On Feb. 7, the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees approved the Graduate Student Senate Constitution. This means that what has hitherto been an informally recognized governing body within the university is now formally recognized. Ratification of the GSS constitution by the board means that GSS is now on a par with the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association as representative bodies for UMass constituents.
While the university has historically granted GSS representation in decisions about issues regarding grad students, this is now a guaranteed right rather than an informal privilege. According to the Wellman document, the university is now obligated to give GSS a seat at the table in all decisions affecting grad students.
The Feb. 8 vote by the board of trustees marks the end of a long process started this summer by GSS President Hongmei Sun, Treasurer Robin Anderson and Vice President Garth Schwellenbach in conjunction with the Office of Legal Services. Future graduate student involvement in important decision-making processes is now guaranteed.
UHS and SHIP update
Through the hard work of graduate student representative Thomas Herndon in conjunction with others including representatives of UHS doctors and staff, the UMass administration is reconsidering its decision to close the UHS pharmacy and labs. Members of the university’s health care committee took a close look at UHS budget numbers and found that the lab and pharmacy actually could turn a small profit and thus their elimination was unnecessary. These findings were presented to administration officials who ran the new proposal through another accounting system and still claimed that the UHS budget is in need of recovering a $400,000 annual shortfall. Yet even with that shortfall, it appears the budget would be on track to meet a goal of raising $15 million for a down payment on the construction of a new UHS building several years down the road.
What this all means is that there’s reason to be “cautiously optimistic” that the lab and pharmacy services at UHS will be saved, Herndon said. The current proposal is in the hands of the UMass budget office now, but committee members are exploring other options for meeting the $400,000 shortfall if that proves to remain necessary.
Saving the lab and pharmacy is important because of the role these departments play in diagnosing and treating medical conditions. Without lab and pharmacy services, the ability of UHS to perform basic primary care functions would be greatly impaired.
On the SHIP front, a request for proposals has been sent out. Insurance providers will respond to this proposal with their bids to cover SHIP. Until these bids come in, it’s impossible to say exactly what next year’s student health insurance plan will look like and if grad students should brace for more changes. The next meeting for the steering committee guiding this process isn’t until after spring break. Stay tuned.
Family housing update
Grad students in university housing were informed recently that big changes are underway for next year. Residential Life, the department that oversees all campus housing, announced recently that grad students would be phased out of Lincoln Apartments and Cashin in order to make more room available for undergraduates, as their numbers continue to swell and the rents they pay are higher. Grad students will now be limited to North Village, which, by the way, has announced that it will increase its rental rates by as much as 6.5 percent. GSS and GEO have been able to negotiate that number down to 3 percent for next year, but the administration warned that more rent hikes are likely in the coming years.
In response, GSS and GEO are trying to organize a tenant’s association so that grad student voices will be heard before drastic changes are made to their living conditions again. Goals for a tenant’s association include working with housing management to address high vacancy rates that help drive up rents, developing a list of maintenance priorities, and working with housing management to find inefficiencies in their operation that may help reduce costs.
A couple of meetings have been held and more efforts will continue down the line. If you want to get involved please contact Garth Schwellenbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or Matthew Ferrari at email@example.com.
Graduate student organizations can receive up to $1,500 in funding from GSS to finance their yearly operations by applying for GSO Line Item Funding by March 26 at 4 p.m. Go to http://blogs.umass.edu/gss/ for more information.
Next GSS Meeting
The next session of the GSS is March 29 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Campus Center 174-6.