MSA and GAPSA team up to meet students’ needs more effectively

The groups began cooperating in 2002 as the Twin Cities Student Assembly.

by Bryce Haugen

After splitting in 1990, the undergraduate and graduate student governments often sparred, leaders of both groups said.

“There was just bitter blood between the two organizations,” said Karen Buhr, executive vice president for the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

But in 2002, GAPSA and the Minnesota Student Association reconciled, agreeing to meet on a regular basis. The groups – known collectively as the Twin Cities Student Assembly – will meet again tonight at Coffman Union.

A friendlier tone

The joint meeting typifies the collaborative tone the groups now value, MSA President Tom Zearley said.

“(GAPSA and MSA are) speaking as a student body now,” he said. “We’re not speaking as a disjointed two-thirds and one-third of the student body.”

This year, unlike years past, the groups met jointly with University President Bob Bruininks. They also formed the Student Public Affairs Coalition in fall, which encouraged students to vote in the November election and is now focused on lobbying at the State Legislature.

GAPSA President Abu Jalal said the most-important cooperation occurs on day-to-day issues, for which a unified voice is always more effective.

“When we coordinate our message, we end up saying the same thing, and it becomes much stronger,” he said.

Leaders of both groups said many issues, such as University funding, affect graduate and undergraduate students. Any lack of coordination, they said, would be wasteful.

“If we didn’t join, we would have been duplicating efforts,” said MSA Vice President Amy Jo Pierce, who co-founded the coalition with GAPSA’s vice president for public affairs.

Buhr said there are very few issues that affect only one group of students, but a split student government allows each organization to offer specific services.

“The core of what we do is the same, but the peripheral stuff is completely different,” she said.

Road to cooperation

Former MSA President Josh Colburn said that before he and then-GAPSA President Chris Frazier decided to team up in 2002, the groups barely spoke.

“It was just a co-existence,” said Colburn, who is now a first-year University law student. “There was no collaboration or resource sharing.”

During the 1997-98 school year, MSA and GAPSA fought over the makeup of the Student Services Fees Committee and had several other public confrontations throughout the decade.

To change the tenor, Colburn said, the groups ratified “articles of cooperation” in early 2003. The articles called for joint meetings and for the groups to pay attention to – and support – the other’s actions, when appropriate.

Colburn said the articles are a safety mechanism to “codify” cooperation.

“(Now), when something comes down the pipe, both groups know about it,” he said. “The left hand’s not doing something that counters the right.”