A Tale of Two Letters

Two letters. The first is a letter from the graduate students and faculty of the BU English department, expressing solidarity between graduate students and faculty, in opposition to the Provost’s Memo of June 19 regarding PhD students and the “opaque process that has been poorly explained” surrounding possible exemptions. Amongst other things (including the disproportional impact on black and brown communities when it comes to the impact of COVID-19), the letter highlights the separate standards implied by the memo when it comes to domestic and foreign students. Many foreign students have already been financially penalized because they had to stay in Boston without work for part of the summer (student visa conditions prevent them from working outside of the university). Now, graduate students who teach and who have returned to their home countries face having their stipends cancelled if they can’t re-enter the country due to entry restrictions or difficulties booking flights.

Well done, English! There is still no public clarificatory or ameliorative statement from the university regarding PhD students, despite the huge outcry on Twitter and elsewhere regarding the Provost’s memo, and the internal claims I reported on five days ago to the effect that some of the policies may end up being more relaxed than they appear in the document. If certain policies will be more relaxed, one would think the university would publicly confirm this, if only for PR-related reasons.

The second letter I wish to respond to is today’s letter to the university community from the BU President. Ostensibly an exercise in transparently sharing information about the financial state and plans of the university before asserting that 250 employees will be laid off or furloughed, and that searches for 200 open and unfilled positions will be delayed or cancelled, it is, in fact, an exercise in faux transparency. Aggregate budget numbers and shortfalls are reported (based on facts we already know about freezing salary increases, and removing a year of university contributions to retirement plans, etc.), but the email does not break down “undesignated reserves and budget contingencies” in any detail, let alone consider other ways in which money might be saved. Perhaps there are reasons why recently acquired real estate cannot be sold, or certain building programs cannot be halted, for instance, but we’re not told anything about these reasons, and probably never will be. There is no discussion of the larger mission of the university, or any mention of the widespread concerns of university teachers regarding the way Learn from Anywhere will be forcing many of us to return to teach with masks on in our poorly ventilated classrooms in the Fall, when we would much prefer not to be risking our lives for such a pedagogically unsound approach to educating students.

I have heard rumors of letters to our university leaders from other BU departments, and I hope to post more soon.