Op-eds, Opinions

Oke ’20, Saji ’20: Brown University must continue paying its student workers

By and
Monday, March 23, 2020

On March 20, Brown University announced that they would no longer pay student workers after Saturday, April 4, if students could not continue their on-campus jobs remotely. While we agree that the termination of in-person student jobs was a necessary response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we also believe that the University should fully consider the impact that this decision will have on its student workers. The decision to cut pay for student employees during a campus-wide shutdown only adds to the economic insecurity that many of us now have to bear. As students, the loss of employment, especially as a form of financial aid, is particularly devastating as we must continue paying tuition, buying supplies and supporting ourselves without a guaranteed income. If the University is truly committed to “ensuring that student workers are well positioned to focus on continuing their studies remotely to support their academic success,” they should do better than to impose such an excessive financial burden on us.

Earlier this month, the US Department of Education affirmed that students whose institutions have closed as a result of COVID-19 are entitled to receive their regular student wages for the duration of the closure, at their institution’s discretion. Brown has chosen not to undertake this commitment. The University is offering a one-time payment of $150 to every student on financial aid, but for the average student who works 10 hours a week at the minimum rate of $10.60/hr, this is less than a biweekly paycheck. The only other financial assistance the University is offering at this time is an application-based COVID-19 Transition E-Gap Fund. This fund is restricted to expenses that are directly related to the transition to remote learning and even then, students’ requests can be denied or only partially granted. Further still, students with federal work-study as part of their financial aid packages will still be expected to pay their student contributions, in addition to covering unanticipated COVID-19 transition expenses. With a $4.2 billion endowment — the single largest use of which is for financial aid — where is the money allocated for student wages now going? Had we continued the semester as planned, it would have gone to student workers regardless. Therefore, we are confident that the University can afford to continue paying its student workers for the rest of the semester. 

A number of other universities have already taken the initiative to guarantee continued pay for their student workers. Just down the hill, the Rhode Island School of Design announced that they will pay student employees for the rest of the semester, even if they cannot continue working. Student workers’ pay will be based on the average hours worked before the semester was interrupted. Their hours will then be automatically updated on Workday, according to RISD Student Employment. Both Northeastern and Emory Universities have also ensured that all of their student employees will continue to receive their typical wages, regardless of funding type or position, until the end of the academic term. Northeastern asks that each student worker submit weekly time sheets as they would under normal circumstances. For federal work-study students, Emory has committed to the distribution of all unused federal work-study funds to each impacted student. For their non-federal work-study student employees, Emory proposes to calculate each students’ average hours worked this semester and multiply that by the number of weeks left in the term. These are just some examples of the alternative actions that Brown could take to adequately compensate the student workers that they claim to support. If further inspiration is needed, New York University has also committed to the full payment of their student workers for the remainder of the academic term.

Whether through stipends or continued bi-weekly pay, we hereby demand that Brown University continue paying its student workers in accordance with their regular work schedules until the end of the semester. 

Bí Oke ’20 and Mayo Saji ’20 can be reached at bamidele_oke@brown.edu and mayo_saji@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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