New MSA, GAPSA leaders share their plans

JP Leider

As students prepare for a week of finals and begin looking ahead, newly elected leaders in student government are preparing for fall semester by setting their agendas for the upcoming year.

Leaders of the Minnesota Student Association and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly spoke with the Daily about their respective plans for their administration and how their organizations have fared so far.

Max Page (MSA president-elect):
How are you feeling about your upcoming term?

I am feeling energetic and excited, and it feels from the other people who are going to be involved with the organization next year that they are feeling the same way.

Where has MSA succeeded in the past year, and where has it failed?

It has succeeded when it has been creative and come up with new ideas, and that’s something Monica (Heth) and I would like to focus on for next year. Things like the tax program and the housing summit are cases where it succeeded. It has failed at times with communication amongst members. But I think that can be used as a learning experience for next year.

Combating ever-increasing tuition was one of the main issues on which you ran your campaign, as it has been for many MSA campaigns over the past few years. But for all the promises students have seen, tuition increases are far above inflation. How are your ideas different than what we’ve seen in the past, and why do you feel they will be successful where others have not been?

What’s important to emphasize is that our ideas aren’t radically different than others, but when people promised those things in the past, they’ve kind of fallen off the radar as other things come up. Monica and I will make sure that throughout the year we will continue to be putting the bug in people’s ears – this includes regents, the administration, as well as legislators – constantly, and this is where we differ. The tuition cannot keep rising if this is going to stay a public University.

What are your plans to ensure the administration takes what MSA has to say seriously?

By making sure that our body is respectful and tactful in dealing with the administration and also not by giving up when we’re told no to one of our stances the first time. Make them tell us no a second time and a seventh and eighth time if necessary. If we’re aggressive in a respectful manner, I think that gives us our best shot at being given respect in return.

Is it feasible to move to a co-governance or shared-governance model of decision-making at the University, requiring that students have a vote in making decisions that affect student life, and if it is, would you support the move?

It is completely feasible, and I do support it 100 percent. I think it is one of the most tangible and effective things that our body can do and that the administration is willing to work on. My first meeting as president-elect with administrators was on shared governance and it looks to be very promising in the next year and something we can deliver.

How do you hope to fight student apathy in the future?

The more we become creative and come up with ideas that are accessible to the student body is the best way to engage students at this university. We can do certain outreach-specific events and that sort of thing, but really if we’re using students’ money as an organization to do good for them, we need to come up with services and benefits that will directly help them.

MSA is supposed to be a nonpartisan organization; given that you’ve led the University DFL for the past year, how would you objectively deal with a situation if Forum members or students claimed MSA was acting in a partisan fashion?

MSA is a deliberative body. To say that it’s driven by typical partisan politics, I think just about anyone in MSA could tell you that there are many other things that take priority over that. Monica and I both see it in the best interest of MSA to make sure all voices are heard. That means encouraging people who aren’t in MSA who have differing viewpoints, be they cultural or political or any differing viewpoint, to get their voice on Forum.

Dmitry Zhdanov (GAPSA president-elect)
You are a relative newcomer to GAPSA. What should graduate and professional students know about you?

I’ve been at the University of Minnesota for four years doing my Ph.D. in information systems. Part of the reason I was not as involved in GAPSA as other people were is that I had quite a heavy workload over the past couple years, but I decided it’s time to see how GAPSA is working.

Why did you choose to run for GAPSA president?

I was nominated on the spot; I actually was not expecting that nomination and was not counting on being GAPSA president. No one wanted to take the job, so I just stepped up and that’s how it happened.

Where has GAPSA succeeded in past years, and where has it failed?

Particularly in this recent year, GAPSA was very good at communicating with administration and trying to get viewpoints of grad students across. Where it was not as successful – it was not very good in presenting its work to graduate students. It’s being improved right, and I think it will be even more in the next year or two.

What do you hope to accomplish next year for graduate and professional students?

I want to do two things: the first is to make sure we communicate with students, letting them know what we are doing and how we are representing their interests. The second is to double-check and make sure we know what issues are concerning the grad students and get more input from them. In my experience, that was the hard part; most students are so overloaded with work and other commitments that they are not too interested in going out and talking to us.

As GAPSA president, you will serve on committees dealing with the University’s realignment, among others. How will you represent your constituents’ diverse interests during the realignment process?

The first thing is to figure out what exactly are those interests. As of now, I have my own perspective as a graduate student. What I’m going to do during summer is talk with my executive board members and council members and people I know around campus; we’ll try to get viewpoints of multiple students.

Compensation and the increasing cost of living are some of the most important issues graduate and professional students face. What are your plans to make sure the University remains or becomes a more welcoming place for graduate and professional students regarding finances?

I don’t know right now how that should be approached, because I believe compensation really should depend on negotiation between students and departments. I understand different departments have different budgets. What we can do is try to share that information between students and see how different programs compare to each other. Maybe more awareness will lead to more power to students in their negotiations.

Is it feasible to move to a co-governance or shared-governance model of decision-making at the University, requiring that students have a vote in making decisions that affect student life, and if it is, would you support the move?

I would support the move, because I think it’s necessary to get students more involved, because they represent the majority of the population here at the University. In terms of feasibility, I don’t know right now, but I will look into that.

How will you ensure the administration takes GAPSA and its actions seriously?

Here I think the key is close and repeated interaction with the administration. We are going to be talking to all the people, starting from the president. I was just reading the Daily article about (University) President (Bob) Bruininks talking to students, and he felt he was not getting enough input about the daily life of the University community, so we are going to make sure he gets his share of input from graduate students.