UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly talks housing, grants, secession from ASUC at 1st spring meeting

Maya Valluru/Staff

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UC Berkeley graduate students debated and raised questions on topics ranging from student housing to funding for grants and research at the Graduate Assembly’s first meeting of the spring semester Thursday.

The assembly heard presentations from various speakers, including Chancellor Carol Christ, who spoke about issues members had previously proposed such as student housing, budget cuts and campus safety.

Christ announced during the meeting her intention to build student housing on all available campus-owned sites, except for People’s Park, which she said would only partially consist of student housing. Christ added that she intended to increase housing stipends for graduate students, although this would come at the expense of fewer financial awards.

During the meeting, Christ went over the “painful” budget cuts that decreased the campus deficit from $150 million in 2016 to its current status of about $80 million. On top of that, Christ said the campus and UC Office of the President have set a goal to reduce the deficit to $57 million by July 2018, and then to $20 million by June 2019, and then to ultimately eliminate the deficit by 2020.

Assemblymember and campus electrical engineering and computer sciences graduate student Alon Amid voiced concerns during the meeting about the financial impact of campus protests and events such as Ben Shapiro’s appearance in September 2017 and the canceled “Free Speech Week.”

“These expenses are so extraordinary, and they’re an enormous burden, certainly on my time, and the time of other administrators,” Christ said.

Stephen Sutton, campus interim vice chancellor of student affairs, spoke to the attendees about the campus’s new major events policy, sparking backlash from several students when he explained that under the new policy, events that serve alcohol, such as many of the assembly’s recruiting events, will be classified as “major events” and will require applications unless held in certain buildings.

Continuing discussions from the previous semester on the possibility of the assembly leaving the ASUC, ASUC President Zaynab AbdulQadir-Morris said the ASUC would be meeting over the weekend to talk about potential solutions to “meet the needs” of undergraduate and graduate students.

Assemblymember and campus archaeology graduate student David Wheeler, however, strongly criticized the ASUC for failing to discuss the assembly’s concerns during its January retreat and return with a coordinated response for Thursday’s meeting as it had previously promised.

The assembly previously voted to divorce itself from the University of California Student Association in September 2017.

“To my knowledge, we have never received any sort of substantial … response in general, much less one that acknowledges the validity of our concerns or resolves those concerns,” Wheeler said at the meeting. “Why hasn’t the ASUC been able to coordinate a response, and why shouldn’t we separate ourselves from the ASUC?”

Members also received updates on the status of the Student Health Insurance Plan program, the My Voice campuswide survey and the PROSPER Act, a federal higher education bill that could potentially cap interest on federal student loans but would also put a limit on graduate student borrowing and eliminate Graduate PLUS and Parent PLUS Loans.

Graduate Division Associate Dean Kim Voss also fielded questions from members on the open source dissertation policy, which would make graduate students’ dissertations available online to be downloaded.

Ashley Wong is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.