Student and Worker Justice During the Coronavirus Crisis

Fees, debt, wages, housing, food, and academic equity must be addressed justly.

We are all living through an unprecedented worldwide emergency due to the coronavirus. In the face of this uncertainty, many people are feeling fearful. Fears about employment, compensation, safety, health, caretaking, debt, housing, and food require immediate attention. 

Hundreds of thousands of people in Massachusetts rely on our public colleges and universities. Our public higher education institutions provide places to work, learn, eat, and sleep for students, faculty, and staff across the state. 

However, even in the best of times, our students, faculty, and staff are vulnerable. Students in Massachusetts struggle to balance work and learning as they face insurmountable student loan debt. Many of our students face food and housing insecurity. Adjunct faculty struggle to make ends meet as they cobble together a full course load across multiple campuses. Staff on campuses are often overworked and underpaid. 

All of this has happened because public higher education is deeply underfunded, and many fear more cuts are on the way due to the economic crisis stemming from the coronavirus emergency.

Now, in the face of this health crisis, the lives of our students, faculty, and staff are further destabilized. Campus workers, who are also providers and caretakers, fear a disruption in pay. Many students no longer have access to housing, food, or a safe learning environment. Workers who remain on campus have legitimate health and safety concerns. The repercussions of our campuses closing are far-reaching and, if unattended to, will be long-lasting. 

Please sign this petition addressed to our U.S. Senators and Representatives to support cancelling all federal student debt.

Please sign this petition addressed to our State Senators and State Representatives to support fully funding public colleges during this crisis.

Today, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) demands that our federal, state, community, and campus leaders step-in and stand up for our campus communities. We demand that our leaders prioritize the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. We need our leaders to take action to meet the following demands.

We urge everyday people and supporters to sign petitions, send letters, and make calls on these demands. We are glad to partner in MEJA’s “Education Justice During the Coronavirus Crisis” Action Plan and to support demands made by the UMass Amherst Student Government Association, Massachusetts Teachers Association, Boston Teachers Union, UMass Unions United, and many other groups.

We will continuously update these demands, add petitions and new ways to take action, and put more issues on the list as the coronavirus crisis unfolds and as needs and policy responses change. We will also post our VICTORIES here, and we have won some already!

We will make it through this together.

In Solidarity,
The PHENOM Organizers & Staff

Contact Your Lawmakers to Support Fully Funding Public Colleges

Sign PHENOM’s Petition to Cancel All Student Debt

Click to View PHENOM’s Resources for Students, Workers, and Advocates


Tuition, Fee, and Student Debt Justice

  1. Massachusetts must fully fund public college and university budget requests in the FY2021 budget. Further, Massachusetts must fully reimburse all emergency expenses of our public colleges and universities related to the COVID-19 crisis. These expenses include, but are not limited to, reimbursement on student accounts, continued pay for full- and part-time workers, and protective equipment for workers.
  2. All students unable to continue their coursework due to the coronavirus emergency must receive a refund of their tuition and fee costs for the Spring 2020 semester.
  3. Student debt payments must be immediately frozen for all public and private student loans in Massachusetts.
  4. Liens, collections, and wage garnishment must be immediately stopped for all public and private student loans in Massachusetts.
  5. The Massachusetts Legislature must immediately pass the Student Loan Borrower’s Bill of Rights to provide protections and guidance for student borrowers in distress.
  6. The federal government must cancel all federal student debt as part of any economic stimulus package to address the crisis.

Worker Justice

  1. All campus workers (workers defined as full and part-time staff, faculty, adjunct faculty, graduate student employees, and student workers) must continue to be fully compensated with access to full benefits. 
    1. This should include workers conducting work remotely, workers continuing to work on campus, and workers who are not on campus and also do not have access to remote work. 
    2. Workers should not be compensated by having to use their own earned leave time. 
  2. All workers at high-risk from COVID-19 must not be required to be on campus and have full access to compensation and benefits. 
  3. All workers that can effectively work remotely must be given access to remote work.
  4. All essential workers that remain on campus must have access to safe working conditions. 
    1. Workers must be provided with personal protective equipment required to remain safe given current health concerns. This includes gloves, face masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, and other products deemed necessary by workers. 
  5. Workers must maintain full access to their paid medical leave, sick time, vacation time, and personal days. 
  6. Workers who contract or are exposed to COVID-19 must be given fully-paid leave, without having to use earned leave time. 
  7. Remote workers must have access to reasonable accommodations and tools to be successful. This should include full-funding, materials and technology, and additional compensation, depending on the nature of the work.

Sign UMass Unions United petition for worker justice

Sign UMass Boston petition for worker safety

Sign Petition to Stop Layoffs at BCC

Academic Equity and Justice

  1. All courses at public colleges and universities must be graded as “pass or fail” for the Spring 2020 semester. 
  2. Students without access to safe learning conditions must not be penalized for disruptions in coursework. 
  3. Students without access to the required technology to complete coursework must not be penalized for disruptions in coursework.
  4. Students who typically receive learning accommodations, such as extended testing times, must be provided comparable accommodations in online classes. Students without access to comparable or adequate accommodations must not be penalized for disruptions in coursework.

WE WON: UMass Boston classes now optional pass/fail

Sign the Salem State petition for pass/fail

Housing Justice

  1. Students evacuated from residence halls at public colleges and universities must be financially reimbursed for housing expenses, equivalent to the time they are restricted from being on campus.
  2. Students that need to stay on campus must be allowed to do so without significant barriers, including students working on campus, students attending in-person classes, international students, students facing housing insecurity without residence halls, and students whose homes pose a threat to physical or mental health.

Food Justice

  1. Students with meal plans at public colleges and universities be financially reimbursed for meal plan costs, equivalent to the time they are restricted from being on campus.
  2. Students who remain on campus must have access to all dining halls still in operation, without significant physical or financial barriers to access. 
  3. Students who remain on campus must have access to nutritious food that is comparable to the food typically provided by campus dining services. 
  4. Food pantries on public college and university campuses must remain open and fully stocked with nutritious and fresh foods, and must be accessible to the community, whether or not people are affiliated with the campus.

Health Justice

  1. Health services must remain available to students, faculty, and staff at public colleges and universities. Students and workers must have continued access to physical and mental health services, to a reasonable extent with considerations for safety. 
  2. We demand that counseling services are provided remotely throughout the emergency.

Just Decision-Making Processes

  1. Students, faculty, and staff must have equal decision-making authority regarding decisions relevant to working conditions, compensation, student accounts, classes, campus services, and campus closures, or any other decision that impacts campus students or workers.
  2. Campus decisions must be made fully transparent to all students and workers. Students and workers must be notified of all decisions made in a timely manner. Students and workers must all be given the same access to information.