Graduate student dismissed for COVID-19 testing noncompliance

In March, the university dismissed fourth-year PhD student Antonio Ruiz for noncompliance with the university’s COVID-19 testing requirements. Ruiz did not dispute the noncompliance at any point during the disciplinary process, but he says there’s a reason why: he can’t take the university’s COVID-19 saliva test.

The Graduate Employees Organization, which came to Ruiz’s defense, explained in a statement that Ruiz was medically diagnosed by a physician from McKinley Health Center as being unable to take the test. He also has several health conditions and physical disabilities that place him at an increased risk for adverse effects due to COVID-19. Because of these circumstances, he rarely left his residence and, after receiving an initial disciplinary notice in October, he did attempt to acquire a testing exemption. But because his residence is owned by University Housing, his request was denied.

Ruiz subsequently received another disciplinary notice on Mar. 9 and was dismissed from the university on Mar. 25. The Office of Student Conflict Resolution denied his appeal.

“I do think that dismissal is a little too much given his circumstances,” said Ellie Fujimoto, a member of the GEO Grievance Committee. “He wasn’t posing a risk to the safety of the campus community.”

In a statement, U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler explained that the university has offered a nasal swab alternative for the entire academic year, but Fujimoto and the GEO argue this was not properly communicated until the spring semester. Ruiz himself didn’t know about the nasal swab accommodation until his Mar. 25 disciplinary hearing, after which he immediately requested, and was granted, the accommodation. Ruiz has been testing regularly since then.

With Ruiz’s appeal denied, the GEO has launched a petition and email campaign to reinstate him at the university.

“This is kind of the only option Antonio has left,” Fujimoto said. “It seemed to work for Ivor so that’s why we’re trying this again.”

Fujimoto is referring to Ivor Chen, another graduate student who was also dismissed from the university earlier in the spring semester for testing noncompliance. The GEO also launched a petition and email campaign for Chen, awareness of which was raised through memes posted to the UIUC subreddit and UIUC Facebook groups by GEO members and undergraduate students. The outcry from the campus community led the university to reverse its decision and reinstate Chen.

GEO members and undergraduates have once again taken to social media to rise awareness of Ruiz’s case and express their opinion on the matter, which led to an impromptu rule change for the Facebook group UIUC Memes for Spitposting Teens.

“We do have a rule against posting links to petitions on the site, but, you know, I do think it is important that people know about this,” said group admin Haley Prochilo. “We did see Ivor Chen allowed to stay in the university, and I don’t think that would’ve happened without people passing around the petition and it becoming a really big issue, and I think this (Antonio’s case) is the same caliber.”

The petition to reinstate Ruiz has accumulated almost 3500 signatures as of May 10, but this is far less than the 40 thousand signatures the petition for Chen received.

Ruiz has until Thursday to vacate his university residence, after which he will have to move to Miami to live with his family. But this is a problem in of itself.

“Moving across the country presents a clear danger to Antonio’s health and well-being,” the GEO said in its statement. “He is at high risk for medical complications due to COVID-19, which makes it more dangerous for him to move to a state with uncontrolled COVID-19 transmission rates.”

The university has yet to reverse its decision and resinstate Ruiz.

(Photo courtesy of the GEO)