Hello, and welcome to this informative document on the Graduate Student Association at the University of Georgia!

We are glad that you have decided to spend some of your time this semester considering how the Graduate Student Association can be structurally improved. Below, you will read a brief overview of what GSA is and the two major sets of changes that we are proposing as part of a revised constitution.

This document is one of four ways that we are reaching out to the grad students of UGA for ideas and responses. You can also:

·      listen to an audio version of this document;

·      attend one of our rolling information sessions being held in the Tate Student Center Room #142 on Wednesday, March 6 at 11:00, 12:30, or 2:00; or

·      attend our regular open meeting this Tuesday, February 26 at 6:00 in Tate 145.

Or you can do all three! When you finish acquainting yourself with these ideas, please consider sharing your opinion with us via our online site.

We appreciate your time, your attention, and your feedback!

 
 

What is GSA? 

The Graduate Student Association, or GSA, is comprised of all full-time graduate students at UGA who pay graduate student fees. So if you ponied up that fee at the beginning of this semester, congratulations – you are a member of GSA!

GSA is the representative body for graduate students. It is designed to communicate the interests and concerns of graduate students to the UGA administration and faculty. According to the GSA constitution, representatives from every department and program are to serve as the representative body at GSA meetings to provide a voice for the University of Georgia’s graduate and professional student body. GSA meetings are open to any graduate student wishing to attend, and all graduate students are currently considered voting members.

The graduate students of UGA elect a GSA President and Vice-President each year. The President automatically serves on a number of University committees, which will be discussed in detail in a minute. The President of GSA also

·      oversees GSA general meetings,

·      plans GSA events, and

·      oversees the GSA budget.

The President of GSA receives a Graduate Assistantship through the Graduate School.

Per University bylaws, three seats on the University Council are reserved for the GSA President, the GSA Vice-President, and one additional Graduate Student nominated through GSA. Also per University bylaws, these three graduate University Council representatives fill spots on a variety of influential University committees.

The President of GSA sits on

·      the University Council,

·      the Executive Committee of the University Council,

·      the Graduate Council,

·      the Leaders Council, and

·      the All-Campus Allocations Committee. 

In addition, graduate student University Council members (the President, Vice-President, and one additional GSA member) sit on:

·      the Curriculum Committee,

·      the Educational Affairs Committee,

·      the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics,

·      the University Libraries Committee,

·      the Committee on Facilities, and

·      the Committee on Student Life.

Other university committees, such as the Strategic Planning Committee and the Technology Fee Committee, regularly request graduate student members through GSA.

In addition to these responsibilities, GSA also organizes events for New Graduate Student Orientation each Fall semester. Traditionally, GSA has also organized a graduate student research conference in the Spring semester. GSA also has broad capabilities to design new programming, such as workshop series.

 

The Problem

Unfortunately, at the moment, GSA lacks the scaffolding to ensure institutional memory, coherent and consistent support for programming design and implementation, and a diversity of committee representation.

For example, for a variety of reasons, elections for President and Vice-President for this academic year were not held until September 2018, which left the Executive team struggling to “catch up.” There is currently no systematic way to recruit representatives from all of the UGA graduate departments and programs, and our meetings are set up to require a quorum of only 8 people. That’s right – 8 people, out of a population of nearly 8,000 full-time graduate students.

So what can we do? Well, for one thing, we can restructure GSA to ensure better representation, a more equitable division of labor, and the transmission of skills and memory from one year to the next.

The proposal restructuring has been divided into two sections—ideas that are completely within the purview of GSA (you!) to enact and ideas that will require the approval of the Graduate School.

 

What we can do:

GSA has a wide purview for revising and amending its own workings through amendments to our Constitution. Here is a proposal:

First, we can officially move to a senatorial model by establishing a Council of Graduate Students made up of representatives from each graduate department at UGA. These representatives would be elected by their departmental graduate student organization or appointed by their graduate program coordinator, should no grad student group exist. The number of graduate programs changes from year to year, but we can reasonably anticipate more than 80 potential representatives.

This Council of Graduate Students would meet four times per semester and be the active arm of graduate student representation at UGA. They would conduct the regular business of the GSA, but all major decisions would be put to a vote of the full association – i.e., open to all 7,000+ members.

Here’s an example. Remember that fun time a couple of years ago when the Federal government thought it would be a great idea to tax graduate tuition waivers as income? Well if something like that happened under the new plan, any graduate student could bring that issue forward to the Council of Graduate Students at any meeting. (Remember, all GSA meetings are, and would continue to be, open to all grad students). The Council of Graduate Students might vote to solicit opinions from all graduate students through an open online forum and to form an ad hoc committee to collect those responses and formulate an address or open letter to be delivered to various members of campus administration and the state and federal government. That document would then be put up for UGA grad students to comment on and suggest amendments. Then the Council would vote on the final form to be sent out for general approval and submission to the administration.

The Council would also vote at the end of each year to elect members of the GSA Executive Team. At the moment, the President and Vice-President are elected by all the grad students at UGA, but in practice, very few graduate students actually cast votes and there is no requirement saying that the new President and VP have served as part of GSA or have any experience with student groups or administration at our University. Having the President and Vice-President elected from the serving members of the Council of Graduate Students would fix those gaps.

The new Executive Team would consist of the President, the Vice-President, the Secretary, and a Representative-at-Large. The President, Vice-President, and Secretary would hold the University Council seats.

The President would continue to sit on:

·      the Executive Committee of the University Council,

·      the Graduate Council,

·      the Leaders Committee,

·      the Educational Affairs Committee, and

·      the All-Campus Allocations Committee.

The Vice-President and Secretary, as UC members, would divide between them seats on:

·      the Curriculum Committee,

·      the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics,

·      the University Libraries Committee,

·      the Committee on Facilities,

·      the Strategic Planning Committee, and

·      the Committee on Student Life.

The Rep-at-Large would be the designated alternate at any meeting for which the other Executive Team members could not be in attendance and would also sit, along with the President, on the All-Campus Allocations Committee, which meets for one week each Spring semester.

These team members would:

·      attend all regular GSA meetings;

·      deliver reports to the Council of Graduate Students at each regular meeting;

·      and be responsible for communicating the concerns of graduate students to back to their committees and, if necessary, in direct meetings with administration officials.

In addition, the President would be responsible for:

·      running the Council meetings according to Roberts’ Rules of Order and

·      ensuring that various programming activities, such as orientation and workshop series, are budgeted and planned for.

In return for this work, the members of the Executive Team would receive a modest stipend, the President’s being slighter higher in return for their additional duties.

 

What we would need Graduate School approval to do:

But wait, you ask. What about all that money the President is getting from the Assistantship through the Grad School? Well here’s where we get really radical.

We would ask that the Graduate School reallocate the assistantship for an Administrative Assistant to GSA.

This Administrative Assistant would work 20 hours per week on behalf of GSA and be in charge of:

·      maintaining records of all meetings and committee updates;

·      securing purchasing approvals and maintaining financial documentation through the Center for Student Activities and Involvement;

·      logistical planning and support (e.g., space reservations, transportation arrangements, catering arrangements, technical support) for all GSA functions including, but not limited to orientation, workshops, conferences, special guest speakers, and collaborative events;

·      maintaining and updating the GSA website and social media;

·      sending out announcements, polls, and voting procedures through the GSA listserv; and

·      ensuring that the GSA office is open to the public for at least ten hours per week during Fall and Spring semesters.

By separating the paid assistantship from the Presidency, we can accomplish two things.

First, the Administrative Assistant can be selected based on skills and experience, opening up this opportunity to a wide variety of graduate students, especially Master’s students whose programs lack the funding to provide assistantships in their first years.

Second, by stripping the Presidency of the assistantship in favor of a modest stipend, we would make the Presidency an option for graduate students who are already on assistantships in their home departments. Currently, the President of GSA would either have to renounce their home department assistantship—usually with no guarantee of getting it back—or else accept the Presidency and all its duties on top of their departmental assistantship and course work and research. Those choices put the GSA Presidency out of reach for the majority of graduate students. By sending both the logistical duties and the assistantship to an Administrative Assistant, we can make the Presidency what it should be – the primary position as a representative of graduate student interests.

 

So what would all of this restructuring really accomplish?

First, we would have ground-up representation by forming a Council of Graduate Students made up of elected graduate program representatives.

Second, we can spread the responsibilities of committee memberships between at least four people per year—more as additional committees, like the technology fee committee, come to us. That increases the diversity of perspectives on those committees, and it also gives at least four people the chance to get a couple of very serious “administrative experience” lines on their CVs before going out on the job market.

Third, by electing the Executive Committee from the Council at the end of each academic year, we ensure the maintenance of institutional memory, and we also ensure that the Executive Team is made up of individuals who have spent at least one year familiarizing themselves with the issues at hand in graduate student life at UGA and with the functioning of GSA itself.

There is so much opportunity for GSA to do great work for the graduate students of UGA, and we need a clear, perennial, rejuvenating, coherent structure in place to make those things happen. If you have ideas about this proposed restructuring, let us hear about them! Go to our website at graduatestudents.org and click the “Get Involved” button to tell us what you think!

Here’s to a better tomorrow through better planning today!