COVID-19 Impacts on Graduate Education

To: UCSC Graduate Students

From: Graduate Council Chair Donald Smith

Graduate Council is concerned about the impacts ofCOVID-19 on your welfare and academics.  As communicated in our April 29, 2020 letter to graduate program directors, coordinators, and cc’d to the GSA leadership, we have implemented several temporary changes to policies within the authority of Graduate Council to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and better support graduate students and their academic progress. To ensure that all graduate students are informed of these changes in a timely way, the entirety of that letter appears below.

There are other policy areas that are not within Council’s plenary authority, but are nonetheless central to graduate student welfare and academic progress. Council recognizes and is very sensitive to the fact that COVID-19 is in many cases exacerbating the already precarious position that many graduate students face regarding funding support. We also recognize that the COVID-19 situation is creating potentially  significant financial challenges and uncertainties for the broader UCSC campus. Council will continue advocating for graduate students and graduate education to address these challenges at both the campus and systemwide level. As one example, Council is engaging with the systemwide Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs to pursue  a temporary extension of the 6 year (18 quarter) limit on students holding a teaching assistant/teaching fellow title.  We hope to communicate the results of this effort as well as  additional outcomes in support of graduate students as these emerge.

April 29, 2020    



RE: COVID-19 Impacts on Graduate Education

Dear Colleagues,

Graduate Council is concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on graduate students, given their multiple and intersecting roles as students, researchers, teachers, and employees. Council’s concerns are underscored by comments and questions we have received from students and faculty across the campus broadly related to graduate student well-being and welfare. These concerns include how students are impacted by the loss of outside employment and/or their partner’s loss of employment, need for support for basic needs to address food and housing insecurity, and the availability of mental health services and support; challenges with accommodating the increased workload as they navigate to online teaching and support undergraduate learning; student concerns about progress on research, particularly for laboratory or human subjects-based research that has been halted; adapting to uncertainties in their ability to meet program milestones and completing degrees; suspension or loss of professional engagement and networking opportunities critical to their success; and the potential for a loss of funding. Often hidden is the differential impact of these issues across disciplines, highlighting the need to recognize disciplinary differences in student needs during this time. Graduate students of color and graduate women of color in particular are often a source of support for underrepresented minority undergraduate students, and disproportionately do the institutional service work to fill the gaps in undergraduate support needs for the campus.  The campus provides some services and resources that may mitigate the impacts of some of these issues on graduate students, and students should be encouraged to explore these options.

Graduate Council is especially committed to addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on graduate students and graduate education in areas within the Council’s authority. In order to better support graduate students and their academic progress, Graduate Council is temporarily implementing the following:
  • For current full-time doctoral students that have not yet advanced to candidacy, the Council is extending by one year the maximum amount of time to advance to candidacy before being deemed to be making unsatisfactory academic progress (see UCSC Academic Senate Manual Appendix D, sections IV. F.).
  • For current full-time doctoral students that have already advanced to candidacy, extend by one year the maximum amount of time to complete their degree before being deemed to be making unsatisfactory academic progress (see UCSC Academic Senate Manual Appendix D, section IV. G.).
  • For full-time master’s students extend by one year the number of calendar years of enrollment before being deemed to be making unsatisfactory academic progress (see UCSC Academic Senate Manual Appendix D, section IV. H).
  • These extensions will increase by one year the normative (i.e., maximum) time to degree for current full-time graduate students, as stipulated in Appendix D, Section IV. L.
In addition, Council recommends that, where appropriate departments/programs consider flexibility with program requirements to address the challenges faced by graduate students due to COVID-19, including:
  • Considering waiving GRE admissions requirements. While Council has previously (10/8/2019) announced that GRE scores are an optional requirement for admissions, at the discretion of and by vote of the program faculty, we encourage programs that still require the GRE to consider suspending that requirement for the 2020-21 admissions cycle, given that prospective student access to preparatory resources and testing opportunities may be limited.
  • Other temporary modifications to degree requirements. As indicated in earlier correspondence, (Graduate Council, CCI, and CEP 3/16/20), Council will consider requests for temporary modification of program degree requirements and modes of instruction to address  emerging and exceptional needs for graduate students and programs during this time.  
  • Programs are encouraged to be sensitive to the challenges students may face in meeting milestones set by the program by extending existing deadlines within the program’s purview, when appropriate.
  • Restrictions on international travel are evolving, creating uncertainties that will very likely impact the ability of incoming international students to attend the program in-person. Programs should monitor the situation closely and reach out to Graduate Council when needed to discuss proposals for temporary program modifications (as a reminder, all program degree modifications need to be approved by Graduate Council).
The UC/UCSC administration and Graduate Division, for their part, have ensured that graduate students who entered leave of absence status in spring quarter retained their GSHIP health insurance; and, first-year students who left the state due to COVID in the spring will still be eligible to qualify for California residency in the fall quarter. And, through the Dean of Students Office, SlugSupport has contributed extensive emergency financial support to graduate students.

There are other policy areas that are not within Council’s plenary authority, and where flexibility would greatly support graduate student education, research and teaching. Graduate Council is discussing ways in which it can collaborate with the broader Senate and with the administration in order to work toward encouraging solutions, at both the campus and systemwide level, to bring needed changes in support of the graduate enterprise.

We thank you for your continued engagement with Graduate Council, the broader Senate, campus administration, and with each other, as we collectively work to support our graduate students and the graduate enterprise overall. As Council continues to discuss these pressing issues, we will continue to communicate with the campus about further recommendations and temporary amendments to existing policy.

Donald Smith, Chair, Graduate Council
Quentin Williams, Acting Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies
cc: iCP/EVC Kletzer
Senate Chair Lau
GSA Co-President Gilichinskaya
GSA Co-President Boardman
Academic Deans
Department Managers
Department Graduate Advisers
Graduate Division Assistant Dean Moore