Proposal for GPC to dissolve GSA made behind closed doors

While there are graduate students against the proposal, GSA and GPC board members have said dissolving GSA into GPC is positive move.
2017 GPC executive board. Courtesy of MU Graduate Professional Council

This story has been updated to reflect a viewpoint from the Coalition of Graduate Workers, which was not given in time before the previous version of this article was published.

This story has been updated to reflect a viewpoint from the Coalition of Graduate Workers, which was not given in time before the previous version of this article was published.

On Oct. 31, the Graduate Professional Council and Graduate Student Association announced to their general assemblies a proposal to dissolve GSA into GPC.

There was no public announcement of the proposal in either organization before Oct. 31, leaving GPC department and committee representatives with only one week to learn and explain it to their departments.

“The functions of Graduate Student Association will be subsumed into the Graduate Professional Council,” the proposal blueprint states. “GSA will cease to operate as a separate body, but the functions it serves to graduate students, including travel grants, professional development programming, and Superior/Outstanding Graduate Student and Staff awards, among others, will continue under the purview of GPC.”

GSA was created in 1968 as the first campus-wide graduate student organization and currently provides resources to graduate students such as travel grants and professional development tools. GPC was created in 1982 as the graduate and professional student government.

A similar proposal was presented to the boards in 2011, which was shot down by GSA.

The boards of the two organizations, particularly GPC President Alex Howe and GSA President Sarah Senff, have painted this proposal in a positive light.

“I think that this proposal is a really fantastic proposal to put into place a more permanent structure that can ensure that the voices of graduate students and the services they need are best situated to continue into the future in a more stable way,” Howe said. “This is an outstanding proposal that causes no problems and fixes a number of problems, and ensures only good things happen, and that a lot of those good things happen even better than they are currently happening.”

While it makes sense for Howe to support a proposal that gives GPC increased representative power over graduate students and a larger budget, Senff is just as supportive of the dissolvement of GSA.

“[GSA] gets all of the good coming over to GPC, and we’re eliminating some of the problems that really do have material impacts on the abilities of the organizations to serve graduate students in a timely and robust manner,” Senff said.

But there have been questions raised on whether this is a beneficial proposal for both organizations. Some are concerned with the fact that the proposal was made behind closed doors.

“My concern comes from the process itself,” said Myunghee Lee, a graduate student with no affiliations with either organization. “I am very suspicious because I do not see any transparent information sharing and discussion processes. I do not see any efforts to persuade or compromise. I only see hasty conclusions and voting decisions.”

Katherine Perry, former GSA president and the most prominent voice against the proposal, is concerned with the backgrounds of Senff and GSA Secretary Eric Scott in Coalition of Graduate Workers, who created this proposal.

“How does someone become president of an organization that they have never been involved with, never been a board member, and then inside of two months of becoming a leader, start drafting a dissolution of that organization without having spent the time to understand the organization?” Perry said.

Although last year GSA stated that it remained neutral to any political stances, GPC has aligned itself with the Coalition of Graduate Workers.

While she has no current positions in CGW, Senff was the most recent chair of the Coalition of Graduate Workers. Scott is the current co-chair of CGW and the liaison of CGW and GPC.
It is unclear on whether the GSA board members still remain separate from the union.

“There are some very interesting coincidences and connections between them,” Perry said. “CGW benefits by having one organization that supports it because they can say they have the support of all the graduate students.”

CGW has not adopted an official position on the potential merger stating that "as a labor union advocating for the workplace rights of graduate student employees at the University of Missouri, we feel it is best to leave this matter to the respective organizations’ representative bodies for a democratic vote, and will respect the outcome whatever it may be.”

If this proposal were to pass, GPC would be the only central representative graduate student organization, so the only organization available for graduate and professional students to turn to would be a political organization.

GPC and current GSA board members argue that having one graduate/professional organization will benefit graduate students because it would clear up any current confusion of which organization to contact.

“Confusion sounds like this sort of minor concern, like confusion is just an annoyance, but when you’re trying to get an email to someone because something has happened with your funding, or you have a really big problem in your department that you need an answer to or there’s just something,” Senff said. “Graduate students live on such narrow margins of time and emotional resources and money that every little bit matters.”

But Senff also said that much of the confusion is only anecdotal and there is no public evidence of this confusion. Former GSA president Kenneth Bryant Jr. said he worked to clean up the confusion during his two-year presidency.

“Because we successfully rebranded [GSA], I was under the impression that everyone was clear on its stated mission,” Bryant said. “That individuals — particularly those who represent GPC — continue to express confusion about the differences between GSA and GPC, leads me to believe that there has been no concerted effort on the part of GPC leadership to clarify those differences with its membership.”

Perry said having only one organization makes the graduate student representation less diverse, especially, Perry argues, when graduate students haven’t been represented very well across the UM System in the past.

“By consolidating into GPC ... you have said to them that this is the one organization that you can go to for all of your concerns, these are the only people that you can ask things from. If you don’t agree with their agenda, there is very little you can do about it,” Perry said.

The proposal timeline originally called for GPC to vote at its general assembly meeting on Nov. 7 and the GSA to vote in its general assembly meeting on Nov. 28.

This timeline was set in conjunction to the Student Fee Review Council’s deadline for organization budget proposals. The budget recommendation was originally going to be sent in December, but Howe said the SFRC chair has agreed to push back the deadline until winter break.

The GPC general assembly voted Tuesday to push further discussion of the proposal until the next general assembly meeting in December.

There will be a town hall meeting hosted by the boards of GSA and GPC on Nov. 15 from 6-8 p.m. in the Arvarh E. Strickland Room, S203 Memorial Union.

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