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US: Columbia looks to solve pay & stipend dispute

New York City’s Columbia University says it is “exploring options” to pay doctoral students overseas for lessons provided to students online, following pressure to ensure stipends and wages are made available.

Columbia University had said students with teaching or research appointments must be in the US for the fall 2020 semester. Photo: wikimedia

"We are actively exploring options that will allow the university to pay service stipends to graduate students who are abroad"

The institution has been accused of denying student employees – including assistants, research assistants, graduate instructors – stipends and pay while they are overseas as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The administration must not punish student workers who cannot return to campus”

In a letter to doctoral students, the university had said it required all students with teaching or research appointments to be in the US for the fall 2020 semester.

“To avoid jeopardising international students’ visa status, Columbia will not be able to appoint students to teach or research positions or pay them while they are abroad,” the institution explained, adding those students would be paid if they were in the country.

Government guidance permits international students to engage in on-campus employment remotely, students highlighted.

Schools should be able to explain how the students are providing services associated with the employment while not at the location of the employer, the guidance said.

In an open letter to deans and trustees of Columbia University, the Graduate Workers of Columbia called the lift the obligation for scholars and student workers to return to the US, adding that denying stipends and pay during the pandemic was “cruel and unnecessary”.

“We reject that denying pay to student workers situated abroad in any way protects the visas of international students at the university,” the letter said.

Rutgers, The New School, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania had announced working remotely from abroad and receiving payment as an option, it added.

“The administration must put the welfare of the Columbia community first and not punish student workers who cannot return to campus.”

Columbia has since indicated it is working to adjust the policy.

“We are actively exploring options that will allow the university to pay service stipends to graduate students who are abroad and have valid US employment authorisations; we hope to have a resolution shortly,” a spokesperson for the institution said.

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