UW–Madison Smart Restart: For information about fall semester instruction and campus operations, please visit For COVID-19 news updates, see

VandenBosch to grad programs: Be vigilant for hostile or intimidating behavior toward graduate students

This message was sent to graduate program faculty directors and program coordinators on 3/25/20.

First, I want to thank you for all you have done to redirect our instructional and research efforts to remote work. This is a large task, and I appreciate all of the extra effort you have dedicated to making these changes.

Next, I want to recognize in a time of so much change and uncertainty that stress and anxiety can trigger thoughtless behavior toward others in some, and I am particularly concerned that our graduate students do not fall victim to intimidating behavior from PIs.

In your roles with your graduate program, you may learn of situations like these or even observe them. I ask that you share any concerns about hostile and intimidating behavior of PIs toward graduate students with Senior Associate Dean Mark Rickenbach. Bill Barker, the associate dean for research and graduate education, will continue to be the point of contact for any student wishing to file a complaint in the dean’s office, but as Bill is also reviewing individual laboratory continuity of operations plans (COOP) and essential research continuation requests submitted by CALS PIs for the next few days, I have asked Mark to step in and provide support to you and your students during this time.

The laboratory COOP plans and research continuation requests, once approved, govern what research can take place in UW facilities, how that work will be carried out, and who can do it. PIs and research supervisors are aware research personnel, including graduate students, should be working remotely and not be coming in to campus or other UW facilities to conduct research unless an authorization of research activity has been issued by the CALS associate dean for research.  Under no circumstances should a graduate student be pressured to work in violation of approved plans or in conditions that put them at risk. If there are questions about what activities have been approved, please contact the department chair of the student’s PI or Mark Rickenbach.

Later today I will also send an e-mail to all faculty, staff and graduate students in the college reminding them about mental health resources and about the importance of looking out for each other in these trying times. In that message, I’ll direct graduate students to you if they are experiencing hostile and intimidating behavior. This is, of course, our usual process, but I want to remind our community of our practice.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or Mark should you have questions or need support of any kind. Thank you for your efforts to mentor our graduate students.

Sincerely, Kate