Letter to Governor Whitmer Regarding Grad Employee Situation at Northern Michigan University

Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Hal Hulan

We are writing to the Governor of Michigan to request action on behalf of Graduate Employees at Northern Michigan University and all higher education institutions in the state. Despite being in the midst of a pandemic, in which positive cases of Covid-19 continue to rise, NMU is determined to continue face-to-face instruction. What's more, Graduate Employees and other non-tenured faculty members do not receive health care through the institution, leaving them all the more vulnerable. We recognize that NMU's situation is not unique and that many universities around the state and the country have left students and faculty members without proper support and compensation at this time. Please sign this petition to help us fight for the safety of all university students and workers in the state of Michigan.

Note: This petition is open to all signatories. Please sign and share the word!
Petition by

To: Governor Gretchen Whitmer
From: [Your Name]

Dear Governor Whitmer,
On July 9th, you wrote: “I will not send our kids and our educational workforce into our schools unless it is safe to do so, plain and simple.” The graduate employees of Northern Michigan University are writing to you in order to call on your power and position as Governor to assist us in rectifying the unsafe practices of Northern Michigan University in response to the health of all its students and employees.
In our position as graduate employees, we are responsible for leading and designing coursework for our classrooms. In the English department, graduate employees teach nearly every incoming freshman student. Elsewhere, graduate employees lead essential lab work and research. It has long been a source of struggle that graduate assistants receive pay far below a livable wage and do not receive any healthcare benefits through the institution, leaving many of us completely vulnerable and unable to seek medical aid. Though this situation was always unjust, it has become entirely inexcusable during this pandemic. We believe that our situation at NMU is not unique and that if you were to look into other higher learning institutions in our state and nation, you would find many graduate employees and non-tenured faculty members equally unprotected and in need of immediate action. While NMU does allow accommodations for teaching online, documentation from a healthcare provider is mandatory. Requiring employees without healthcare to get documentation only attained via healthcare providers leaves many employees without options. We recognize the work you have done as Governor to flatten the curve so far and know you are committed to keeping Michigan students and educational workers safe. However, such an aim cannot be achieved until educational workers such as ourselves receive healthcare and the right to choose between virtual and in-class instruction without stipulation to protect ourselves and our students.
Requiring us to teach in-person during a pandemic and simultaneously withholding healthcare puts the whole community at risk. While we are grateful for the support from some faculty members, the overall silence from the institution and its leaders has terrified us. We are not safe, our students are not safe, and the community we live in is not safe while the institution continues to put members at risk through negligible decision making. Though we recognize some of the safety measures enacted by NMU, we know that there is more work to do, and further action needed to create a safe and principled learning environment for all.
We are calling to you now because the time to solve this crisis is fleeting, and you have the ability to rectify what the institution refuses to. Some actions which could have a positive impact on this situation include statewide guidelines mandating healthcare for professors and teachers before reopening can take place, or delegating emergency funds to assist colleges in providing these essential services to workers and better transition online. Additionally, we implore you to consider how this safety net for our institutions is absolutely vital in allowing our students, faculty, and staff to cultivate an educational space that is flexible, accessible, and most importantly, safe.

Thank you for your time.

The signatories,