GSA Bill of Rights and Responsibilities was mischaracterized

Brian Wilkey

In a recent editorial blog post, Associate Editor Xing Liu asserted that the Graduate Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities had “lost its original purpose.” The Graduate Student Assembly Executive Committee believes this statement to be categorically false. This would only be possible if the original purpose of the BORR was to increase graduate student stipends.  As the BORR committee set out to make life better for graduate and professional students as a whole, money was not the defining issue.  Therefore, we believe the editorial has missed the true intention of a BORR. More importantly, this editorial mischaracterizes the journey this legislation has taken and the very hopeful future we see for it. 


The new BORR is visibly different from earlier versions. However, as with any collaborative piece of legislation, the current product involved the work and input of University Administrators, GSA executives and GSA voting and non-voting members alike. We now assert that not only are these rights that should be guaranteed to graduate and professional students, but that graduate and professional students have the responsibility to be stewards of these rights and upstanding members of the University Community. 


The scope of the new BORR is now able to apply to all graduate and professional students, not just those earning a stipend from UT. For example, in some degree programs (e.g., MBAs, MS in Nursing, JDs), graduate students do not receive any sort of assistantship but still must pay tuition. How, then, can we fight for the right of our University guaranteeing the standard of a living wage to graduate and professional students who currently receive no wage?


We acknowledge that the word’s “housing,” “living-wage,” or “health insurance” do not appear in the current draft, and we acknowledge they were removed after conversations with administrators. We argue, however, that the phrase “basic standard of living” encompasses those ideals and more as our society, university culture and needs progresses. We also argue that to reduce the purpose of the BORR to money and confrontations with University administration is a irresponsibly narrow-minded and mischaracterized view of the UT-Austin graduate experience. 


We happily acknowledge that the language has changed throughout the process of the development and passage of the BORR. The GSA is a deliberative body that represents 13,000 diverse graduate students. We take pride in listening to the multitudes of opinions provided by graduate students, administrators, faculty and staff. We strive to incorporate those into our actions. Collaboration is not capitulation, but rather a way in which governance should work.


The BORR passed March 3 is not the final version. The GSA has just begun down this long road of codification. Changes will be made, approved, negotiated and approved again so that graduate and professional students can count on this BORR to encourage, inform and safeguard them. We encourage all graduate students to watch these changes going forward in hopes that they see the scope and gravity of the rights we hope to establish for a community of the 12,000+ brilliant minds calling UT Austin home.  

Finally, with regard to representing the graduate student body, we feel the process of the BORR and the passage speaks to the commitment the GSA has to representing all graduate students at the university. With increased participation throughout the year, a well-attended and -reviewed Graduate and Professional Development Week, over $7,800 distributed to graduate student organizations, travel grants, multiple social events and an increased presence on University committees, we believe we have worked hard as an assembly to make the graduate and professional student voice loud, resolute and united on this campus.     

— Brian Wilkey, president of the Graduate Student Assembly and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, and the GSA Executive Committee, a group of directors that represent the divisions of the Graduate Student Assembly, in response to Liu’s Thursday blog post titled “Graduate Student Bill of Rights has lost its original purpose.”