Grad student bill of rights moves forward

The Council of Graduate Students introduced a draft to its assembly.

by Haley Hansen

When third-year doctoral English student Yuan Ding asked colleagues in her department about the likelihood of getting tenure in her field, she said some were hesitant to give her an answer.

To ensure graduate students like Ding are informed and aware of their rights, the Council of Graduate Students is working on a document that aims to define graduate students’ roles within the University of Minnesota.

“It makes me feel slightly more comfortable and protected,” Ding said.

COGS presented the first draft of the document, the first of its kind, at its general assembly meeting Monday evening. While most of the students were on board with the plan, some said they want the document to be clearer with its requests.

The group began working on the bill of rights a few months ago with a few COGS leaders heading the charge. After its release, the group hopes more students will provide feedback before it ultimately seeks Board of Regents approval this spring, said Nicole Scott, COGS’ Graduate Education Council representative.

But she said they’ll take as long as they need revising the document to ensure that it is where it needs to be in terms of helping students.

While Scott said it’s important that the bill of rights is specific enough to guide faculty members and students, it also needs to impact as many people as possible.

She said the document could be a selling point for graduate students to come to the University. Graduate students at several other universities currently have or are creating a similar plan.

The working draft of the document outlines students’ responsibilities within their positions at the University and their right to fair payment for their work.

The document also includes sections describing graduate students’ rights to advising, training and research opportunities in their fields.

The bill of rights won’t apply to professional students.

Student senator Robert Stewart, who helped author the draft, said the document aims to encompass students across all departments.

“Ideally, this is going to be representative of the entire graduate student population,” he said at the meeting. “If we’re too specific, then we may be painting some departments into a box, but if we’re too vague, then we’re giving departments an opportunity to do whatever they want.”

Fourth-year rehabilitation science doctoral student Tara Mader said the document should help dissolve discrepancies among departments.

“I think it helps make things more uniform for all departments,” she said.

Though COGS has plans to present it to the board, Scott said the document is more of a guideline to ensure students’ needs are met. But if they’re not, the bill would help those students who feel they aren’t receiving fair treatment, she said.

“It will create a road map for future policies that will protect graduate students,” COGS President Andrew McNally said.

He said the lack of specificity could affect the range of students who would cite the bill of rights when issues do occur.

Although Ding said she’d like to see more specifics within the document, she said having it in place will make her feel more protected and positively impact the graduate student community.

“It’s a giant step forward,” she said.