You can apply for emergency aid through the Financial Aid Office. Financial Aid also offers other types of assistance, including grants for domestic and international students that are awarded based on need. If you are applying due to extenuating circumstances, make sure to include that information in your application.

Please reach out to your program faculty, graduate director, staff advisor, or graduate student organization for guidance about funding. They are eager to help you. 

If you have exhausted these options and were not able to resolve concerns and funding needs, contact OGAPS at ogaps-info@tamu.edu.

Question about Fees

Can you explain which fees are supposed to be paid under the new contract. Upon speaking to the Business Manager for our department, we were told that college advancement fee will not be paid. Why is this fee not included in our paid fees? Also, some students have to pay $331 and others have to pay $360? The business manager could not explain why this amount was different per person.
The T&F Payment page defines the fees that are covered for Phd GARs/GATs/GALs per the T&F mandate. Individual student questions or concerns can be directed to ogaps@tamu.edu or grad-employment@tamu.edu.
 
Question asked specifically to OGAPS
What support does OGAPS give students if they feel there is an inequity in the department in regards to who is required to teach face-to-face versus online.
Start with department scheduling coordinator. Your department makes decisions about who is responsible for teaching assignments. If you are uncomfortable with this course of action, contact the Ombuds Office.
 
Miscellaneous
Can departments be required to let graduate students apply for specific TA positions, specified as online or in-person? We had to apply blind as no list of positions was available. That's a risk if a student with immunity issues is surprised with an in-person TA assignment.
Departments hire personnel based on need, and as such, there is no guarantee of which role a graduate assistant might serve. This is true for the course with which the graduate assistant might be affiliated, as well as the method of delivery.
 
I am new to this field since my undergrad was different. With these online classes i am worried i won’t be able to understand the concepts.
The TAMU Keep Learning page is a great resource for adjusting to online instruction.
 
If returning to teaching in-person is such a great idea, why is this symposium being held online?
This was the most efficient way we could reach the most members of our graduate community.

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