Student says he was dismissed from UIUC for COVID-19 testing non-compliance

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UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — A 4th year PhD student said he has been dismissed by the University of Illinois for not following the university’s COVID-19 testing guidelines. Now, he’s fighting to be reinstated.

According to the Graduate Employees’ Organization, Antonio Ruiz has multiple health issues, including a medically-diagnosed inability to take the university’s standard saliva test.

This past fall, he lived by himself in university housing and worked remotely as a TA. According to GEO, Ruiz said he only left for essential activities and socially distanced walks.

He was alerted in October that his lack of testing was non-compliant with the university’s testing policies. He was put on probation and then tried to apply for a testing exemption, but was denied due to his residence on campus. If the dismissal and subsequent eviction stand, Ruiz will likely have to travel home to his family in Miami.

“Florida state currently has a much higher transmission rate of COVID-19 than Illinois, which is also a huge source of concern for him,” fellow GEO member Hadrian Quan explained. “GEO is concerned for him just because of his health conditions. He’s very highly at risk for complications from COVID-19, which is just an extra existential layer of threat.”

Ruiz said he wasn’t told about the nasal swab alternative testing options at McKinley Health Center until this spring.

“The university’s had such high expectations with harsh punishments, waiting for some small mistake,” Quan explained.

He said after seeing news coverage of Ivor Chen’s dismissal and later reinstatement, Ruiz reached out to GEO to see if they could help him. The organization has now begun circulating a petition in support of Ruiz.

“The GEO is pursuing all available means to support Antonio, reverse his dismissal decision, and ensure he receives pay and a tuition waiver for the Spring semester. But the University administration shows no sign of empathy or willingness to support Antonio in a meaningful way. If the GEO and the University are unable to reach a mutually agreeable compromise, we will be forced to explore other means to ensure Antonio gets justice.”

Graduate Employees’ Organization

WCIA reached out to the university for a response to the petition. They released the following statement:

Federal privacy law generally prevents the university from discussing a specific student’s disciplinary case. The student disciplinary procedure affords students due process, including the right to written notice of charges, the opportunity for a hearing with an advisor present, the right to present evidence and testimony and the right to appeal a disciplinary action. The procedure is a system of shared governance led by the Academic Senate in partnership with the Office for Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR). Cases and appeals in which a student faces separation from the university are heard and decided by a panel of students, faculty and staff. Students are well informed of their rights, responsibilities and options throughout the process. 

Our experience has been that information presented outside of the formal disciplinary process about a disciplinary action often presents an incomplete portrayal of the facts. For example, for the entire academic year, we have offered an alternative testing option to any student who cannot use the saliva test.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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