National organization gives graduate students a voice

The organization has created a committee for graduate and professional students.

Cati Vanden Breul

A group that includes 50 University graduate students is working to give fellow students more clout in a national organization dedicated to furthering academic freedom.

The American Association of University Professors, which advocates for the defense of tenure and intellectual property rights, has 45,000 members, 5 percent of whom are graduate or professional students.

University graduate student Jeremy Nienow will be one of five graduate students to sit on the organization’s first-ever committee dedicated to graduate and professional student issues.

“Up until now, graduate students have just been lip service,” Nienow said.

The association has members at the national, state and college levels. Nienow said that he helped start a chapter of the association for University graduate and professional students last year and now serves as the group’s president.

“We are trying to lobby to really incorporate graduate students more,” he said.

Until last year, graduate students did not have voting rights in the organization, Nienow said. But after the University student group applied pressure at the state level, the Minnesota chapter of the association voted to give graduate students voting rights in the state conference.

“We’ve had a pretty good level of success at the state level,” Nienow said.

Mike Livingston, Minnesota Conference of the American Association of University Professors chairman and chairman of the new graduate student committee, said it is essential for graduate students to be an active part of the organization.

“Graduate students are future professors and really the future of the profession,” Livingston said.

The committee will meet for the first time in July and will work to develop graduate student research, recruitment and employment policies, he said.

Nienow will be a good addition to the committee, Livingston said.

“He’s very forward-thinking and thinks about the big picture of how to defend and improve higher education,” Livingston said.

The University has been instrumental in the move to further include graduate students in the association, said Julie Schmid, a staff member for the national organization.

“The work that (Nienow) and others have done served as a local model,” Schmid said.

Phil Bromiley, president of the University’s faculty chapter of the association, said getting graduate students involved early in the organization helps them in their careers later.

“I think it’s an excellent idea that students become better integrated into the profession earlier and that their needs and voices be heard,” Bromiley said.

He said universities around the country have been replacing tenure-track faculty members with adjuncts or graduate student teachers.

“There are a lot of issues with graduate students and the use of graduate students,” Bromiley said.

The association gives graduate students the ability to meet and network with professors and peers, said Claire Kirchhoff, a member of the University student chapter.

“It is certainly beneficial to graduate students to have the opportunity to network with other professionals,” Kirchhoff said.