UCLA’s graduate student government is considering rejoining a University of California-wide student advocacy organization in light of the coaliton’s recent push to address graduate student concerns.
The Graduate Students Association left the University of California Student Association, a systemwide coalition that advocates for UC students, about six years ago because the GSA members at the time believed the organization placed too little emphasis on graduate student issues, said Hope McCoy, GSA vice president of external affairs.
To withdraw from the organization, GSA stopped paying membership fees to UCSA, which were thousands of dollars per year.
UCSA includes almost all of the student governments for both undergraduate and graduate student governments in the UC system, including UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council. The association elects student regent finalists, runs campaigns and pulls together resources from UC campuses to lobby on behalf of students.
“If students (at other campuses) are struggling with a similar issue, we can coordinate an effective response,” said Nicole Robinson, president of GSA. “It’s a pretty important institution for us to join because it works best when everyone is involved.”
Kareem Aref, president of UCSA and a psychology and law student at UC Riverside, said he thinks the association is recognized as the collective voice of all UC students, but various student governments have voted to leave and rejoin the association in the past.
During spring quarter, McCoy plans to ask the forum, the voting body for graduate students in GSA, to discuss and vote on a proposal to rejoin UCSA.
As part of the decision, GSA officials will have to choose how to pay membership fees for UCSA.
Membership fees grant voting rights to student governments at all of UCSA’s meetings and are based on student enrollment, said Robinson. A year-long membership with UCSA would cost about $16,000.
Robinson said she wants GSA to join UCSA for a year-long trial period starting next school year. To pay for the first year of membership, Robinson said she thinks GSA would pull from its surplus funds, which currently amount to about $39,000.
Afterward, she thinks GSA should decide to pay membership fees on a more permanent basis by increasing student fees. Membership to UCSA costs $1.30 per UCLA graduate student each year.
For graduate student fees to increase to cover membership costs, a simple majority of graduate students must vote in favor of a fee referendum in the GSA elections this April. Additionally, at least 10 percent of the graduate student body must vote on the referendum – a threshold that GSA has struggled to meet in recent years.
Robinson said the first year’s fees should be taken out of surplus funds because she thinks it is too late to place a fee referendum on the ballot for the April GSA elections, partially because GSA must write any referendums to change fees with the Chancellor’s Office.
McCoy said she and Robinson became interested in GSA rejoining UCSA after learning that the organization took steps to focus on more graduate student issues this past school year.
One of GSA’s requests before leaving UCSA about six years ago was the hiring of a full-time staff member dedicated entirely to graduate student issues, Robinson said. UCSA hired a full-time staff member dedicated entirely to graduate student issues this year, Aref said.
UCSA also launched a campaign called “Jobs!” this school year, which focuses on preparing graduate students for the job market and ensuring that they have access to sufficient employment resources, Aref said. At the same time, UCSA is working on making sure post-graduate supplemental tuition is reasonable and it is drafting a graduate student bill of rights, Aref added.
The undergraduate student government at UC Irvine voted to leave UCSA last month because UC Irvine student leaders thought UCSA did not sufficiently address undocumented students’ concerns about Janet Napolitano’s appointment as UC president. They also said the organization focused too heavily on graduate student needs. The UC Davis undergraduate student government left the organization in 2006.
Aref said he thinks some student governments leave or join UCSA because of the fluctuating political leanings of a changing student board.
“When Davis left, it was because they felt the organization was too progressive,” Aref said. “For Irvine, the undertone was that the board was a little bit more conservative. The way the organization moves and grows can frustrate certain individuals.”
McCoy said she currently pursues student advocacy through other networks because GSA is not a member of UCSA. As part of the nationwide Student Advocates for Graduate Education, McCoy said she advocates for increasing research funding, immigration reform and taxation reform on income from fellowships.
McCoy added that she would be open to working on new campaigns or goals suggested by UCLA graduate students or by UCSA if GSA were to join the organization.