UCSA reaches impasse on issue of new graduate student chapter

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A long-brewing proposal for graduate students to form their own chapter of the University of California Student Association reached an impasse at the UCSA Board meeting July 9 when graduate and professional representatives voted unanimously for the proposal, while undergraduate members voted unanimously against.

The proposal would have restructured the organization into an undergraduate chapter and a graduate and professional chapter, with one board to meet on topics of shared interests between the chapters. Each chapter would have a representative present in conversations with the UC Office of the President, the UC Regents and other external partners.

Campus Graduate Assembly External Affairs Vice President Jonathan Morris said the negative vote was frustrating, because he had been hopeful for change after the previous board had directed the graduate representatives to move forward with creating details of the proposal in May.

“The crux of the matter is that we need to have some autonomy to make sure that the graduate student voice isn’t drowned out and that graduate student issues can be worked on by graduate students,” Morris said.

Between the May and July meetings, the new undergraduate board, which typically changes each year — unlike the graduate and professional section, which often has returning members — had taken office and did not feel comfortable passing such major legislation, according to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Rigel Robinson.

“It was the first meeting of a brand-new board with new board members, the vast majority of whom were new to the organization,” Robinson said. “It was irresponsible to expect them to be comfortable reorganizing the basic governance of the organization without any of the necessary context.”

Graduate leaders, however, were frustrated by the lack of communication between the boards.

“It’s only partly our fault — it’s also previous undergraduate boards’ fault not to have warned the incoming EVPs: there should have been a better transition,” UC Riverside Graduate Student Assembly Executive Vice President Maiko Le Lay said. “I’m really surprised that the conversation hadn’t taken place.”

The UCSA, a student coalition, often has a direct audience with governing bodies such as the UC Board of Regents and UC Office of the President. In the past, they have campaigned to freeze tuition hikes for undergraduate residents and implement consent and bystander intervention training programs for all students.

Often, however, graduate and professional representatives feel that the focus is on undergraduate concerns.

“Nine out of 10 times (the issues spoken about) are not applicable to the experiences of graduate students,” Le Lay said. “When we go to those meetings, the majority of the issues we talk about cannot be communicated back to our graduate student constituents.”

Representatives from all graduate student governments will meet at the end of July at UC San Diego to participate in a “UC Graduate Professional Summit” and decide on next steps. According to Le Lay, a likely outcome of the summit will be the formation of a new graduate organization that is separate from the UCSA.

Contact Kate Wolffe at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katewolffe.