3 Questions: GAPSA candidates

Michael Pursell

In preparation for this week’s elections, the Minnesota Daily Editorial Board prepared three questions to present to each of the two Graduate and Professional Student Assembly presidential candidates. Candidates were asked to respond to our queries by email, as specifically as possible, given 200 words for each question. Below are our questions, along with candidates’ unedited responses.

For more information on how to vote for GAPSA president, you can follow this link. Voting runs April 5-7.


Devin Driscoll

1. What do you think should be the scope and role of GAPSA? Are there any specific activities or programs you would like to see eliminated or added?

I believe that to be effective, GAPSA must work to build capacity within the councils. Helping to build strong councils, who are actively engaging both their student population and administration, not only improves the particular college or school, but all of GAPSA.

As a member of the general assembly, I have experienced the power of engaging my colleagues in discussions about our challenges and our successes. My administration would expand this process, engaging council leadership in similar conversations in addition to GAPSA meetings.

This does not diminish GAPSA’s role as a fierce advocate for graduate and professional students. The president of GAPSA is charged to highlight our vital contributions to the university community, and ensure our voice is heard by policy makers within and outside the U. I have been this for half a decade, whether in undergraduate student government, my professional life as a government relations officer or here at the U.

GAPSA funding needs to follow these priorities. Academic and professional grants for individuals, as well as pass-through funds need to be protected. I would evaluate all GAPSA spending not directly related to these functions, review its relationship to GAPSA’s mission, and recommend cutting or redirecting unrelated expenditures.

2. What are your positions regarding the University’s budget, particularly in regard to transparency, focus on the University’s core academic mission, and tuition levels?

The problem with the university’s budget is not transparency – CFO Putzenreuter makes budget documents available on his website. Much of the documentation, however, is prepared for experts, and not for the university community. I believe the administration needs to make significant process in packaging the information for the general consumer.

I will work with councils and deans to ensure communication with students on how funds are spent within colleges, how collegiate fees, such as the technology fee, are determined and how those fees are applied. This is an issue I have been working on since last semester, when I brought my billing statement to a Senate Committee on Finance and Planning meeting and noted students are paying fees in excess of 10 percent of tuition.

For the first time ever, tuition is the primary source of university revenue. Given our state’s financial situation, it’s unlikely this trend will reverse itself in the near future, and programs will likely be consolidated or eliminated. Students play a significant role in these decisions, both in the collegiate “blue ribbon commissions” and with central administration. COGS’ role in shaping the restructured graduate school should serve as a model of involvement and consultation.  

3. How would you approach relations with the state Legislature in terms of general strategy and tone?

The university is a resource to the state unmatched by any in Minnesota. It is an economic engine: one of the largest employers in the state, a hub for research and development and a training ground for the highly educated workforce necessary in a global economy. Small businesses of all kinds thrive around the U’s campuses, and students are a major force in local economies.

As the university becomes more dependent on tuition dollars to operate and becomes increasingly unaffordable, the state could lose its best and brightest to other institutions, see its workforce competitiveness decrease and find businesses struggling. If students take out huge debt loads to finance their education, they will be unable to buy homes and communities will begin to suffer. 

This is the story we need to tell in Saint Paul. As public revenues fall the university is frequently the first target of the red pens seeking to slash spending. We cannot fall prey to the simple “town versus gown” narrative that has proved to be devastating in our ongoing dispute over light rail. Instead we must work with the legislature and remind them of the centrality of the university to the lives of their constituents.


Ryan Kennedy

1. What do you think should be the scope and role of GAPSA? Are there any specific activities or programs you would like to see eliminated or added? 

GAPSA should represent every graduate and professional student in the University of Minnesota system.  Currently, there are students at our Duluth and Rochester campuses that are underrepresented in programming and advocacy.  There are graduate students at UMD that are not represented by GAPSA at all.  Developing budgets for our satellite campuses, which will allow them to better engage their students, will be a start in strengthening these relationships.

GAPSA’s primary role should be to act as the singular voice for students on administrative and policy issues, thus improving the educational experience and quality of life for graduate and professional students.  By providing a forum to support best practices in student engagement and by working with the councils and student groups to better involve their constituencies, GAPSA will increase student awareness of available resources as well as allow for more input on how we can better serve our constituent students.

There is nothing that GAPSA does now that is without value.  Instead of eliminating activities and programs I would work to decrease costs, collaborate more with other organizations, and better utilize existing grant opportunities to lessen the financial burden on GAPSA and provide more opportunity for students to get involved.

2. What are your positions regarding the University’s budget, particularly in regard to transparency, focus on the University’s core academic mission, and tuition levels?

Over the past two years, I have been working to improve transparency in the University’s budgeting process by introducing a policy that requires students be included in the formation of the biennial budget and capital plan.  By bringing students to the table for these decisions, not only will students know that their collective voice is being heard, but they will also have a better understanding of the decisions made by administrators.  I believe that this consistent presence will help shift University culture around the budget towards an open dialogue where all constituencies are heard.  This shift will certainly affect the conversations surrounding skyrocketing tuition prices, which are disproportionately dumped on graduate and professional students, and the University’s commitment towards its academic mission.  This current culture of administrative, instead of community, decision-making has resulted in a University that is expanding at a rate that is not sustainable for students’ pocketbooks and is drifting away from its academic mission in order to chase dollars.  By continuing my work towards increased student involvement in crafting the University’s budget, I will continue to lead the push for greater accountability, transparency, and a renewed commitment to making this University affordable for all. 

3. How would you approach relations with the state Legislature in terms of general strategy and tone?

Graduate students can’t afford to have rookie leadership at the state legislature.  My first step would be to develop an infrastructure that would allow GAPSA to advocate effectively and consistently at the state capitol; strategy and tone won’t matter without successful implementation.  This includes bringing on staff dedicated to state policy research in the summer and working with the councils to develop a legislative platform so we can hit the ground running when the legislative session starts.  I would use my experience lobbying on higher education policy to craft a platform that would include both comprehensive reforms, like student debt relief legislation that I introduced and testified on before the House and Senate Higher Education committees, and focused policy, like textbook price disclosure legislation I am currently helping draft with Senator Wiger. 

Now that tuition revenue is exceeding state allocations for the first time, it is more important than ever for effective advocacy at the legislature.  This requires a collaborative spirit based on solid relationships I have built with legislators over the past two years to ensure that we pass legislation to lower the cost of graduate education, even if the state won’t restore our funding to the appropriate level.