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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

MSA and GPC leaders explore stronger relationship

GPC became a separate entity from MSA in 1982.

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Ben Kothe/Graphic Designer

June 3, 2014

After the collapse of the University Village apartments in February, the Graduate Professional Council and Missouri Students Association each took steps to protect MU’s graduate and professional students.

Both student governments passed resolutions that would investigate the collapse further and recognize the death of Columbia fireman, Lt. Bruce Britt. But both resolutions were written and passed in separate conversations by separate student governments, despite that MSA and GPC were essentially doing the same things. The only difference was that GPC’s resolution did not recommend demolition.

MSA and GPC, while separate student governments, share a duty to represent the MU and the 34,000 graduate and undergraduate students that attend the university.

However, they have not always been separate organizations. GPC has been its own entity from MSA for over 31 years.

When MSA and GPC were still one large student government, graduate students petitioned the university to have two separate governments. They had decided GPC’s duties to graduate and professional students merited its own separate organization. Though it took several years, their request was eventually granted in 1982.

A memorandum, dated Jan. 24, 1983, from Norman F. Moore, the vice chancellor for Student Personnel at the time, to professor Sam Stout and MSA vice president Ed Reeves, the co-chairs of Student Organizations, Governments and Activities, was the first document to recommend the recognition of GPC as a separate student government from MSA.

“GPC speaks of not being represented well if at all by MSA; that MSA is basically a group of undergraduates concerned with matters of little concern to graduate and professional students,” the memorandum read. “MSA responds by saying the process is open; anyone can be elected or serve on committees, and thus those concerns can become a part of MSA’s mission.”

However, Moore wrote that he did not see this as a viable option for both graduate and undergraduate students.

“What it has boiled down to for me is that, for a large constituency of our student body, what we have doesn’t work,” the memorandum wrote. “I am therefore accepting the recommendation of SOGA to recognize GPC as a separate student governing body.”

Both organizations continue to overlap, as per their Articles of Cooperation, which outlines the organizations’ financial obligations to each other.

Fifty percent of GPC’s student fee funds go directly to MSA. Most of this money is used to fund MSA auxiliaries and the Department of Student Activities, because they affect all MU students, former GPC President Jake Wright said.

In addition, every year, the MSA budget features a small allocation of $5,000 to GPC.

However, former GPC President Kristofferson Culmer spent the last of his three consecutive terms as president attempting to renegotiate the articles with Wright, then-GPC president-elect; former MSA President Nick Droege and former MSA Vice President Zach Beattie.

Culmer’s goal was to create a new formula for how much GPC fiscally contributes to MSA.

He said the proportion of contribution has fluctuated over the years as a result of a growing student body and fee increases.

“The proportion of contribution has gotten out of whack over the years,” he said. “MSA has increased (their) programming (and) GPC has gotten increases (in funding).”

During Culmer’s terms in office, GPC expanded its travel budget and implemented a new Professional Development Series. MSA has recently added two new auxiliaries, Tiger Pantry and Truman’s Closet.

If GPC wants to add a new program or increase funding to an existing program, GPC asks the Student Fee Review Committee to increase student fees by a certain dollar amount, Culmer said.

“Regardless of what the money is for, based on the Articles of Cooperation, half of that money must go to MSA,” he said.

Yet, if MSA were to hypothetically expand programming, Culmer added, there is no mechanism in the articles that says GPC has to give a proportionate increase as well.

The formula Culmer presented would make the reference point of GPC’s contributions the actual MSA/GPC budget, instead of GPC’s own budget.

He said it would ultimately increase GPC’s monetary contributions towards MSA.

“Instead of having the reference point that GPC’s contributions be its own budget, we would make the reference point the actual MSA/GPC programming budget,” Culmer said. “So … GPC could increase fees independent of that budget.”

He said the formula he presented would ultimately increase GPC’s monetary contributions towards MSA.

During March of 2013, both organizations were going to agree on the formula and amend the articles. As a good faith gesture, Culmer offered to phase out the section of the articles that allocated $5,000 to GPC.

In last year’s MSA budget, the amount was reduced to $2,500. They planned on phasing it out completely in this year’s budget.

Both parties ultimately couldn’t come to an agreement, Culmer said.

“(MSA and GPC) differed in the way we wanted to determine (what) the baseline contribution would be,” he said.

GPC’s contributions last year made up approximately 9 percent of MSA’s budget and graduate students make up 18 percent of the campus population, Culmer said.

Communication ceased during early summer 2013, Wright said, after Culmer left office last May.

Culmer said he still hopes the Articles of Cooperation will be looked at again.

“Obviously, I’d like to see the articles be amended to serve both governments better and more fairly,” he said.

He added that communication sometimes seems to fall short between the two student governments.

The offices for the MSA and GPC presidents are both in the Center for Student Involvement, but the presidents typically only met once a month this year, Wright said.

“I definitely think there could be more consistent communication between both governments, with GPC having representatives on (MSA) committees and having members of each government attend each others’ meetings,” Culmer said.

He said that last year, he attended a few Senate meetings and saw former MSA Senate Speaker Jake Sloan attend some of GPC’s General Assembly meetings.

The Articles of Cooperation have always stated the MSA president is an ex-officio of GPC and vice versa with the GPC president.

“When I was president, me and the three MSA presidents I served with all had great personal relationships,” Culmer said. “I’d say we developed friendships during my time as president. I really worked on that, because before … the communication hadn’t been the best.”

Culmer said while the two student governments share a lot of the same campus resources, it is important that they remain separate as long as communication remains constant, because both constituencies are sufficiently different and are best served by that current structure.

Both Culmer and Wright have faith in the dual-student government structure. They both stress that graduate and professional students require a separate place from the undergraduate student body where their voices can be heard.

MU is not the only school in the SEC to have two separate student governments. Vanderbilt University, Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi follow the same structure of having a separate undergraduate student government and a graduate student council.

Other SEC schools, such as the University of Tennessee and the University of Georgia, have one student government, in which both graduate and undergraduate students have representation.

“Having separate graduate and undergraduate student governments makes sure that the different concerns of both populations are being listened to and being addressed by other decision-makers on campus,” Wright said. “There are some issues that undergraduates face that graduate and professional students, by and large, do not.”

Technically, though, members of either the undergraduate and graduate student bodies can overlap between the two student governments. The Preamble of the MSA Constitution states that it is “the undergraduate student government of the University of Missouri-Columbia,” yet there are no requirements that any of its members be undergraduate students. In last year’s MSA executive cabinet, former Director of Student Services Sean Joy was a graduate student.

Joy said he was able to provide a graduate student’s perspective during cabinet meetings last year.

“I think that the connection and communication between MSA and GPC is very important,” he said. “I think there needs to be at least a representative from GPC, and same with MSA, that goes to each other’s meetings … so that they can work together.”

An official representative from each government is currently not part of any formal agreement between MSA and GPC, but Joy said adding one was a conversation last year. He hopes that future MSA and GPC cabinets will pursue an agreement.

Farouk Aregbe has been the coordinator of student government services since July of 2006. He advises MSA with special attention to the MSA auxiliaries.

He said that, regardless of the structure of MSA and GPC, it is important that the two student governments are successfully and fully serving the MU student body through their joint programming.

“It is important that we have those services,” Aregbe said. “That is the angle that I come from. As far as MSA and GPC, I think students benefit from us having a good relationship, and I think that is what we have to work towards — a solid relationship built solely on benefiting students.”

Both organizations continue to work as separate entities. Aregbe said as long as the two student governments are hosting healthy lines of communication, they will be able to successfully serve the students.

“People have needs that need to be met,” he said. “And whatever structure allows us to meet those needs best … that’s what I am for. Whether we need two student governments or not, I’ll let the folks that are in charge of that hash that out. But what’s important is, at the end of the day, if a student needs a ride home, they get it. If a student needs the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, they can go there.”

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