Graduate student leaders opted last week to split off from the well-established advocacy body, the UC Student Association, dealing a blow that could deeply impact the power of student voices in systemwide conversations and state legislation.
Graduate students say they needed to form the UC Graduate-Professional Coalition because their distinct experiences were consistently sidelined and inadequately represented within the UCSA, arguing that the association too often spotlights the plight of undergraduate students.
“Often, graduate students are marginalized. Very rarely do people think about those students needs when they think about the campus as a whole,” said UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly President Kena Hazelwood-Carter in a previous interview with The Daily Californian.
This abrupt breakaway creates an uncertain future that was completely avoidable. Undergraduate student leaders missed several warning signs to effectively address graduate student concerns.
At the March and April UCSA graduate committee meetings, concerns first surfaced: From that came an official push to distinguish graduate students as a separate constituency. At the July meeting, the board voted down a proposal to restructure UCSA to include separate graduate and undergraduate divisions within the organization — a vote that failed in large part because of undergraduate students’ majority on the board.
But the graduate students’ vote last week to break away and create UCGPC was not only done hastily, but it was also thoroughly ill-considered. The split means that the voice of more than 240,000 UC students as a collective whole will no longer be channeled through the UCSA, weakening a a nearly 50-year-old institution that lobbies in Sacramento, speaks at UC Board of Regents meetings and regularly meets with UC officials.
Michael Skiles, president of UCLA’s Graduate Students Association and chair of the Graduate and Professional Summit that founded UCGPC, told the Daily Bruin that one of the concerns was that UCSA spends most of its time working on “lowest common denominator issues” that both undergraduates and graduates agree on, like lowering tuition and housing affordability — as if that’s a bad thing. These issues require intense focus and effort for a reason: They affect students broadly, across the spectrum of students within the UC system.
And questions linger about how the new organization will work. Will it meet with the UC president with the same frequency as the UCSA president does? How will UCGPC’s input factor into the process for selecting the next student regent? It’s difficult to tell, this early on, what this structural change will mean.
As this separate body develops, both the UCSA and UCGPC need to continue to work closely together (as they say they will), or all students will suffer. Finding opportunities to collaborate and build coalitions, especially with other mechanisms of California higher education — the California State University system, community colleges, faculty and alumni — heightens the effectiveness of our advocacy, says student advisor to the UC Board of Regents Rafi Sands.
Student leaders are crucial megaphones for the rest of the UC community. The numerous advocacy bodies must work to find the issues they agree on so that their messaging to lawmakers is clear and united, not muddled and contradictory. If students don’t look out for students, who else will?
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.