As part of a wider effort to reinvigorate the Graduate Student Senate as a powerful force for graduate students on the UMass campus, this year’s executive officers—President Hongmei Sun, Vice President Garth Schwellenbach and Treasurer Robin Anderson—proposed a new GSS constitution at the first general meeting of the GSS last month.
As it stands now, the Board of Trustees has never approved the current GSS constitution. While this has not necessarily impaired the effectiveness of the day-to-day operations of GSS, having board approval adds some legitimacy and weight to GSS procedures, putting them on par with the undergraduate Student Government Association and the Faculty Senate, both of which have board-approved constitutions. The university has informally recognized GSS as the governing body of grad students and, thus, as their voice in university matters, but ratification of GSS’s constitution would make that recognition formal and more meaningful.
See the proposed new constitution here.
The proposed changes to the constitution have been made with an eye toward securing board approval. With the help of UMass Legal Services, the language has been made more specific and updated and some procedures have been modified. For example, the board of trustees is unlikely to approve a constitution that allows for over-representation. The current constitution allows for some double representation by allowing senators to come from housing units and departments. That has been changed in the proposed constitution to limiting senators to departments only.
Procedural and language changes like this should help make the overall document one that the board will approve, and that in turn will add some heft to GSS as the representative body for grad students here at UMass.
The proposed constitution was unveiled at the first GSS meeting in September and will be voted on at the next meeting, Oct. 18 from 12:15 to 1:45 p.m. at Campus Center 803.
Proposed tax increase
Another important proposal GSS officers have put on the table is an increase in the graduate student tax. While GSS officers are aware that UMass grad students are concerned with rising fees and cost of living expenses, and actively share these concerns, they felt that an increase was necessary to strengthen the level of services GSS offers the grad student community.
This tax supports a range of UMass programs that benefit the graduate student body, including but not limited to the Student Legal Services Office, the Office of Family Resources, and the Everywoman’s Center. The senate tax provides childcare funding to graduate student parents, while helping to support graduate student organizations (GSOs) such as ALACS and Friends, China Study Club, Indian Student Association, SOM INFORMS, UMass Amherst Free Culture, and many more. In addition, the senate tax is the only source of revenue for GSS. Without the tax, none of these programs, services, and funding sources could function.
For the past three years (FY 2009-FY2011), the Graduate Student Senate has operated on a deficit averaging $17,719 annually in spite of reduced staff hours and decreased program funding. For FY 2012, the deficit is projected at $7,392. Continuing to operate on a deficit is unsustainable and will deplete the GSS reserves, currently totaling $78,000 by FY 2016.
To meet GSS obligations with external agencies, to fund graduate student organizations, and to keep GSS operational, a senate tax increase is necessary. Such an increase is not intended to burden individual students, but rather, to ensure that graduate students do not lose the benefits, services, and social programs presently in place. The current tax is $50 per semester for fee paying grad students. A $10 increase per semester has been proposed.
At one time the GSS was a vibrant organization with a strong capacity to advocate for issues that concerned graduate students. The organization had the resources to lead on behalf of the graduate student population; as a result, its voice was heard. The senate tax proposal is geared toward supporting the various networks and organization across campus. It will also ensure that graduate students via GSS will be advocated for at the administrative level of governance. Raising the senate tax is critical to the vibrancy of graduate student life, on and off campus.
More senators needed
Another way the GSS officers hope to strengthen GSS is by increasing participation. Last year, less than a dozen senators typically showed up to Senate meetings and took part in its deliberations. There are roughly 70 graduate departments on campus, each of which is eligible to have at least one senator. GSS is actively recruiting new senators, especially from those departments that have not had a senator in recent years. To find out more about electing a senator, visit the GSS website at http://www.umassgss.org.