Graduate Student Assembly vice president speaks on budget cuts, new position

Jody Serrano

New officers for Graduate Student Assembly will work on the transition to their new positions in the next few weeks and adjusting to internal changes within the organization. The Daily Texan interviewed Joel Simmons, newly elected GSA vice president, to ask him about the recent changes to the organization and the challenges GSA will face this year. Simmons ran unopposed in the campus-wide general elections and won the election with 115 votes, or approximately 1 percent of UT’s more than 11,500 graduate students.

The Daily Texan: What do you think GSA’s biggest challenge will be next year?
Simmons: It’s the same challenge we face every year, and that is getting interest in student government from grad students. They kind of think it’s a childish affair that people only get into for resume padding. We’re helping with teaching assistant insurance and graduate student housing. It’s basically improving the transparency of grad students to the Senate of College Councils and Student Government and improving our visibility among graduate students themselves.

The Daily Texan: The role of the vice president will be completely different this year as opposed to last year, when there were two vice presidents, one for internal affairs and one for external affairs. How do you plan to merge these roles together?
Simmons: It’s not that big of a deal. The reason we were able to merge these two is because [internal affairs] did not have a lot of things to do. A lot of internal affairs went to the administrative director. I’m still going to all the meetings [external vice president] Reid Long had to go to. The combination has not been all that tough, but it’s a lot more meetings.

The Daily Texan: The Student Services Budget Committee has proposed a $10,000 cut to GSA’s almost $63,000 budget for next year. If that cut is approved, what will that mean for GSA?
Simmons: As it is right now, we are the lowest funded of the three legislative student organizations, and cutting our budget is taking our legs out from under us. We are going to keep cutting our stipends for the next couple of years. I’m taking a pay cut to do GSA, and if there was no money it would be a lot harder for me to make that decision.

The Daily Texan: If you were talking to a graduate student and you wanted them to join GSA, what would you say?
Simmons: More than anything, it’s a chance to really get involved with the actual governance of UT at large. Student Government is not like student council in high school. Health insurance is a massive debate right now and we have a seat at the table discussing these kinds of issues. I have weekly meetings with President Powers. If a grad student should have a problem or they think something is weird or they’ve encountered something they think is not right, we’re here and we wield a decent amount of power.

Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: GSA vice president discusses new policies