Modification of Duties (MOD) Policy for Graduate Assistants
This document provides West Virginia University’s (“WVU” or “University”) full policy and process for modifications of the duties of graduate assistants. This modification is a change in the graduate assistant’s responsibilities, deadlines, and academic expectations to accommodate an illness, an injury, the death of a family member, or becoming a new parent. This type of modification is not a leave of absence from the academic program. WVU’s graduate catalog addresses short and long-term leave where withdrawing from courses is concerned. The leave of absence policy addresses leave from an academic program, and stipulates this be managed at the department level.
Short or long-term leave or a leave of absence is not always appropriate when a full-time or part-time graduate assistant (“GA”) needs to be away from their assistantship duties/assignment temporarily. Units currently provide temporary adjustments for covering GA duties for two weeks or less and should continue to do so. For circumstances requiring longer than 2 weeks, GAs can apply for a short-term modification to their assistantship duties (hereinafter referred to as an “MOD”). An MOD is only appropriate if the modification is required due to a medical emergency, personal trauma, or childbirth/adoption. GAs that are provided an MOD continue to receive pay from the University and all the benefits of a GA position.
The University aims to integrate a student’s personal or family responsibilities with the responsibilities associated with a student’s assistantship duties and program of study better, and help its graduate students when they experience a serious health condition, personal trauma, or when they become parents. It recognizes that granting a supported paid time of leave from assistantship duties may likewise minimize the interruption to a graduate assistant’s degree progress and promote equitable treatment. A secondary goal is to help departments and academic units ensure the continuity of effort for graduate students with assistantships, especially with respect to teaching and research responsibilities.
GAs at WVU may, on occasion, require an MOD for the birth/adoption of a child, a personal, serious physical or mental health condition, or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. In these rare circumstances, every effort should be made to protect the GA’s stipend, appointment and future funding opportunities.
Acceptable Reasons for Graduate Assistants to Request an MOD
- Illness/Injury: Personal illness including physical and/or mental injury, or care of an immediate family member suffering from personal illness or injury, that extends beyond two weeks and is no longer than six weeks.
- Death: Death of an immediate family member that requires time away from the University that extends beyond two weeks and is no longer than six weeks.
- New Parent Responsibilities: A GA who gives birth will be granted a period of six weeks (or up until the last day of the assignment) following childbirth and eight weeks following delivery by caesarian section. This same leave (six weeks) is available for a GA who adopts a child. If extended medical treatment is required prior to the birth of a child, or a situation develops because of complications during or following the birth of a child, the college will work with the Office of Grad Ed and Life and other appropriate entities to request an additional MOD.
The GA’s stipend, health insurance support and tuition waiver will be maintained during such leaves but not beyond the end of the GA’s appointment as outlined in their letter of appointment (see also section VIII: Additional Considerations). Utilization of the MOD policy by graduate assistants will have no bearing on GA re-appointment decisions.
Graduate Assistants: The MOD policy applies to full-time and part-time GAs (of any category) who are making satisfactory progress toward completion of their degree.
A Modification Of Duty for an Eligible GA will:
- Modify the GAs duties while the benefits associated with the appointment remain in place
- Keep the stipend in place for up to six weeks (or eight weeks if appropriate) or until the last day of the appointment, whichever comes first.
- Provide the same appointment status (with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms) after a modification of duty has been taken, provided the appointment or reappointment would normally have been available. After the MOD the assigned duties, however, may be subject to change. (See also section VIII: Additional Considerations.)
GAs are expected to return to their assignments at the conclusion their MOD unless their MOD ends on their final day of appointment. However, the department-level administration, with the approval/oversight of the college, can work with GAs during the semester in which the return from an MOD occurs to define roles and responsibilities that may provide additional flexibility to ease the GA’s transition back to regular duties (e.g. online instruction, the teaching assignment may be structured to focus on grading support, preparing course materials, or other less-intensive duties; other possibilities may include variable scheduling as a research assistantship or service assistant; tutoring, providing extensive literature reviews and summaries for the grant work; draft out potential manuscripts; etc.). In other words, supporting the GA need not end with the period of modification’s conclusion. Programs should endeavor to offer additional flexibility regarding the GA’s return to their assignment whenever appropriate.
III. Extension of Time Limits to Degree or Candidacy
Because the GA will continue to be supported in their current funding status and will continue to pay any costs not covered by the assistantship benefits, this is not a leave of absence from the academic program. (GAs requiring leave from their degree program should consult the policies for leaves of absence and/or withdrawal.) It is instead a modification of responsibilities, deadlines and academic expectations to make allowance for the GA's situation. The GA will be able to postpone completion of course assignments, examinations, and most other academic requirements. In addition to a plan for the GA responsibilities, a plan for academic responsibilities for the semester of modification should be on file with the GA’s advisor and/or academic program. The college should ensure the plan is reasonable, attainable and appropriately addresses any protections a student must be afforded under University and federal guidelines (see Section VIII: Additional Considerations).
If the GA requests an MOD after having attained doctoral candidacy, the period of modified duties will not pause the five-year time limit for completing the requirements of the doctoral degree. This is because the five-year time limit following admission to candidacy was designed to provide enough flexibility for various circumstances that might interrupt or slow progress on the dissertation. All graduate students are permitted to request a 12-month extension should they be unable to complete the doctoral degree requirements within five years after admission to candidacy.
Likewise, the time limit on coursework for a master’s degree will not be extended. This is because the eight-year time limit of validity for a given course should be sufficient to account for events that interrupt or delay the completion of the master’s degree. Additionally, students may appeal to revalidate coursework older than eight years, per the process outlined in the graduate catalog.
Per University policy, students must still graduate under a catalog year that is no more than seven years old.
The time of paid absence will not count toward the limits of guaranteed funding. Essentially, the funding clock stops during an MOD and resumes when the student returns. The advisor or graduate director and student should consult in advance (if possible) about how the student will meet academic goals and requirements, seeking input from their associate dean or designee as needed. The student is responsible for ensuring that this consultation takes place (if possible). The modification period needs to be tailored to the student's individual circumstances, and the timing of the student's academic responsibilities, but it will typically be a one-semester extension.
After the MOD, students are expected to return to graduate study and resume progress toward completing their degrees.
Special Notice to International GAs: International students must discuss the intended modification period with International Students & Scholars Services (ISSS) at the beginning of the planning period to identify and proactively address any individual or unique visa issues and/or to consider the latest applicable regulations. Students studying on a visa will be asked to confirm they have worked ISSS in their MOD request. Departments and colleges must coordinate the student’s plan for enrollment with that office (see section VIII: Additional Considerations).
Academic Leaves of Absence: Students interested in or requiring an official leave of absence from their courses and/or academic program should consult the graduate catalog and meet with their advisor.
IV. Graduate Assistant Funding During the Period of Modification
Supervisors are not permitted to deny an eligible GA’s request due to lack of funds. A supervisor unable to identify adequate funding should consult first with the Department Chair, then the Dean’s Office, and then the Office of the Provost.
A. Graduate Teaching and Service Assistants
With advance planning, many assignments can be adapted for schedule modifications during a modified assignment. Eligible graduate students with Graduate Teaching Assistantship or Graduate Service Assistantship appointments are encouraged to work out the necessary adjustments as far in advance as practical. During the MOD period, the GAs will continue to receive their salary or stipend, benefits, and associated tuition support.
B. Graduate Research Assistants
For federal grants subject to the Office of Management and Budget’s Uniform Guidance, parental leave and catastrophic leave are an allowable cost provided that the institution has a policy that is consistently applied across all fund sources; the University’s policies addressing Parental Leave and Catastrophic leave will meet this requirement.
Specifically, for NSF, it is possible to submit a Career-Life Balance supplemental funding request to sustain research while a graduate student being supported by NSF on an award is on family leave for either primary dependent care responsibilities or other direct family considerations. See PAPPG Chapter II.E.8 for further information. If your question relates to a specific NSF award, you are advised to contact the cognizant NSF Grants and Agreements Officer listed in the award notice and discuss the circumstances with them.
In terms of NIH, the NIHGPS Section 7.9.1 Selected Items of Cost lists leave as an allowable fringe benefit (fringe benefits are also described in that section). There may be different policies depending on the type of grant and person taking leave- this section has links to relevant sections for NRSA awards, for example. It can also depend on the role of the person taking the leave, PD/PI vs a research assistant, etc. The best approach is to speak with the NIH IC to check if they have any internal policy/budget rule that might affect using grant funds for the type of leave the person may need. They can also let you know if they require any particular documentation for the grant file.
If the sponsor’s terms and conditions do not allow for Parental Leave costs, the unit must cover the proportionate compensation cost from non-sponsored sources.
If other sources of funds are available, those funds may be used in lieu of sponsored program funds. Otherwise, if it is an allowable cost, it must be charged to the sponsored program in proportion to the normal pay schedule. If the sponsor’s terms and conditions do not allow for Parental Leave costs, the GA’s unit must cover the compensation cost for parental leave from non-sponsored sources.
The compensation paid for parental leave will be included in effort reports. However, anticipated long absences, including parental leave must be considered before committing effort on sponsored projects.
Key person(s) on a sponsored program are eligible for parental leave during the period of performance, even if the use of parental leave may delay completion of the research or scholarly work. These individuals should discuss their parental leave plans with the PI on the grant. If the PI agrees that the parental leave is likely to delay progress on the sponsored program, the PI will contact the departmental research administrator and OSP to determine whether or not to request an extension from the sponsor.
C. Fellowship Recipients
Students who hold a Provost, W.E.B Du Bois, Outstanding Merit or Swiger fellowship are eligible to apply for an MOD. Students funded through SREB will work with the Office of Graduate Education (OGEL) and Life and SREB to determine if/what support may be available. Students supported by the NSF GRFP will work with their Coordinating Official (Assistant Provost for Graduate Education Policy) to consult the policies on Medical Deferral Status. Students supported by other university level fellowships will work with OGEL to determine eligibility and how best to proceed.
Eligible students who are supported by WVU fellowships and who are granted a period of MOD will experience no change in their funding arrangements during the period of MOD; they will continue to receive their fellowship support and benefits during the period of modification. The granting of a period of modification of duties will not extend the total number of years of fellowship funding. (For example, a three-year fellowship will remain a three-year fellowship.) However, OGEL will work with the student and their college to ensure they continue to have the support and funding that would typically be expected after the conclusion of a fellowship funding period. These students should work with the Assistant Provost for Graduate Education Policy to request a modification, in tandem with their academic program and college.
D. Graduate Students without Financial Support
Students who do not have an ongoing commitment of financial support from the University (assistantships or fellowships) are eligible for incompletes, withdrawals or periods of leave as they are defined in the graduate catalog. Pending circumstances, they may be eligible for accommodations overseen by the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, International Student & Scholar Services, or those overseen by the Office of Accessibility Services. However, such graduate students are not entitled to funding.
Where birth/adoption are concerned, this Policy’s intention is to avoid interruption of an assistantship despite a period of six weeks (or up to eight where appropriate) during which time the GA is excused from the duties associated with the assistantship. The MOD should take that period into account and seek to provide a modified plan that will accomplish the goals of the assistantship while providing flexibility for the GA’s leave.
A GA who expects the birth of a child or plans the adoption of a child, but who will not be the primary caregiver for any period of time, should consult with their adviser/supervisor (those the program has identified as the individuals responsible for assisting), and make appropriate arrangements for the anticipated two-week paid absence from the assistantship assignment.
A GA that is the primary caregiver for a child, may take a six-week MOD. Accordingly, if both parents are GAs, each is entitled to the parental leave for a period during which they are the primary caregiver, but the leaves typically are not simultaneous. If the unit(s) has/have the resources to provide both simultaneously, they may do so. In all cases, the GA must use the modification of duties for parental leave within six months of the child’s birth date or the adoption date.
This benefit will be limited to one MOD per graduate student during their graduate career at WVU. In the case of exceptional, documented circumstances, an appeal of the limit may be made in writing to the Office of Graduate Education and Life. (See VII. Exceptions and Appeals.)
V. Approval Process
Requests for MODs are coordinated within the program with the oversight of the dean or designee for graduate studies of the college. GAs will work with their program and then initiate a request with the form provided by the Office of Grad Ed and Life. The request process assures that all appropriate WVU units are involved. All Graduate Handbooks should link to the policy for requesting an MOD and should clearly identify the program-specific individuals responsible for assisting with such a request. Typically, those individuals would consist of the GA’s immediate supervisor (for example, Principal Investigator, advisor or GA supervisor); any individual responsible for overseeing graduate training (for example, director of graduate studies, graduate coordinator etc.); the department chair or associate chair; and college personnel (for example, assistant or associate dean or director of graduate studies).
Barring any sudden life-changing event or emergency, the GA should submit their request eight weeks prior to the anticipated beginning of the period of modified duties ( and sooner if at all possible). Relevant medical documentation must be submitted to Medical Management (GAs will receive further instructions once the request has been initiated via the request form). Protections under Title IX must be provided (see also section VIII: Additional Considerations) in reviewing the request. In cases where the assistantship is held outside of the GA’s program of study, the GA’s supervisor should coordinate with the responsible individuals in the student’s program and college. In all cases, the Office of Graduate Education and Life should be consulted for guidance or assistance.
The program leadership and other responsible individuals need sufficient time to find an appropriate replacement for teaching and/or research responsibilities and to outline expected teaching and research activities before and following the adjustment period. However, WVU understands that personal and family medical emergencies are often not anticipated. The University will do what it can to support the graduate students during their time of need.
Graduate assistants applying for an MOD must make arrangements with the relevant faculty advisor for course completion and a timeline for meeting other academic requirements such as Ph.D. qualifying examinations or other academic milestones that will be affected by the adjustment and by the one semester extension of academic requirements (see also Sections III above). A copy of an approved request (without any related medical documents) should be on file with the department and college. Any related medical documents will stay in the Office of Medical Management (see also section VIII: Additional Considerations).
VI. Coverage During the Modification of Duties
The responsible individuals in the student’s program, including the GA supervisor, will develop a plan to cover course sections, research assignments, and other assistantship responsibilities for the duration of the MOD. Those responsible for covering this work must be compensated. The rate of compensation should be pro-rated based on the substitute’s rate of pay, but should not exceed the standard compensation for a course overload. GAs who substitute for other GAs may do so under the rules for additional employment (Grad Ed and Life may be consulted for assistance or exceptions where appropriate). Other employees should be compensated according to the guidelines of their position type.
The department is expected to cover the cost of MODs. If the department is unable to cover the cost of the leave, the student’s department may apply to the College, and subsequently to the Provost’s Office for additional support if necessary.
VII. Exceptions and Appeals
Exceptions to this policy may be considered in extraordinary, documented circumstances. Appeals can be made in writing to the Office of Graduate Education and Life (GradEd@mail.wvu.edu).
VIII. Additional Considerations
Registration: Typically, a GA with an MOD will remain enrolled full-time. A student (barring one who is studying on a visa, who would need to consult ISSS before changes to full-time registration will be permitted) may, in some circumstances, wish to enroll in fewer than full-time credits during the term in which the MOD will take place. Any arrangements for less than full-time enrollment made prior to the term in which the modification of duties will take place and any arrangement made up to the fifth week of the semester will require approval from OGEL (and Student Insurance Office if appropriate). Modifications to registration that occur after the fifth week of the term are at the discretion of the program and college/school and should follow the typical procedures for academic withdrawals, schedule changes, incompletes etc.
Student Health Insurance: Students who need to maintain their enrollment in the student health insurance plan must work with their program/college to ensure they continue to enroll in at least 6 credit hours. Exceptions may be granted in limited circumstances (see registration).
Academics and Advising: While this policy addresses leave from an assistantship, and maintaining the financial support an assistantship offers, it recognizes that academics and assistantships can be intertwined. It is incumbent on programs to ensure equitable treatment where a student’s coursework or other academic requirements are concerned. Programs and colleges will utilize existing policies in the graduate catalog and coordinate with the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, the Office of Accessibility Services and the Office of Graduate Education and Life to develop a plan that satisfies the university’s responsibilities to the Graduate Assistant’s role as a student. The request form/workflow will assure the appropriate offices are involved in these arrangements.
College Tuition and University fees: A graduate assistantship, even during a period of modified duties, provides a waiver of university tuition only. Individual programs will continue to provide coverage of tuition and fees for GAs in a manner consistent with their established practices. For example, if a scholarship for college tuition is typically provided to all GAs, it would still be provided during the MOD period.
Visa Requirements and Enrollment: The requirements of a GA’s visa always take precedence over WVU procedures. The program/college must work with International Students & Scholars Services (Office of Global Affairs) to seek the appropriate approvals before any arrangements with the GA can be confirmed. Students with a visa must work with ISSS to follow any necessary procedures including, but not limited to, permission for Reduced Credit Loads, prior to requesting an MOD. In the event of an emergency, the student/program/college are still responsible for working with ISSS to develop a plan for the GA.
New GA Appointments after the Period of Modification has Concluded: As stated above, the same appointment status (with equivalent benefits, pay, and other terms) will be available after an MOD has been taken, provided the appointment or reappointment would typically have been available. Assigned duties, however, may be subject to change. While GA appointments typically last one academic year, programs that intend to fund students year after year with GA support may not consider a request for an MOD as grounds for failing to reappoint the student to a graduate assistantship.
Title IX: Units are responsible for assuring the student’s rights and protections under Title IX. The request workflow will assure that the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will be contacted as part of the MOD approval process.
Leaving a GA Assignment or GA Assignment Termination: A GA, regardless of their utilization of the MOD procedures, may still choose to end their GA appointment. A GA appointment may not be terminated by the department or program for reasons related to an MOD agreement or because the GA had an MOD period. OGEL’s policy on Evaluation, Termination, and Resignation for GA positions contains stipulations for programs that may wish to terminate a GA’s assignment.
Related Policies: While the MOD procedure addresses a period of absence from the assistantship duties, programs and colleges should also be aware of the associated policies in the graduate catalog and on the OGEL website. OGEL should be consulted when there are questions. Those policies include, but are not limited, to: Time Limits, Leaves of Absence, the Attendance Policy (which includes university sanctioned absences, the Emergency Leave Policy, the Withdrawal Policies, the policy for Incompletes, and the GA policies on the OGEL website.
Timeline for Requests: As described above, requests for an MOD should be initiated via the request form at least eight weeks before the period of duty modification is scheduled to commence (and sooner if at all possible). However, WVU recognizes that advanced planning is not feasible in emergency situations (e.g. injury, illness, death) or in other situations covered by the scope of this procedure with limited predictably (e.g. adoption or foster care). Programs and colleges/schools will distinguish between requests that are planned and can reasonably be anticipated vs. unplanned circumstances and will seek to provide as much flexibility as possible. OGEL should be consulted for guidance.
Documentation: Once a request is initiated, the GA will be provided with guidance and forms to fill out that match the reason for their MOD request. Medical documentation will be submitted only through this process, as directed, to the office of Medical Management. Medical Management will also, when applicable, collect the documentation relevant to when the GA may resume their responsibilities. Programs and colleges are not responsible for and should not review medical documentation or retain medical documentation in their files. All other documentation pertinent to the modification of duties will be retained and kept confidential by the program and the college.
Appendix I: Types of Leave Applicable to Graduate Assistants (GAs)
|Type of Leave||Specifics|
|Court Appearance or Jury Duty||
|Vacation Leave||GA positions are not benefits eligible, and thus do not accrue vacation time
or personal time. However, per
Grad Ed policy
, GAs may not be scheduled on University holidays. They are not expected
to make up for work hours missed for holidays. Supervisors are encouraged
not to schedule GAs when class is not in session; however, the letter of
appointment may specify in advance if there is a critical need for work during
Appendix II: College and Program Responsibilities
|Type of Leave||Specifics|
|Responsible Individuals in all programs and colleges||
|Form and Procedure for Request||
|Exceptions and Appeals||
|Records||Colleges should establish guidelines for programs for the documentation/tracking
of MOD arrangements. (
Records Retention Policy.)
|Guidance for Students on a VISA||