If Knox meets the demands of some students, people released from Hill Correctional Center may stay in unused student housing.
The Knox chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America is collecting signatures for a list of demands to better help Knox students, and others connected to the school, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The list includes housing people released from prison who are at high risk from the virus.
“To be quite frank, I think we do need to appreciate that Knox is doing something, but I think that they’re essentially doing the bare minimum in a lot of respects,” YDSA member Soleil Smith said in a call with TKS.
Smith, a senior, said she was disturbed especially that the school seemed to be doing little to help the workers who were laid off earlier this month or student workers who have lost their jobs due to not being on campus.
In an April 28 email, President Teresa Amott announced several new cost-cutting measures to be implemented, stating that the school is expecting a drop in revenue in Fall 2020. The measures include cutting 403(b) retirement contributions by the school from 6% to 3% effective May 1 and Amott taking a 20% reduction in her compensation for the foreseeable future.
In a phone call with TKS, Amott said these measures had been in the works for some time, so were not directly in response to the YDSA demands. She emphasized that the school does, of course, want to be responsive to student concerns. Amott also said that more cost cutting measures will need to be taken and that Knox is far from the only school taking these measures.
Other measures are being considered for the fall.
YDSA has set a goal of 200 signatures for their petition and have 127 as of the afternoon of Tuesday, April 28. They held a town hall meeting for people to ask questions about the demands on Monday, April 27 and are hosting Zoom based ‘phone zaps’ to address administration over this week.
Sophomore Patrick Mulchrone has been helping with the social media campaign for the demands and with the town hall. He said family, friends and alumni can also sign the petition, as YDSA wants them to be included in the conversation about the college’s response as well.
The demands include that the school provide PPE and hazard pay to all employees still working on campus as well as promise to rehire all those workers let go earlier this month.
Mulchrone pointed out that much of Galesburg’s economy is reliant on hospitality and service industries which are directly impacted by the pandemic and stay-at-home orders. Losing one’s job at this time can be especially dangerous, he explained.
“We put them on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,” he said of the laid off workers.
YDSA also proposed a tuition freeze and increased student financial aid for the 2020-21 school year. This would be paid for partly by cuts to senior staff pay. YDSA did not have an estimated cost for the programs, but said they expected the money to come from the endowment, federal and state aid.
Another financial demand was for the school to provide basic living costs, which YDSA said include food, housing and medical care, for all community members who request it through the relief fund.
The school can work with local, state and federal politicians to obtain this aid, Mulchrone said. Knox will receive over $1 million from the federal CARES Act already.
Finally, they demand that the school provide housing for individuals released from prison due to being at high risk from COVID-19.
The demand is part of a state-wide effort by the Illinois Coalition for Higher Ed in Prison. The effort asks colleges to host up to 20 individuals in housing not being used by students. IL-CHEP would provide one or two volunteers to help the individuals and would work with local communities to try to find places for them to move to after three months.
An email to TKS from IL-CHEP representative Katrina Burlet said no schools in the state have committed to the plan yet.
Mulchrone explained that he saw the demands as part of YDSA’s broader push towards mutual aid at Knox. The chapter has also organized a mutual aid relief fund which raised $2,000, of which $1,700 had been dispersed by the time of the town hall.
In a later call with TKS, Smith and sophomore Poornima Tata, another member of YDSA, said that they appreciated some of the moves but wanted more information about the specifics of the measures, such as how much money was being saved by Amott’s 20% pay cut and if faculty and staff had agreed to the 403(b) contribution reductions.
Tata said the proposed increasing pay reductions as salaries go up was a good idea, but that overall transparency is lacking.
“We didn’t choose any of the demands very lightly, and we’ve researched into the school’s financial standings and how they operate,” Smith said. “We understood that this is not, at all, an easy situation for Knox to be in and I think we’re all definitely concerned about how the school’s going to recover when already things were already sort of rough, but I think it’s a tricky spot for everybody.”
Soleil Smith is the discourse editor for TKS. Samuel Lisec and Sarah Eitel contributed reporting to this story. This story has been updated with additional information from IL-CHEP.
A previous version of this article specified individuals released from Hill Correctional Center, but the program does not specify prisons near the college.