The Student Government president expects to start appointing representatives this week to fill four available graduate student seats in an organization lacking in graduate student members.
The student presidents of SG, Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly said they must work together to best confront graduate student concerns. As GSA’s influence grows, SG and Senate leaders look to improve representation for graduate students.
SG President Natalie Butler said she does not know if all four seats will be appointed at once, but the appointed graduate students will serve out the rest of their term until this April. These appointments would add to the two current graduate student representatives for the School of Law and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Butler said she believes recruitment for the positions has been difficult because of the rigorous workload graduate students have. She said discrepancies between undergraduate and graduate representation is to be expected.
“The undergraduates are the culture of UT,” Butler said. “Undergraduates drive tradition, capacity and the number of bodies that you see on campus more than graduate students.”
Butler said SG positions, including her own, still represent graduate student concerns despite being filled by undergraduate students.
“I take my job in representing graduate students very seriously,” Butler said. “I think I need to be held accountable for them.”
Senate President Carisa Nietsche said there are a few graduate councils in Senate, but the representation distribution is not ideal.
“It’s really a representation nightmare,” Nietsche said.
Nietsche said other issues include Senate’s disproportionate focus on academic affairs that often apply to undergraduate concerns.
“Graduate students feel like they’re voting on legislation, but it doesn’t pertain to them,” Nietsche said.
She said Senate is discussing whether to increase graduate student representation or to continue sending graduate issues to GSA.
“We’re working on seeing whether we should go all in or all out,” Nietsche said.
Last year, the University officially recognized GSA as a legislative body affiliated with the Office of the Dean of Students.
GSA President Manuel Gonzalez said UT graduate students are often an afterthought.
“I would not say that this marginalization is intentional,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s a byproduct of being a smaller subset of the University.”
Gonzalez said graduate student engagement in student governance is increasing and can elevate awareness of the issues graduate students face.
The election process for GSA representatives is up to the graduate advisor of the department. About 65 representatives form the assembly that has room for a total of 119 representatives. Some departments have more representatives depending on the number of graduate students.
“The reality is being a graduate student can be a completely different experience in another field,” Gonzalez said. “That’s why it’s important to have as much representation as possible.”
However, about 30 out of about 100 departments do not have representation, Gonzalez said. Despite the openings, he said the current size of the assembly can hinder progress.
“We have such a large assembly size that sometimes it can be difficult to get all graduate students on the same page and holding them accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said there will always be disputes about which organization should cover certain issues, but the strength of the three organizations is that they are structured to foster collaboration through legislation and resource sharing.
“Graduate students should know that they have the opportunity to voice any concerns they may have and suggest solutions to issues that may arise,” Gonzalez said.