GAPSA might expand to Duluth

Leaders from the Duluth campus began planning for a graduate student government.

Bryce Haugen

DULUTH, Minn. – Four graduate student leaders from the University’s Twin Cities campus traveled north Monday to help create a graduate student government at the University’s Duluth campus.

“We definitely need an action plan today,” Abu Jalal, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly president, said at the beginning of the meeting.

Following nearly three hours of discussion, eight medical and pharmacy student leaders from the Duluth campus agreed to initial steps of a plan that would create a student government for the campus’ 2,200 graduate students.

The students agreed to attend GAPSA’s March meeting on the Twin Cities campus. They also decided to meet monthly to discuss their progress.

Karen Buhr, GAPSA executive vice president, said Monday’s discussions were significant and encouraging.

“We just wanted to make sure there’s something in place so we can keep this going,” she said.

GAPSA currently represents almost 17,000 graduate students from 10 University colleges. But Duluth graduate students report to the Twin Cities’ college councils and lack an umbrella organization such as GAPSA.

“We don’t technically represent you,” Buhr said to the Duluth students. “But we’re the closest thing you guys have to representation at this point.”

Much of the debate focused on whether to create a separate “GAPSA Duluth” or to integrate students from the Duluth campus into the Twin Cities GAPSA.

Though graduate students have seats on the Duluth campus student assembly, undergraduate students – and issues – dominate the meetings, said second-year pharmacy student Phil Brummond, a Duluth representative to the Pharmacy College Board.

“If we have problems with the university, I don’t want undergraduate students making the decisions for us,” he said. “That’s why we need GAPSA.”

But Melissa Sherman, the Duluth campus’ first-year Medical School council vice president, said she’s uncomfortable with a split GAPSA.

“(The Medical School is) trying to do a lot of integration, and this would seem like we’re separating,” she said.

Second-year pharmacy student Loren Carrell proposed a GAPSA “confederacy,” in which Duluth’s GAPSA would handle local affairs but would team with the Twin Cities group on broader issues.

“It would allow the groups to be more efficient and still represent the local interests,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, student leaders from the Duluth campus agreed to discuss the GAPSA split at future meetings before making any decisions.

GAPSA leaders emphasized the Duluth students’ autonomy in determining the fate of GAPSA in Duluth.

“We’re not going to dictate what you do, but we are rather here to help you coordinate what you want to do,” Jalal said.

After the meeting, Jalal said the face-to-face discussion was more productive “than sending a hundred e-mails.”

“It will be an organization that reflects the needs and the desires of the students of Duluth,” he said.

Buhr said Duluth’s Graduate School, which includes a wide variety of science and humanities students, lacks leadership and wasn’t represented at Monday’s meeting. They will eventually be included in the discussions, she said.

“They’re just at a different stage in the process, at this point,” Buhr said.