October 31, 2003

GPSA Meets Grads' Needs

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While Cornell’s Student Assembly works to better campus life for undergraduates, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly strives to improve graduate and professional students’ general quality of life. The GPSA is made up of one or two students from every graduate field, depending on its size. Those grads on the Council of Representatives then elect members of the assembly, which is comprised of 17 students who may vote.

At the GPSA meeting on Oct. 27, 17 members and several representatives of the graduate and professional student body met in the Big Red Barn to debate and eventually resolve investment account issues which have recently plagued the organization.

A week before the meeting, GPSA Finance Commission head Brian Holmes grad sent an e-mail to presidents and trustees of GPSAFC-funded groups. He wrote, “The GPSAFC is in an extremely tight funding situation this year. We only have $130,000 available to allocate to 180 graduate and professional student groups. By comparison, we allocated an average of $160,000 to a smaller number of groups in the last two academic years.”

Holmes wrote up a resolution in which the GPSA would liquidate its investment account and return the funds to the finance commission.

“In my opinion, the money does not belong to the GPSA; it belongs to student groups and should be made available to them,” Holmes said.

Funding policy commission chair Larry Boyd JGSM ’04 presented an amendment to Holmes’ resolution. His intent was to preserve in part the investment account, and he recommended modifying the GPSAFC funding system.

“I am trying to set up a lasting legacy,” Boyd said.

The evening ended as Holmes’ resolution was passed with the addition of a few “friendly amendments” approved by Holmes and GPSA members. If everything goes as planned, the money will be returned to the finance commission in the next few weeks.

“It is important to act now,” Holmes said. “If we don’t, then we are waiting until after Christmas break to give groups the money they need.”

Besides dealing with this recent shortage in funds, the GPSA tackles many other issues. The paying benefits committee, for example, helps grads on fellowships.

Cornell fellowships include medical insurance but leave out coverage for dental and vision care. The GPSA circulated a petition and got the University to allow those on fellowship plans to buy dental and vision insurance coverage for themselves and their dependents.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Holmes said.

As far as other GPSA actions go, Virginia Augusta grad is working on a “Students with Families” plan to provide free or low-cost childcare to children of graduate and professional students.

“If there’s a critical mass of parents involved, it could do some good,” said GPSA president Gavin Hurley grad.

But in order to fully succeed in improving graduate and professional student life, Holmes believes it is necessary to appoint a graduate or professional student to the University’s Board of Trustees. There are two spots for student trustees, but because the vote for trustee is on the same ballot as the Essay Awards vote, many more undergraduates than graduates are informed of the process.

“The system is stacked against grads because most of them aren’t even aware of the ballot,” Holmes said.

The GPSA is looking into this problem, because having a graduate or professional student on the Board of Trustees would “give [it] a voice at a higher level.”

The GPSA funds a diverse spectrum of graduate and professional student-run groups. These include field-of-study groups like the medieval studies or material science groups, special-interest groups such as the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, international student organizations, club sports and publications like the law journal. Most groups hold social events, invite speakers and engage members in cultural programs.

“They add to the quality of life at Cornell,” Holmes said.

As Boyd wrote in his resolution, “the GPSA values the vibrant and diverse social and cultural opportunities for graduate and professional students that the 180-plus GPSAFC-funded groups provide.”

Archived article by Jessica Liebman