UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Graduate Employees Organization is circulating a petition calling on the University of Illinois to reinstate a fourth-year international PhD student, Yidong “Ivor” Chen.

According to GEO, Chen is being dismissed from UIUC for COVID-19 testing non-compliance while he and his mother sheltered in place and he worked remotely. He did not go to campus testing sites because he believed he would not need to if he was working 100% remotely. In the Fall 2020 semester, GEO says he was found non-compliant, but in the Spring 2021 semester, he was given an exemption from testing.

Because his visa status is tied to his status as a graduate student, the visa is now being revoked. GEO says Chen appealed the university’s disciplinary decision, but it was denied.

According to the GEO, Chen’s punishment includes:

  1. Dismissal from the University for 1 year, effective immediately.
  2. Two 1,000 word reflective essays.
  3. A trespass notification that prohibits Ivor from setting foot on University property, subject to enforcement by the University Police Department.
  4. A petition letter for University reentry after 1 year.
  5. 80 hours of community service.
  6. Evidence of successful academic or work history during his 1 year dismissal.

GEO leaders say the punishments are not fair to international students.

“Not only is it a disproportionate response, those responses are not designed for international students, because for a domestic student, say the temporary expulsion, you can go home for three months and work,” GEO leader Advith Govindarajan says. “But if you’re being deported during a pandemic, it just makes the situation so much more difficult and complicated.”

More than 13,000 people have signed onto GEO’s petition to reinstate Chen.

“It seems like at this point, if Ivor is going to receive any relief, it has to come from within the university,” fellow GEO leader Kai Shinbrough says. “The only way that we or anyone else has a shot at motivating the university to do the right thing, to change his disciplinary decision is through public pressure.”

Leah Cummings, a grad student at Millikin University, has been circulating the petition to her friends. She says UIUC owes him an apology.

“I’ve seen so many people out drinking in bars, going out without masks, having house parties, things like that, that are obviously to the detriment of other people,” she says. “And then you hav this guy who’s just trying to do his best and, you know, keep other people safe, and now he’s being punished for it. I just thought it was absolutely ludicrous.”

WCIA reached out to the University of Illinois for a response. Spokesperson Robin Kaler sent the following statement:

Federal student privacy laws prevent me from speaking about a specific situation, but I can tell you that our COVID-19 safety protocols (which include the requirement to test regularly) and possible consequences for violating them have been broadly, regularly and frequently communicated throughout the pandemic on virtually every platform available to us.

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 with the right to present evidence and testimony and the right to appeal a disciplinary action. The system is led by the Academic Senate in partnership with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. 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.

And I want to be clear that the safety, health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and greater community, especially during this pandemic, is our number one priority. This is why we put the SHIELD safety ecosystem and its requirements in place.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign