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Purdue graduate students voice concern about university reopening plan

As the day gets closer for when Purdue's fall semester starts, some graduate students said they have concerns with the "Protect Purdue Plan."

Posted: Aug 5, 2020 7:48 PM
Updated: Aug 5, 2020 11:14 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - As the day gets closer for when Purdue's fall semester starts, some graduate students said they have concerns with the "Protect Purdue Plan." They also feel left out of the conversation.

"We are a university of experts and it would be a shame to train us and then ignore us," said Elle Rochford, a PhD candidate in Sociology at Purdue.

Members of the independent organization, Graduate Rights and Our Well-being, said an important voice isn't being heard when it comes to the formation of Purdue's COVID-19 reopening plan. GROW has started a petition that outlines their demands of the university for more communication and transparency.

"Our goals are to listen to the graduate student community and more broadly the campus community including other workers," said Rochford, who is a member of GROW. "One of the things we are concerned about is not just student health, it's worker safety, it's community safety, we are a part of two towns and then the wider community of parents and grandparents and relatives."

They said the plan isn't doing enough to protect the workers who are in the classroom with students, and that it's been put together by people who don't fully understand the risks of being in a classroom during this pandemic.

"Some of the classroom measures put a lot of burden on instructors and on custodial staff with no increase in pay or acknowledgment of risk," she said.

News 18 asked Purdue if graduate students and custodial staff were consulted. A university spokesperson said:

"We include one or more voting representatives (not administrator proxies) from every impacted employment or student position on all decision-making committees. This includes undergraduates, grad workers, post-docs, faculty members, clerical staff, and facilities staff."

This statement is verbatim from the demands of GROW, which were finalized on July 8th. GROW submitted the demands officially to the Board of Trustees and President Mitch Daniels on July 13th. Lauren Murfree, a member of the organization, said the group spent a month putting the petition together with their own words. The photo below is a screenshot from the group's online petition, which includes all of their demands and has been online for several weeks. 

After bringing this to the attention of the university spokesperson, it was made clear that the above statement was sent in error. The following statement is correct and is the official statement from the university regarding who has been involved in helping to formulate plan:

"Decisions at the University are made by individuals in leadership positions who engage with faculty, staff, and students, not by committee vote. The concerns of graduate staff and students are solicited through many channels, including the following:

The Purdue Graduate Student Government, as the official advocate for graduate students at Purdue University, has a voice with senior Purdue administrators, including the provost and the dean of the Graduate School. The provost has a standing monthly meeting with the president of PGSG; these have increased to weekly meetings since the COVID-19 crisis began as PGSG has joined with other organizations in meeting with the provost. The PGSG president also meets monthly with the dean of the Graduate School and with the Graduate School dean’s cabinet and when needed through phone calls. At these meetings, graduate staff and student concerns regarding COVID-19 and systemic racism have been represented. The advisor of PGSG, an associate dean at the Graduate School, also meets with PGSG regularly and attends the PGSG executive committee and the senate meetings."

Graduate School Dean Linda Mason also confirmed that the Purdue Graduate Student Government is regularly consulted. PGSG is officially affiliated with the university, while GROW is not.

"We're also really concerned about the capacity of the health center and the psychological services offered on campus," said Rochford. She added that getting into PUSH during a normal semester could take up to two weeks, and getting help from CAPS could take six months. She said with the looming presence of COVID-19, there will be an increased need for anxiety and grief counseling.

A spokesperson said that three new providers are being added to the university health center staff. And said while they are currently not increasing funding for CAPS, they will be monitoring wait times for appointments and will manage accordingly.

As we've previously reported, Purdue is opening the Protect Purdue Health Center, which will be the hub of COVID-19 testing and quarantine on campus.

Murfree said they have seen some positive changes happening with the evolution of the plan.

"Initially they hadn't planned to have additional masks and PPE in the classrooms and then they changed that and now they do have them in the classroom," she said. However, GROW is pushing a step further on this. Part of their demands is to have PPE be provided at the entrances to buildings.

"Students like to hang out in hallways," said Murfree. "If you are walking into the building and have to go all the way to your classroom to get a mask, you are potentially exposing people along the way."

"There are pieces that make sense and I think there are pieces that can be strengthened and I just wish they would include the community to strengthen those pieces that could work," said Rochford.

GROW submitted demands to the Board of Trustees and to President Daniels on July 13th. While their intention was to talk with university leadership directly, they got a response from Dean Mason two weeks later and intend to meet with her next week.

GROW is hosting a virtual panel discussion on Friday, August 7th from 1-3pm. It's called "Behind the Mask of #ProtectPurde." The panel includes Alexcia Plummer, Contract Analyst at Sponsored Program Services; Frank Rosenthal, Professor Emeritus of Health Sciences, Purdue University; Hwanseok Song, Risk Communication Specialist, Assistant Professor, Purdue University; Val Schull, PhD Candidate, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue Graduate Student Government Diversity Officer.

The panel will take place on zoom and will also be broadcast live on the GROW Facebook page. Below is the zoom meeting information.

Join us on Zoom! https://tinyurl.com/BehindTheMaskPurdue
Meeting ID: 850 4974 2427
Passcode: fjB0TR

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