September 23, 2008

Skorton, Murphy Answer GPSA’s Questions

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The Graduate and Professional Student Association met yesterday for the first meeting of the year in the Big Red Barn. In attendance were University President David Skorton and Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73.
“Any non-academic policy issue that impacts the graduate student body is within our interests,” said Mario Guerrero grad. “This is a meeting where we talk about some of the advocacy issues we’re looking into.”
GPSA represents about 6,000 Cornell graduate and professional students. Professional students are those who are in the medical, law, business and veterinary schools. The goal of the organization is to advance the quality of life for students through lobbying for better programs in child-care, insurance, dining and housing. [img_assist|nid=31990|title=Starting off|desc=The GPSA met in the Big Red Barn yesterday for their first meeting of the semester to discuss the agenda for the upcoming year.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
After opening words by Michelle Leinfelder grad, GPSA president, the floor opened to questions for Skorton and Murphy. Issues addressed included a perceived lack of communication between graduate and professional students and the GPSA due to mass e-mail prohibitions, and the impact the recent economic downturn has on graduate and professional students.
Although Skorton acknowledged that the cuts in the Federal Discretionary Budget and state budgets would adversely affect grad and professional students, he remained optimistic about how the University would weather the fiscal storm.
“We continue to emphasize philanthropy. We still have positive returns … I’m very optimistic that we’ll come out as strong as we are now,” said Skorton.
Leinfelder explained the effects the economic crisis could have on graduate and professional students.
“The funding of grad students directly relates to budgets and grants. [The crisis] may put more pressure on professors to write grants for grad students, or for grad students to write grants for themselves,” she said.
Guerrero also brought up the University’s search for a director for the Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Resource Center, which is open to undergraduates and graduates. Murphy explained that although the search for a temporary director is local, the center’s national search hopes to draw the best candidates possible.
Following Skorton and Murphy’s responses to the concerns and questions of the assembly, the meeting proceeded with updates on various graduate and professional committees across campus, as well as a budget review and an election of an events planning committee chair.
Throughout the meeting, numerous students expressed concerns that their representatives’ work is not being communicated back.
“We want to bridge gaps between graduate students, professional students and their respective campuses,” said Leinfelder.
“Basic communication is necessary to deal with our constituents,” Guerrero said.
However, the task is not easy. The GPSA is unique among its peer institutions in that it includes professional students in addition to graduate students. Grad school schedules and professional school schedules can be vastly different, resulting in a challenge to unite post-grads of all types.
“We’re disparate groups, and we have different needs, and we all come together through this body,” Leinfelder said. “What this body is trying to do is bring together graduate and professional students and address their different concerns.”
Ideas put out to reach a wider student audience included newsletters, advertising in local newspapers and list-serve e-mails.
The GPSA is composed of two governing bodies, a19-member voting assembly that met yesterday and a Council of Representatives. The Council of Representatives acts as an advising body, with representatives from each graduate and professional program. The voting assembly is comprised of elected delegates from the Council of Representatives.
Another major issue for the GPSA is setting the Graduate and Professional Student Activity Fee, which every graduate and professional student must pay. The resetting of the fee occurs every other year, but was not discussed at yesterday’s meeting.
In addition to lobbying important issues, the GPSA also addresses the “little perks,” as Guerrero puts it, including the Grad Ball, a formal dance for grad students. Also discussed was the Ivy Summit, a yearly meeting of grad and professional students from the Ancient Eight. Next year’s meeting will be held at Cornell.
Despite its many initiatives, GPSA is always looking to expand and make its presence known to grad and professional students, according to Deondra Rose grad, vice president of operations for GPSA.
“We really want to get all grads involved,” Rose said.