Graduate students call on UI to readmit dismissed student

By Amrita Bhattacharyya, News Editor

Members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization convened a press conference Friday to demand the University change its COVID-19 testing noncompliance policy after a second graduate student was dismissed.

Antonio Ruiz, graduate student in LAS, was dismissed from the University March 25 for COVID-19 testing noncompliance. 

Ruiz says he didn’t test during the fall because he had kidney problems and was scared of contracting COVID-19. Furthermore, Ruiz has health conditions which prevent him from taking the University’s saliva test. 

Ruiz has until May 13 to vacate his residential building in University Housing, after which he will no longer be allowed on campus. 

In addition, Ruiz says that his case coordinator told him he could apply for a testing exemption but did not inform Ruiz about alternative testing. He was also not informed that students living on campus were excluded from obtaining testing exemptions.

“The process of obtaining testing accommodations is full of red tape and misinformation,” Ruiz said. “It can take students weeks to obtain accommodations.” 

According to Ruiz, it took him a week to obtain the alternative testing accommodation, after making multiple calls and filling out multiple applications.

“The University expects disabled students to actively advocate for themselves to receive testing accommodations,” Ruiz said. “As if having a disability was not hard enough,”

The dismissal of Ruiz comes months after Ivor Chen, graduate student in LAS, was dismissed Jan. 29 for testing non-compliance.

“When I first heard about his case, I was deeply disappointed,” Chen said. “Like many, I expected more thorough change to the current COVID-19 disciplinary procedure regarding COVID-19 testing noncompliance.”

Chen was readmitted Feb. 16 after his petition gained over 40,000 signatures and grabbed the attention of international media. 

“I had hoped that my case would be a trigger for a thorough discussion among students and faculty members on COVID-19 disciplinary procedures,” Chen said. 

At Ruiz’s disciplinary hearing, he was told that he should have proactively sought out accommodations for his disabilities, according to a petition created by the GEO. 

“In my view, my dismissal was a function of systemic ableism,” Ruiz said. “In rolling out saliva testing for students, little thought was given to how students with disabilities could be supported.”

According to Ruiz, the University also abruptly terminated his pay as a graduate employee without informing him and his director supervisors that his working contract had ended. Ruiz had therefore continued working as a teacher’s assistant.

According to Karla Sanabria-Veaz, member of the GEO, 50% of the educational labor on campus is done by graduate students.

“So dismissing one graduate student, dismissing two graduate students has a domino effect in the quality of education that students were promised to receive even during this pandemic,” Sanabria-Veaz said.

In addition to dropping charges against Ruiz and readmitting him, the GEO is also demanding that the University retroactively readmit students dismissed for testing noncompliance and reduce student conduct probation to student conduct reprimand.

Furthermore, the GEO is demanding that the University give students a one week grace period after noncompliance charges are brought forward to become testing compliant.

“In order for the University to slightly change their disciplinary sanction, you have to put enormous pressure on them,” Chen said. 

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