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PhD candidates, GLO express frustration at unexpected partial denials of COVID funding extension

Brown points to language in side letter, says some applications did not justify full funding

According to GLO leaders and several students who applied for the extension, doctoral students created long term academic and financial plans based on a belief that all requests would be granted in full.
According to GLO leaders and several students who applied for the extension, doctoral students created long term academic and financial plans based on a belief that all requests would be granted in full.

Following an uptick in sixth-year PhD students reporting that their requests for a yearlong COVID-related funding extension had been partially denied by the University, Graduate Labor Organization leaders are accusing the University of violating “the spirit” of a clause in a 2023 side letter to GLO’s second contract with the University. 

Dean of the Graduate School Thomas Lewis ’90 wrote in an email to The Herald that 11 graduate students were not given the full COVID extension requested, but noted that these students may apply for appeals.

According to Lewis, the “vast majority of students who applied for extensions” were approved for the full length of their request, and “no one who applied was denied an extension,” emphasizing that all applicants received at least a portion of the extension length they requested. 

The clause expanded on a similar side letter in GLO’s 2020 contract, enabling students who were in their first or second year of study in the spring of 2020 to apply for the University’s COVID Appointment Extension program. The extension program provides “up to two semesters and one summer” of extended funding to graduate students whose degree progress was impacted by the pandemic. A typical PhD program often lasts six years, though completion times can vary for individual students.


Sixth-year PhD students applying for an extension under the program submitted their requests in March and began receiving application decisions in early April. This year, according to GLO leaders and program applicants, PhD candidates have witnessed an “unprecedented” number of cases in which applicants were not granted the full length of the extensions they requested. 

Lewis wrote that the Graduate School did “see an uptick in the number of applications where the application materials initially submitted did not justify the length requested.” As a result, the University declined to grant full extensions to more students this year than in previous years.  

But according to GLO leaders and several students who applied for the extension, doctoral students created long-term academic and financial plans based on a belief that all requests would be granted in full. 

“The understanding has been, to date, that ‘up to one year’ means if you're applying for a year, you know that's what you're going to receive,” GLO’s Political Director Michael Ziegler said. “We’re seemingly seeing a much more stringent process  — one that really breaks significantly with this past precedent.”

GLO hosted an internal COVID Extension Emergency Meeting on Thursday night to determine how the union will proceed. 

“We’re seeking greater transparency about the process and asking for a return to graduate inclusion in the decision-making process and a full year for all who requested it,” Ziegler wrote in a message to The Herald after the meeting. 

Ziegler added that some graduate students who applied for extensions still have not heard back from the University with a decision.

Goutam Piduri GS applied for an extension in March and was granted a full seventh year of funding. He said that based on historical precedent, he and his advisors believed that once an application was submitted with advisor support, applicants were effectively guaranteed the full extension they requested. 

“I realized around the end of my fifth and beginning of my sixth year that I would require seven (years) to bring my dissertation to a stage that I wanted and also do all these professional things like go to conferences,” he said. “When I got the (decision), I was obviously relieved and happy to know that my plans wouldn't have to change on short notice.”

Sixth-year PhD student Alessandro Moghrabi GS, who applied for an extension through spring 2025 but was only granted funding for the summer and fall of 2024, was under the same impression. 


“(During) extensive interactions with the administration, they always made us understand that it was also in their plans and in their interest to grant these extensions liberally,” said Moghrabi, who formerly served on GLO’s bargaining committee and as its Vice President.

“Full-year extensions have never been automatically needed or granted,” Lewis wrote. “While different cohorts have gone through the appointment extension application process, the principles used to evaluate applications have remained consistent.”

According to Lewis, the original side letter limited eligibility for the extension to graduate students who were in their third, fourth or fifth year of study when the pandemic began “because they were the ones most likely to be engaged in research that would be delayed as a result of the pandemic.” 

As a result, the increase in students who were only granted a partial extension “may reflect that as we move further from the height of the pandemic, we will see a diminishment in the impact, compared to earlier cohorts of students,” he wrote.

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The original 2020 side letter established a committee charged with determining “the criteria for the awarding of a COVID-19 Appointment Extension.” The letter stipulated that the committee would comprise administrators and faculty members appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School, as well as four students appointed jointly by the Graduate Student Council and GLO.

“Following the establishment of the criteria it will be the responsibility of the Graduate School to administer COVID-19 Appointment Extensions, including responsibility for determining whether or not students requesting the extension meet the criteria,” the side letter continued. 

But GSC and GLO also nominated students to the committee in 2022, which at that point “was charged with ensuring that appointment extensions are granted according to the criteria established previously by the committee,” GSC President Farha Mithila GS wrote in an email to The Herald. 

The committee also “acted as an adjudicator when a graduate student appeals a denied extension,” she wrote.

Mithila wrote that after graduate students were partially denied their extensions, GSC inquired as to the status of the committee, to which the Graduate School informed them that “there was an internal policy change and the graduate students in the committees were no longer part of the current committee.”

According to Mithila, GSC bylaws dictate that committees that include GSC-nominated graduate students are required to relate any policy changes to GSC. In this case, Mithila wrote that “there was no such communication.”

As a result, GSC has “no idea what prompted the policy changes, how the denial decisions were made and if the appeal process (will) have better graduate representation,” Mithila wrote. 

“The COVID Appointment Extension Committee that was established for extensions for those students who were in years 3, 4 or 5 in spring 2020 did not need to be convened this year, because all of the students from those cohorts who applied this spring were approved for the entire period of time that they requested,” Lewis wrote in an email to The Herald. “That committee was never empowered to respond to requests for extensions by later cohorts.”

In an email sent to GLO representatives and reviewed by The Herald, Ethan Bernstein, the executive dean of administration and finance at the Graduate School, wrote that “the University did not commit to the same appeal process for the later cohorts who were not included in the earlier COVID Appointment Extension process.”

According to Ziegler, GLO intends to meet with Lewis to discuss the composition of the COVID-19 Appointment Extension Committee.

For Moghrabi, the transition to online teaching that COVID required was “very messy and taxing” and prevented him from making progress on the qualifying exams that would enable him to begin work on his dissertation. By the time he completed his required exams, he was nearly a full year behind, he said.

Moghrabi added that he and his advisor “were depending on (the full extension) in order to be able to finish the dissertation in a timely manner, as well as make sure that the dissertation would be a strong asset on the job market.” 

The appointment extension program allows applicants to submit an appeal to request additional time. According to Lewis, students who were not awarded the length of time they requested “were informed that they could appeal the decision and provide additional information that would justify a longer extension.” 

“We look forward to facilitating the appeals process for any student who wishes to use it,” he added.

Ethan Schenker

Ethan Schenker is a Senior Staff Writer covering staff and student labor. He is from Bethesda, MD, and plans to study International and Public Affairs and Economics. In his free time, he enjoys playing piano and clicking on New York Times notifications.

Grace Hu

Grace Hu is a Senior Staff Writer covering graduate student life. She is a freshman from Massachusetts studying English and Neuroscience.

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