Graduate students seek senate voice

A Student Senate amendment would guarantee seats for non-undergrads, if it is approved.

Blair Emerson

A group of graduate students is pushing the University of Minnesota Student Senate to guarantee seats for graduate and professional students.

Current policy for the All-Campus Elections Commission makes senate elections open to all students, no matter their academic level. But a bylaw amendment proposed Thursday would set aside seats specifically for graduate and professional students, proportional to their numbers in the University student body.

Seats are generally distributed by college, based on enrollment. A bylaw change last May eliminated the Graduate School as a voting body in the Student Senate, effective for this spring’s elections.

Executive assistant to the University Senate Becky Hippert said graduate students began enrolling in specific colleges instead of the Graduate School a few years ago, so senate bylaws changed to reflect this.

This amendment made it so students of all academic levels compete for the same senate seats. Because undergraduates outnumber professional and graduate students, some say non-undergraduates could be unfairly cut from the election process.

Graduate School student senator Benjamin Beutel said many graduate students weren’t aware of the Student Senate elections this year. He said the removal of the Graduate School as a voting unit will alienate graduate and professional students from the elections.

“It would not be the Student Senate — it would be the undergraduate senate,” he said, “and that would be a huge problem.”

Council of Graduate Students President Andrew McNally said current elections policy makes it difficult for graduate students to become senators, so he’s working with the Student Senate to change election requirements.

But some students were against the change, saying that it could interfere with this spring’s election cycle if the policy change comes so late in the process.

College of Liberal Arts student senator Joelle Stangler, an undergraduate, opposed the bylaw change. She said it would put undergraduate students at a disadvantage if their reserved spots were given to graduate and professional students.

“To knock down two spots for an undergraduate who has been told there are 13 spots available [for CLA] is absolutely unacceptable and really shows how fragile our election system is,” Stangler said at Thursday’s meeting.

The senate didn’t come to a vote on the bylaw at its Thursday meeting due to disagreement and lack of quorum, but senators agreed to discuss the change further this week.

All-Campus Elections Commission chair Mallory Kurkoski said the commission won’t officially extend its deadline for senate candidate applications, but it may consider accepting them late because few graduate or professional students have applied.