Grad students lack strong voice in U policy

At a meeting Thursday, faculty discussed creating a committee focused on graduate and postdoctoral issues.

Olivia Johnson

University of Minnesota graduate and post-doctoral students feel they lack a voice on campus.

At a Thursday Faculty Consultative Committee meeting, University faculty members discussed one possible remedy for students’ concerns — to create a separate post-doc and graduate committee in the student Senate.

“The graduate … students are central to the University, yet there’s nothing … that focuses in on graduate education issues,” said Scott Lanyon, vice provost and dean of Graduate Education Council. “The closest might be SCEP.”

The faculty Senate’s Educational Policy Committee — called SCEP — deals with education policy that affects the University as a whole, but its area of control is very broad, said Colin Campbell, FCC chair and pharmacology professor.

“I know our grad students feel like they’re left out,” Campbell said. “It is an inherently complex and disorganized grouping of individuals.”

But it wasn’t always that way, said Joseph Konstan, FCC vice chair and computer science and engineering professor. The disorganization came after the University’s elimination of its overarching graduate school in 2009, he said.

Before it shut down, the graduate school had a governing body, where graduate students were admitted, enrolled and received their degrees, Konstan said. Now, that body is segmented by each academic department.

“When all that was dissolved as a part of the graduate school going away, the question was, where is that governance going to come from?” Konstan said. “The Graduate Education Council took some piece of that, but that’s an advisory group to the dean, and it doesn’t have a lot of policy authority.”

Lanyon said graduate education issues keep arising, like whether the school was preparing students for a wide enough variety of careers, or how to effectively advise graduate students.

Campbell said the FCC is debating whether they should create a new Senate committee of graduate students, potentially including post-doctoral students.

Three years ago the office of Academic Affairs and Provost and the FCC recommended that a senate committee on graduate education be formed, Lanyon said.

“That was considered, and instead it was thought to have SCEP really focus more time on graduate education,” he said. “That’s where it stood until last year.”

Sue Wick, professor of plant biology and chair of SCEP, said a structure hasn’t been finalized, but she would like to reconfigure SCEP to include subcommittees for graduate, undergraduate and professional students.

She said when there are decisions specific to a certain educational demographic, the corresponding subcommittee —undergraduate, graduate or professional students — would resolve it; when University-wide decisions are debated, representatives from all three subcommittee would be present at the meetings, providing more perspective.

Campbell said if a Senate vote were to happen, it wouldn’t be until spring.

Nicholas Goldsmith, graduate student and Council of Graduate Students president, said he would like to have a subcommittee for graduate and postdoctoral students because undergraduates are centralized during policy-making.

“To craft good policy it’s good to consider both perspectives,” he said.