Student government should attempt, to the best of its ability, to do three things: advocate for students, provide valuable programs and services for students, and provide a support and funding mechanism for student organizations. The debate over graduate student governance should center around what structure would be best for all University of Arizona students. The debate should not be about personalities, power trips, or past conflicts.
The first question that needs to be answered is, would UA students be better served by creating two student governments, one for undergraduates and one for graduate students? Inevitably, there would be substantial overlap. I don't feel that more bureaucracy is what the campus wants.
More importantly, two student governments would dilute the power of the student voice. I have seen administrators, regents, and legislators ignore students because of disunity. It has happened at the state level when UA and Arizona State University students disagree even slightly. A managed tuition plan was killed because of minor conflicts among the ASU and UA student presidents last year and creating two student governments on our campus would create the same opportunity for UA administrators on every campus issue. A quick look at Pac-10 rival UCLA shows a campus with a split student government which has been decimated by huge tuition increases, a student government on the point of financial collapse, and (by the admission of one of their graduate student leaders with whom I spoke) a lack of student unity on almost all issues.
The next question is, does the Associated Students of the University of Arizona underserve graduate students? The answer appears to be no. Almost of all of what ASUA does serves both graduates and undergraduates. A few quick examples are the Escort Service, the speakers brought to campus, and free legal services. The Graduate and Professional Student Council, GPSC, has claimed that club funding does not help graduate students; however, the record of club funding proves that many graduate clubs participate.
I, as student body president, made an open invitation to GPSC to come up with new ideas on specific programs that ASUA could implement to help graduate students. To date they have presented one idea, which I endorsed, and I subsequently altered the entire ASUA budget so that it would be possible. The essential point is that while GPSC cannot even come up with two ideas of what more ASUA could do to serve graduate students, some members want to form a separate student government. It is a clear case of the cart coming before the horse.
Another concern that I have is that graduate students need to be interested and effectively represented in student government. Numerous spots in GPSC are unfilled because no one ran for the positions. In fact, two of the leaders of GPSC are not even elected members of this year's body but previous members who have remained to help fill vacant seats.
GPSC' s current power in student government is also relevant. GPSC has equal power with the undergraduate senate and receives the same amount of funding. Further, GPSC can block any proposal by a vote of only three of its members in the Central Council. The student body president has no veto power and GPSC members participate in appointment processes. Additionally, I have appointed graduate students to a majority of the seats in the Faculty Senate, to my cabinet, and to numerous committees. Structurally, GPSC has a lot of power in the current system.
Graduate student power does not have to come from a separate student government. Graduate students can have credible, effective graduate student leadership if effort is put forth towards advocacy to the administration, regents, and faculty and not wasted on fighting with undergraduates by threats of closing down ASUA. I want student government to better serve graduate students and I affirm the need for reform. Reform, however, should not lead to a duplication of services, limitations on graduate student participation in current programs, and fragmentation of the student coalition. A knee jerk reaction to form a separate student government is not a wise decision.
Benjamin Driggs is a Latin American Studies and Economics senior and president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.
Read Next Article