Toward a more collaborative student government

The Council of Graduate Students met last Monday  and accomplished something recently uncommon in graduate student government. COGS met, discussed a wide range of important issues affecting graduate education, debated and disagreed, but it came to a consensus amicably and democratically.

The assembly voiced open criticism of its leaders and pushed to change their position on a crucial issue. COGS members did not agree on everything, but we engaged in an open and thoughtful process.

It’s in this spirit that the COGS assembly moved for COGS to seek a separate fee request from the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly beginning next year by a 34-1 margin. I would like to clarify some of the reasons for doing so.

Under the current structure, COGS receives funding from GAPSA, the same organization over which it exercises fiscal stewardship. As a result, the interactions between GAPSA, COGS and other councils have frequently caused tension between the councils’ desire for a more consultative budget process and GAPSA’s desire for greater autonomy from this consultation.

COGS, for example, raised questions about the affordability of higher officer stipends and leadership benefits, whether students are receiving the maximum benefit from the GAPSA programming and maintaining consistent funding levels for GAPSA councils. These concerns have been met with resistance from many GAPSA executives in the past.

Taking the money out of the equation — an option that other councils have explored in the past — would help COGS and other student governance organizations set their own budget priorities and better collaborate on the important advocacy work that affects all post-baccalaureate students.

I believe it would allow graduate students to participate more directly in deciding where their fee dollars go. I believe we could cooperate with GAPSA to make the transition in a way that would allow students to remain eligible for services from both organizations.

GAPSA’s president and vice president of finance drafted a resolution amending its constitution and immediately defunding much of COGS’ programming and travel grants for spring 2014. This measure failed, so it will happen in July 2014 instead.

In the coming months, we look forward to working closely with GAPSA President Brittany Edwards to turn a new leaf, engage in collaborative advocacy work and transition to a better student governance format that students have chosen. COGS looks forward to working with the University community to receive feedback on our budget request over the next two months.

To get involved with our budget or our other initiatives, contact [email protected] With Edwards’ cooperation, I believe that we can make this change with minimal interference in our organizations’ services to students and no change in the fees that students pay.