GSS Senator Reports
After a recent issue with appropriate use of the Grad Student Listserv, Dean Holsinger has agreed to work with the GSS Executive committee to draft a set of guidelines for the Listserv. If anyone is interested in reviewing current IT policies, visit itpolicy.uconn.edu for more information. In addition, all Grad students should now be registered to the Listserv; if for some reason you have not and are still not receiving any emails from GRADS_ANNOUNCEMENTS-L@listserv.uconn.edu, please let me know. I’ll pass your information along.
Grad students are going to have 10—count ‘em TEN—more research carrels available to them in the coming year. Be on the lookout, though, because I hear these are hard to get. For more information on research carrels, click here.
The administration will be hiring an Ombudsman to act as a sort of gatekeeper or intermediary between student concerns and administrative offices. In other words, you will be able to go directly to this person and s/he will be able to match your problem with the appropriate solution. That’s good news for us; now you won’t have to face any more Kafkaesque administration rabbit holes.
You all should have received an email from Greg Semenza about the most recent Graduate Faculty Council meeting in which they deliberated UConn’s requirement for Electronic Dissertation Submissions. All the information you need is in that email, but if you don’t have it anymore, I’ll be happy to forward it. It is a critical issue for our professional development.
A graduate student organization on campus called “Green Grads” is looking for new members. If you’re interested in joining them, let me know and I’ll pass your information along. I don’t have many details about the organization, but I imagine it’s mostly what it sounds like—a kind of ecofriendly organization.
GSS elected the new executive board for the 2012-2013 academic year, and they are as follows:
President: Chantell Messier (English)
Vice President: Safet Barisa (Linguistics)
Secretary: Erin Eighan (English)
Treasurer: Ian Yue (Agricultural and Resource Economics)
Parliamentarian: Leland Aldridge (Physics)
Activities Director: Anish Kurian (Psychology)
As always, if you have any questions or concerns please let me or one of your other Senators (George Moore or Joe Darda) know.
Babbidge librarians visited GSS and had a lot of interesting news to report to graduate students.
Library cards for spouses: library officials are finalizing a program that will allow the spouses of graduate students to get a community borrower card, which allows someone to borrow books for 30 days at a time.
Info + update on research carrels: currently there are 100 research carrels reserved for graduate students. Most of those go to doctoral students, but some are allotted to master’s students working on a thesis. Library staff are looking to increase the number to 110 this fall. One change this fall is that someone getting a research carrel will need to place a $100 key deposit, which is fully refunded upon return of the key. They noted that there is a lengthy waiting list for research carrels.
Upgrades: plans are in the works to add more power outlets as requested by undergrads and grad students alike.
Survey: You may be contacted to participate in a survey about library usage. If you get this, you should participate. The librarians told us that our input is taken quite seriously as we are the “power users” of the library.
Conference on Professional Development for Grad Students
A professional development conference for grad students will be held April 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Student Union, rooms 312 and 325. This conference is being spearheaded by our very own Chantelle Messier and will provide a lot of useful career information. More specifics will be available in the coming weeks
Two graduate positions will be decided in the upcoming student elections week--March 5 at 9am to March 7 at 9am. Up for a vote is an at-large Graduate Student Senate position and the position for the graduate student member of the Board of Trustees. There is only one person running for the at-large GSS position, but there are three grad students contending for the Board of Trustees position. I encourage you to vote, as this is quite an important position. More info on the three candidates is at: http://blogs.sa.uconn.edu/joint_elections/archive/tags/Graduate%20Representative%20to%20the%20Board%20of%20Trustees/default.aspx
General election info is available at: http://www.elections.uconn.edu/index.html
Grad Prom: Thanks for Attending
Thanks for attending Grad Prom. It was reported Wednesday that Grad Prom is now “becoming a thing.”
The GSS Finance Committee is still mulling funding requests from various organizations such as EGSA and other grad student groups. The committee will be meeting tomorrow to review additional information it requested from organizations. Organizations have made requests totaling $38,000, but GSS has only $35,000 to allocate.
Thank you. As usual, feel free to contact myself [George Moore] ,Erin Eighan, Joseph Darda, Chantelle, or Steve Mollmann if you have any questions, comments, or concerns.
Want to improve your teaching skills?
Not your nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, or computer hacking skills… but you get the idea. Keith Barker, the Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and the Director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning, came to update us on ITL’s restructuring (a consequence of the Provost’s stepping down). Though his role will likely disappear, many of the services that he offers will remain—especially the courses he’s been offering on teaching development. The most advanced course, for example, is designed to produce a “course portfolio” that he believes is a helpful document for the job market. Graduate students will also still be able to pursue a Graduate Certificate in College Instruction. I also just wanted to encourage everyone to browse ITL’s website for resources on course development, grants, awards, brown bag seminars, and tips on using high-tech classrooms.
Want to develop professionally?
The GSS wants to hold a university-wide Professional Development conference on (tentatively) April 14, 2012. It will be a 4-hour conference, and we hope to bring both inside and outside speakers who will be able to speak to a whole range of topics in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM disciplines. We’re still open to suggestions, so tell us what you would like to see at this conference!
Want to make sure you’re not on the top of the Feds Wanted list?
Overblown, perhaps, but I thought that would guarantee some attention. If anyone is in need of information on copyright and legal issues for graduate students / teaching assistants, Keith Barker directed us to Francine DeFranco, a library liaison who is willing to speak to any graduate group about teaching- or research-related legal concerns. Perhaps a session on this would be useful during FE Orientation and/or as a program put on by EGSA?
Want to speak with President Susan Herbst?
You should, because she has actually been quite amenable to graduate student concerns. And so Chantelle, our English colleague and GSS President, and I will be expecting to see you when President Herbst comes to visit the GSS on Wednesday, March 28 @ 7 pm (CUE 122). Chantelle really wants a strong representation of students, so come if only for the delicious free pizza! (N.B. All are always welcome to attend GSS meetings. Lots of pizza and salad are always served. Here's the meeting schedule.)
Want to know how GA’s are defined by UConn? And what the implications are?
Proposals being accepted for the best conference paper title (clever use of parentheses and punning encouraged) on the deconstruction of GA definitions. In all seriousness, Chantelle has been very vocal about graduate student concerns about the new GA definition. See the attached statement Chantelle gave at a recent University Senate Executive Committee to stay informed on the issue. Apparently the statement was well-received and the University Senate Budget Committee will be taking up the issue in March. If you have any concerns you’d like us to address, please let us know via email. You can contact any of your senators (George Moore, Joe Darda, or me) or the GSS directly at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Want to go to Grad Prom?
I doubt much more needs to be said about this event, other than you should have been there when Derek Doran (Activities Director) gave us a preview. Let’s just say that you should expect ambiance—in all its various forms. And lots of sensory stimuli—visual, auditory, gustatory, etc. etc. Enjoy it all THIS FRIDAY (that’s tomorrow) February 17. Derek promises that it will be “the most outrageous party any organization has ever thrown… and that’s all positive senses of the word ‘outrageous.’”
As always, feel free to contact any of us with concerns you'd like the GSS to address.
Erin E. Eighan
Hello everyone. A brief rundown of our first Graduate Student Senate meeting of the semester:
Nov. 2, 2011
The following are the highlights from the November 2 GSS meeting:
1. Vice Provost for Graduate Education Skip Lowe visited the senate this week to discuss changes in the taxation of tuition remission for G.A. positions. Right now tuition remission for all G.A. positions is tax-exempt. But not for long. The IRS is changing tuition-related policies and, as a result, G.A. positions that are not directly related to teaching or research (T.A.s and R.A.s) will no longer be tax-exempt. If, however, a G.A. position is determined to be integral to a graduate student's professional development (e.g., working for a journal) the position will continue to involve a tax-exempt tuition remission as long as the appointment is approved by an advisor or department head. Skip said the changes should involve no more than 50 graduate students (out of 7000 or so). Nonetheless, the tax code revisions will most likely result in those 50 spots getting cut. The university intends to cut any G.A. position that fails to meet the teaching/research requirements needed to qualify for text-exempt tuition remission. It does not, at first glance, appear that this will affect any positions held by graduate students in English––assuming your advisor doesn't hate you enough to make you pay thousands and thousands of dollars to the IRS out of spite. Still, if you are concerned, you can contact Skip at email@example.com.
2. There will be a free Thanksgiving dinner for graduate students on Friday, November 18 from 3-5 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom. All food allergies and avoidances covered.
3. GSS President Rich Colon resigned as president last week due to health-related issues. We are all sad to lose Rich. But not at all sad to inaugurate new president Chantelle Messier, who I know will use her powers to push through all kinds of pro-English policy changes. Congratulations, Chantelle!
4. There has been some interest in––as well as some resistance to––the unionization of graduate assistants. In response to this interest, the GSS will form an ad-hoc committee to research potential costs and benefits of such a move. Caryl Nunez from Political Science was elected to chair the committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further details on all other GSS goings-on please contact me, Erin, or George.
Chantelle would like to make professional development her focus for the spring semester and would love your input. What would you like to see the GSS do to help with our professional development?
Grad Prom is February 17, so mark your calendars and prepare for a night of fancy-pants and shenanigans. Hopefully all taking place on a dance floor.
The McKinsey Report has been released online. If you’re interested in reading the details, you can read it here: McKinsey Report. If you have any concerns about the contents of the report, please let one of your senators (George, Joe, or me) know and we’ll raise it at the next meeting.
The Student Technology Advisory Group has an update about Safe Connect (that software we had to download in order to access UConn Secure). Some students had concerns about Safe Connect because we weren’t given much information about what this required software was supposed to be doing. Rest assured, it doesn’t monitor your activity or track any elicit activities. All it does is make sure that you have some kind of antivirus software installed, which is required to access the UConn network. This semester, Safe Connect has not been enforcing the antivirus policy. However, starting next semester, if you do not have antivirus software, you will be blocked from the UConn network until you install it. Safe Connect will redirect you to UConn’s free antivirus software download if you’d prefer to use that. If you have any issues, contact Derek Doran (email@example.com), the GSS rep for the Student Technology Advisory Group.
The Graduate Faculty Council recently eliminated the “Doctoral Student Extraordinary Expense Award” by combining it with the broader “Semi-Annual Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Program.” To see a list of funding resources and the details regarding eligibility and deadlines, please visit Graduate Student Funding Resources.
There’s also been a policy change for dropping graduate courses. Before, you did not need a signature from the professor of the course, only from your major advisor. Now, you need signatures from both.
Chantelle is also making sure that appropriate action is being taken to enact the Graduate Maternity Leave Policy. Apparently this was passed in 2007, but never reviewed or implemented. Don’t worry, though, our fearless Chantelle is ON THIS!
The Student Fee Advisory Committee did not approve the new parking fees proposed by Parking Services. The decision is now in the hands of the Board of Trustees, but it’s highly unlikely to be overturned because the Board has a history of consistently following the Student Fee Advisory Committee’s recommendation.
Elections for At-Large Senators next year will be March 5-7 online. Applications for candidates are due February 17. Consider applying if you want to get involved!
In the issues forum, one senator voiced his concern for the dispossessed nature of grad students on campus. He suggested that we need a grad hangout space in order to create community. While there is a grad student lounge in the student union, it isn’t a very relaxing environment. One idea: create something like Brown’s Grad Center Bar, or maybe just making the lounge space more loungey with more stuff. If you have any thoughts or ideas on this, please let us know! Would you use a space like this? What would you like to have in this kind of space?
EXTRA! EXTRA! HEAR ALL ABOUT IT! We have a new vice president. After a contested election—the first since 2009—with three excellent candidates and three voting sessions until we reached a majority decision: Safet Berisa of the Linguistics Department wins! Congratulations to Safet.
Enjoy the holidays!
Erin E. Eighan
Graduate Student Senate report for the meeting of Oct. 19
Parking fee drama:
GSS continues to oppose a proposal to increase student parking fees. While the Parking Advisory Committee voted in favor of the increases, the Student Fee Advisory Committee has raised a number of concerns about the parking department’s financial plan and the associated rate increase. While this is only an advisory committee, GSS Treasurer Bill Waite tells us that its recommendations have historically been taken seriously by the vice presidents who ultimately call the shots on parking fees. So, it’s still not clear yet what’s going to happen.
Considering graduate assistant unionization:
A grad senator requested that the GSS create a committee to study the prospect of unionizing graduate assistants. The GSS executive committee is expected to take a vote on the creation of that committee in the near future.
Within GSS, interest in this issue has been somewhat tepid: senior senators have mentioned that a proposal for unionization was considered extensively a few years ago but came to naught. Senators seemed to agree Wednesday that this committee should only conduct information gathering about the issue for the time being. Please let us know what you think about this issue or whether you have any questions about it.
Funding to EGSA approved to bring in composition studies rock star:
The GSS approved a $500 allocation to cover travel and lodging costs for Joseph Harris to speak at the Conference on the Teaching of Writing! I will be bringing my copy of Rewriting for an autograph.
The university is scheduling a Metanoia to discuss the complexities of spring weekend and campus civility. A UConn tradition since 1970, the Metanoia brings together the entire university to reflect on a topical issue. Stay tuned for dates and times.
Seeking feedback on the UConn graduate school website:
The graduate school is looking for feedback on what can be done to improve the website. If you have some comments on how to improve the site, send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grad student social night, Ted’s: Nov. 1
Thanksgiving Dinner for grad students: Nov. 19, 3 to 5 p.m.
Grad Prom: Feb. 17
The following are the highlights (or, in some cases, lowlights) from last night's Graduate Student Senate meeting. I will begin with the worst news and progress to the best:
Graduate Student Senate, report for the meeting of 9/7/2011
English representatives present: English grad senators Erin Eighan, Joseph Darda, and George Moore. Chantelle Messier and Steve Mollmann appeared in their new capacities as GSS vice president and parliamentarian.
Help wanted: grad student trustee
It was announced that an election will be held in the spring semester for a graduate student trustee to sit on the Board of Trustees. Any grad student can run for this two-year commitment. If you are interested, E-mail email@example.com or let one of your GSS senators know.
Screening of The PhD Movie
GSS has arranged a screening of the PhD Movie (made by the PhD comics people) on Tuesday, Oct. 4, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. More info is forthcoming, but free tickets will be available to grad students in the GSS office (Student Union, Room 213 ).
A visit from Dr. Charles A. "Skip" Lowe, Interim Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School
Lowe introduced himself to the GSS as someone who would advocate for grad students. Asked about some of his ideas for improving student life, Lowe said the university could use more centrally located grad student housing. Lowe also agreed that parking is inconvenient for grad students and said he is talking to the parking services about it. Lowe said he is always interesting in talking to grad students about grad student issues. He is on the second floor of the graduate school. He can also be reached at Charles.firstname.lastname@example.org.
New financial policies proposed
Steve presented proposed changes to finance policies that he and someone I don’t know worked on over the summer. These are the rules by which GSS grants funding to grad groups. The proposed new policies are posted on the GSS site and will be voted on at the next GSS meeting. Steve said the new rules democratize the funding process, in part, by decreasing the power of the executive committee. Frankly, I was hoping Steve could have sole authority over all GSS funding.
The next GSS meeting will be on Sept. 21 in CLAS 163 beginning at 7 p.m. Feel free to contact me or any of your other GSS senators if you have any GSS questions or concerns.
-George Moore, GSS senator
GSS Meeting: 4/25/11
In attendance: Martin Lopez, Chantelle Messier, Steve Mollman
· Grad Prom: Did you go? Then you know how awesome it was, or so I was told. I actually have no memories of the evening. If anyone could tell me what happened, to whom I spoke, if I dominated on the dance floor, if I made bad decisions, and where my cummerbund is, I would be grateful.
· Steve mocked me for always being present for the Procedures Committee. Petite merde.
· Incompletes: There is a new rule that states that if someone has four or more INC’s, s/he cannot register for classes. The grad school wants to codify a policy about INC’s but has not done so as of yet. Their goal is to make it clear when an INC cannot be resolved due to too much time elapsing, and, to encourage professors to grade materials that would resolve INC’s as soon as possible.
· New Parking Fees: GA/TA fees will rise to $110 starting this fall and $50 for C Lot.
On a personal note, thank you for electing me your Senator. Know you are incredibly well served by Steve and Chantelle. I encourage other thoughtful people to experience university leadership and be as honored to serve you just as I have been.
I remain your Senator emeritus,
Graduate Student Senate Meeting Report: April 11th, 2011 (senators in attendance: Chantelle Messier)
Concerned about your dissertation? Michael Bennet answers graduate student concerns about DigitalCommons and electronic dissertation submission:
Michael Bennet visited from the library to discuss the upcoming transition to electronic dissertation submission and publication in DigitalCommons. He explained more about DigitalCommons: It is an OAI compliant database, which means it is accessible to data portals like Google Scholar and the upcoming National Digital Repository for dissertations. Proquest, which UConn has used up until now to publish dissertations, is not accessible in this way because it is a private database. Mr. Bennet feels that at some point universities will have to make a switch away from ProQuest. Continuing to add dissertations exclusively to ProQuest only contributes to its monopoly over data--a monopoly and a relevance that Mr. Bennet feels will eventually become obsolete.
ProQuest charges $27,000 per year for UConn to have access to its content, and charges grad students $65 to publish their material. Additionally, ProQuest charges students to register their copyrights, which is legally unnecessary. It also charges $65 for dissertations to be "open-access." DigitalCommons would cost UConn $3,000 per year to maintain access, and would cost grad students nothing. UConn will, however, continue to pay to access ProQuest in order to get access to old dissertations. Some schools do offer grad students the opportunity to publish in both ProQuest and DigitalCommons, but this takes a "more robust staff" to process the additional paperwork and submissions--a workload that Mr. Bennet feels UConn can't meet with its current staff.
ProQuest would allow electronic submissions of dissertations, generating less paper and cutting out steps in the publication process. It would also allow custom "embargoes" (periods of delayed publication). Since many grad students are required to publish their dissertations in ProQuest in order to get their graduate degrees, but many of us also want to publish our dissertations as books, such embargoes are important to preserve our ability to make deals with publishers.
GSS received $60,000 in budget requests from 25 graduate student organizations: almost double the normal amount. This is great, because it means more people are becoming aware of GSS and we are playing a more central role in departments. However, we can only meet $30,000 of that demand. Accordingly, the Finance Committee has opted for a stricter interpretation of existing budget restrictions on permissible expenses. Restrictions were universally applied to all departments that requested money. The Finance committee has already done $16,000 in cuts to department budgets, and expect to extend more cuts on the budget hearing. Cuts will be made with consideration to the ratio of dollars requested per graduate student. The GSS budget hearing will take place on Thursday April 14th from 5-8 p.m in CLAS room 163. Everyone present at the hearing to represent a department will be allowed to vote in the hearing. Dinner will be provided.
Dean of the Graduate School / Vice Provost for Graduate Education:
A new interim dean of the Graduate School has been appointed. This comes in response to dissatisfaction at the decision to call off the search for someone to fill the position.
Transportation to Other Campuses:
GSS is working on an initiative to explore transportation options for grad students who need to take classes at other campuses but don't have cars. If you regularly need transportation to other campuses or know someone who does, please notify your senators.
There is just no excuse to miss the hottest party in the state of Connecticut. The theme will be black-and-white, the desserts will be outlandishly delicious, and the company will of course be classy. Even if you don't have a ticket, you can still arrive after dinner for dancing and music. Also, I will be there. What more can I say?
End of Semester Social Extravaganza:
The last week of the semester, GSS will host its final social night "extravaganza." If you haven't attended a social night yet this semester, this is your chance to get in on the fun. Details will be emailed to the grad listserv.
With our new and improved university-wide online elections procedures, the graduate student body has elected three at-large senators, who will start serving next semester. This leaves four positions open for at-large senators. If you would like to fill one of those positions and represent the larger graduate student community, contact GSS at email@example.com.
GSS Executive Committee Elections:
GSS held elections for its executive board. The elections results are as follows:
President: Rich Colon
Vice-President: Chantelle Messier
Treasurer: Bill Waite
Secretary: Maureen Harris
Parliamentarian: Steve Mollmann
Activities Director: Derek Doran
On that note, I will not be running for English Department Senator for the upcoming semester. I've appreciated the opportunity to serve the English Department as its senator, and hope to be able to serve grad students as Vice-President of GSS in the upcoming year.
English Senators in Attendance: Chantelle Messier, Martin Lopez
Larry Druckenbrod, Career Services
· CS helps with CV’s and mock interviews (up to an hour long)
· Check out their Website for support (templates, advice, & video interviews)
· Be aggressive in contacting potential employers (even if they do not have a job posted)
o You never know if you will be remembered when a positions opens or if they would consider you based on your initiative.
· You’ll be happy to know, our own Greg Semenza was referenced several times with regard to excellent advice on transitioning from graduate studies to the job market.
New President Visit
· UConn’s new president, Susan Herbst, recently met with GSS and USG representatives and impressed them with her sincere interest in the concerns of students, especially with grad students’ concerns with funding and tuition.
Grad Prom: why you should go (as if you have any doubts…)
· Black and White theme (wear both or either color)
· DJ playing requested songs/artists (and, yes…there will be glow-sticks)
· Very classy table settings (including music-color coordinated lighting)
· Tickets still available
· Friday, April 15th, Rome Ballroom 7-11pm
· Finally: I’ve learned the tango and the hornpipe (for the opera production): will I let those skillz get dusty? Come and find out…
o Follow up question: what skillz will YOU bring?
· 2.5% tuition increase plus cuts yet to be announced.
· GSS has publically argued that 2.5% may not be enough in order to avoid additional cuts
· Aries Project: all course reserves done through HuskyCT (allows teachers to track student use of reserves and have more control over reserves)
· Library will be using a percentage of its budget for patron driven acquisition of books (rather than the old way entailing a department approval of any request)
· Dissertations will be digitized: but there is still a debate over which e-formatting will be used
o ProQuest vs. Digital Commons
§ ProQuest: we pay them to make our own texts available to us, but our texts are accessible to every university subscribing to it (which is a large number)
§ Digital Commons: we pay for the technology and own the content (cheaper), but the texts will not be easily searchable in a larger dissertation database
§ Issues brought up: Google Books and other digital databases (Academic Search Premier and MLA Bib.) can easily access texts in Digital commons but the question is whether the DC texts will be as accessible without ProQuest’s database; dissertations be published in both
o MA Theses will not be digitized at this time
Executive Committee Nominations
· Chantelle Messier nominated for Vice President
· Steve Mollmann nominated for Parliamentarian
Senators in attendance: Martin Lopez, Chantelle Messier, Steve Mollman
Librarian Feedback Report
· Last year’s grad student feedback received
o Working on limiting noise and increasing workspace for grad students
o More grad student carrels available
§ New carrel policy: doctoral students can apply for a carrel which they will have for two years, with an option for a one year renewal
· New FREE library scanning service
o Available now: request an article and the library will scan it for you and send it to you
as a pdf. (For the love of Huitzilopochtli, please use it—it’s awesome.)
· Longer library hours were requested for on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
o Now longer library hours on Saturday
o Working on getting on longer hours during semester breaks
· Now there are longer loans from BLC (from 30 to 60 days)
· Working on getting more electrical outlets on the floors
o To be done this summer on Levels 3 & 4
· Working on getting check-out kiosks on other floors
· Bulletin board and locked cabinet (for grad student announcements) may be coming to the grad student lounge
· GSS cannot fund grad student travel at the present time due to strict budgeting policies of the university, and, there is no model developed yet for a sustainable way of providing travel funds in the future. TBD.
· Constructions Projects: Arjona and Monteath: will be used for a few more years (even though the new classroom building will be finished well before then)
· NEW MegaBus Service to NYC: If you use the MegaBus service to NYC, know that you cannot make a round trip in a single day. Be prepared to stay at least one night if you plan on only using MegaBus as your transportation.
(English senators in attendance: Martin Lopez and Chantelle Messier)
President and Dean of Grad School Searches Update:
University Senate Meeting:
Parking Advisory Committee:
Special Guest Lee Aggison, Interim Dean of the Graduate School:
Dean Aggison spoke to GSS about a number of topics, including:
· Make friends and influence people! The Graduate School already has four annual workshops, and they've been in huge demand. Dean Aggison hopes to add more professional development events in the near future.
· Become Famous! Improvements continue on the Graduate School website. If you'd like to appear on the Graduate School website as one of its profiles of ongoing grad work, email Dean Aggison.
· Less paper! More speed! The Graduate School is trying to reduce its paper use. Dissertation submissions will soon be electronic. Other forms are also being transitioned to paperless versions. This will speed up processes routed through the Graduate School, like the paperwork for graduation.
The English Department is still looking for our third senator. Talk to me, Martin, or Steve if you might be interested in running for the position. Meetings this semester are biweekly Mondays at 7 p.m. in CLAS. Glamorous people. High conversation. Pizza from Sergeant Pep’s. How else can I convince you?
As always your dedicated,
GSS Report, Thursday Dec. 2 Meeting (Senator Chantelle Messier in attendance)
Searches for Dean of Graduate School and New University President: Candidates have been interviewed for this position, and we will probably know who the next dean is by next semester. That person will begin serving as dean next academic year. Additionally, the firm UConn hired to look for its new president has presented a pool of candidates. Candidates will be narrowed down by a Steering Committee.
Meeting Schedule for Next Semester: Next semester's GSS meetings will be on Monday evenings at 7pm in CLAS. Convenient, yes? We have one opening for a GSS senator from the English Department. Talk to your EGSA president if you're interested in running or nominating someone for the position. Bi-weekly pizza, wings, and lively debate about budgetary and administrative matters. Live the dream!
Last Social Night of the Semester: Social night will be held at Ted's, December 7th, 6-8 p.m. Come by for one last opportunity to socialize with interdepartmental persons of all stripes.
Provost's Library Advisory Committee: In order to maintain all of its materials on campus without expanding its physical footprint, the library plans to condense low-circulating collections. Items that will be relocated to compact shelving on Levels A and B include children's fiction, federal documents, and law books that have been digitized. The library's collections strategy for the years 2010-2013 will be to spend more of its materials budget on electronic materials (especially ebooks, streaming audio, and video). The library promises to recognize the continued preference of some users for physical books, especially in the university's core research areas. In other fabulous news, the Homer Babbidge Library plans to open a new quiet study space on the third floor that will be dedicated to graduate student use.
UConn Graduate School: Graduate School Associate Dean Carolyn Lin visited GSS to discuss professional development programs, services the Graduate School can offer, and updating the Graduate School website. Dean Lin is new to the position as of August; she was hired after the Graduate School and the Graduate Research program were split apart. Now the Graduate School can devote its resources to offering more services and support. Plans for the Graduate School include:
Public Relations and Outreach: GSS is trying to promote recognition of its role in the university. In keeping with that, I will now do my part to publicize. GSS! We allocate your fee money. We represent you on university committees that affect your academic life. We vote on things. Bring us your concerns, your issues, your dreams. We pledge to eat pizza while discussing them. You're welcome.
As always, if you have any questions about this meeting or issues you want to see brought up at the next GSS meeting, please contact your senators.
Report on GSS meeting held 10/28/10
EGSA member attendance: Martin Lopez, Chantelle Messier (senators); Steve Mollman (parliamentarian)
· The entire search committee will meet again on November 15th. Once the first phase of the search ends, there will be a website created for the explicit purpose of getting public feedback. The goal is to have a president selected by January or February.
Dean of Graduate Education Search
· The search committee will be hosting seminars in which candidates for the dean position will be sharing their education philosophies and taking questions from faculty and grad students. Q&A with a candidate 10-11am; seminar given by a candidate 1:30-2:20pm. Grad students are invited to represent their department at these seminars and help evaluate these candidates. Proposed seminar dates: Monday 11/29, Tuesday 11/30, Wednesday 12/1, Thursday 12/2.
· Save the date: April 15th, 2011 in the Roman Ballroom. Awwyeah.
Grad Student Thanksgiving Dinner
· The graduate Thanksgiving dinner (Friday, November 19th 2-5pm) budget was increased to cover enough food for up to 600 students (from 420 students).
o This increase comes with a promise of a greater diversity of pies, more policing of pie apportionment, and more availability of whipped cream. There will be 92 pies in total.
§ Yours truly made certain to confirm said pie diversity.
o There will also be a vegetarian option (some sort of pasta dish)
Spring Tuition/Fee Due Date Change
· In order to be in compliance with guidelines for federal funding, UConn has changed the due date for semester payment of tuition and fees to the first day of semester classes (January 18th).
Emergency Loan Program Changes
· GSS proposed changes:
o Possible number of loans granted to a grad student increased to 3 loans per calendar year (from 1 per semester)
o Loan amount increased to $1,000 (from $500)
o Loan repayment time increased to 90 days (from 60 days)
· These proposed changes have been approved by the UConn bursar office.
· The executive committee recommends increasing the loan fund by $10,000 to maximize the utility of the loan program and give the fund more cushion in (hopeful) anticipation of increased use.
· These changes will be voted on in the next GSS meeting.
Graduate Student Senate Meeting Report
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Attending Senators from the English Department: Martin Lopez, Chantelle Messier, Steve Mollmann
Please note that the GSS has a new e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. The old address (email@example.com) is still valid, but it forwards to the gmail one now. You can contact that address with all your GSS needs.
I am also pleased to report that the Spring Fling event was referred to as “Grad Prom” with no self-consciousness on the part of two Executive Committee members this week, indicating the strong pervasiveness of this term beyond the English Department.
There is a GSS coffee hour today in the Student Union, from 2pm to 4pm. Activities Director Derek Doran is looking into replacing one of the usually sparsely-attended events with something that has more general appeal.
The Demise of Huskymail
Despite hopes that a third-party e-mail system (now referred to as a “hosted collaboration service”) would be in place this semester, it now looks like it will be kicked off by a pilot program in the spring semester. There are still legal hurdles to clear with the Attorney General, and also the UConn Foundation would probably lose its lucrative e-mail service for alumni. (Though who would voluntarily ask for a Huskymail address is unknown to me.)
Also: the Student Technology Advisory Group is looking into upgrades to the cable and wireless systems in the dormitories. If you have any technology-related issues you think should be investigated, please contact Derek Doran (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The New President(s)
The search for a permanent new president to replace President Hogan is underway. GSS President Rich Colon and his undergraduate counterpart met with the firm that is carrying out the search, and explained what attributes students sought in a new president. They also helped revise the job description to have more to do with students.
The NRC Report
If you read all of the Chronicle forwards we get from Robin Worley (as I do, of course), then you will know that the National Research Council recently published a set of graduate program rankings. You will also know that there is a lot of hubbub for various reasons. (The cynic in me suggests that the hubbub is from people who didn’t place as well as they’d like. The English Department did fairly well.) The current Graduate School policy is that “we need time to digest” the reports; an official report will be distributed in a PowerPoint on October 12th, a timely response.
Everyone loves Spring Weekend, am I right? The GSS is considering releasing an official resolution on Spring Weekend. If you have any thoughts on Spring Weekend you think should be heard, please pass them on to one of your friendly neighborhood senators. The issue will be discussed at the next meeting.
The Bursar is looking into better explaining the University’s fee system on their website, to stop graduate students from being taken by surprise, and also trying to list non-Bursar fees, such as printing costs and parking passes.
The amount for interest-free GSS loans to graduate students is probably increasing from $500 to $1,000. The loan period is also increasing from 60 days to 90.
The Connecticut State University system passed a resolution declaring they would freeze tuition. The Daily Campus issued an editorial calling for UConn to do the same. Apparently, it’s not that big a deal, as the resolution reserves the right to increase tuition anyway if there are hard economic times. No doubt there will be the usual brouhaha over a tuition increase come the spring.
The Storrs Center project is continuing to move ahead; apparently it’s a big priority of our interim president.
It is with great sorrow that I submit what is my last GSS report for the foreseeable future. Last night, I was elected to the GSS Executive Committee in the position of parliamentarian, which means I can no longer serve as a senator. I will continue to advocate for the English Department, but I am now also trusted with the interests of all graduate students.
This does mean that there is an opening for a new GSS representative from the English Department. Please get in touch with EGSA if you’re interesting in filling the opening. Free pizza, wings, and salad every other week!
If you have any questions about this meeting or any GSS-related issues, please contact Danielle Martin Lopez, Chantelle Messier, or Steve Mollmann.
Attending Senators from the English Department: Danielle Bradley, Chantelle Jacobs, Steve Mollmann
This week’s meeting was a tear-filled one indeed, as the outgoing members of the GSS Executive Board made their farewells, and thanked the people who had supported them along the way. (Mostly it seemed like every Executive Board member just thanked every other Executive Board member, aside from President Grubb, who thanked everyone he’d ever known.) Most will be moving on to new things, and there was a heavy emphasis on how the current Executive Board renewed many atrophied ties between the Graduate Student Senate and many aspects of the larger university.
The last official GSS event of the spring semester, an ice cream social, will be held in the Student Union today from 2pm to 4pm.
Outgoing treasurer Jessica Petriello reminded everyone that if you have reimbursements to be filled, to please submit them within the next week or so. If not, they might not be filled until the beginning of the fall thanks to the transition between GSS executive boards.
Anyone who follows these reports on a religious basis will know that the Student Technology Advisory Group (S.T.A.G.) has been working to either overhaul or replace the University’s outdated Huskymail system. Requests For Information have been sent out to various vendors, and it is the goal of S.T.A.G. to see Huskymail replaced by an outside e-mail service by the beginning of the fall semester, but that is contingent on vetting of potential legal issues by the state’s Attorney General’s office.
Graduate School News
The position of Dean of the Graduate School has been split from that of Vice Provost for Research, creating a new position: Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost of Graduate Education. That means that there will now be a dedicated position for supervising the Graduate School, with no outside demands on their time. Lee Aggison, current Associate Dean of the Graduate School, is filling the position temporarily while a hiring search is conducted.
Outside Speaker #1: Bill Simpson, CEO and General Manager of the University Co-op
The beginning of the meeting was taken up by a visit from Bill Simpson, who is in charge of our bookstore. He talked briefly about how the Co-op attempts to work for students—eight of fifteen board members are students, and the Co-op has one of the better book buyback programs around—but most of the discussion was about future moves the Co-op will be making. They hope to introduce rental textbooks soon, but that will obviously affect undergraduate students more.
The bigger thing is that construction of the Storrs Center, an attempt to build a complex of stores and apartments on CT-195 across from E.O. Smith High School, will soon be underway, with Phase 1A completed by 2011/12. It is a venture of the Downtown Partnership, which is the University (who is supplying the land) and the town. This will entail such things are realigning Dog Lane with Bolton Road to make the traffic lights there much more reasonable, a grocery store, an “eclectic mix” of other stores, and some 200-300 apartments. It is the hope of the Storrs Center to fill those apartments with graduate students since we allegedly make good renters. It will be integrated into University and regional bus routes, and it will also be pedestrian/bike/disability/environment-friendly. They would love to hear from you if you have any ideas for stores (or anything else); please contact email@example.com.
Outside Speaker #2: Michael Hogan, University President
The real highlight of the meeting was its final hour, when President Hogan made his long-anticipated visit to the GSS. He began with a recognition that he understood the plight of graduate students, for he himself was a graduate student facing an unstable job market. I was pleased to learn that his first tenure-track job was at my alma mater, Miami University of Oxford, Ohio. He referred to graduate school as frustrating due it being a “suspended adolescence,” saying “no matter what you do… you’re still a graduate student.”
After promising he had no prepared speech and then discussing the role of the University President for twenty minutes, Hogan took questions from the assembled senators and non-senators. He discussed that the University will shortly be taking a $23 million cut in its reserves, an unplanned-for event that will hopefully be planned for at the June meeting of the Board of Trustees. He acknowledged the difficulties of the budget cuts, saying that the University’s student:faculty ratio has moved from 17:1 to 18:1 over the past year, and we are not hiring fast enough to cover all the retirements. We will likely see larger class sizes and Fewer freshman admissions next year. His suggestion for dealing with the crisis was to spread around the burden: tuition increase, a smaller salary increase, and a shrunk budget, but that was not popular with the Board. Despite the brouhaha, the University had the smallest tuition increase in the State of Connecticut. Hogan acknowledged that student involvement in these hard decisions (through the GSS, &c.) really helps when it comes to taking a stance.
He talked a lot about what would have to be done in the future, and questions from the GSS emphasized a desire to know what would happen to graduate students. He pointed out that graduate programs rest on a foundation of undergraduate programs, and also discussed the need to be selective when investing resources, referring the recent report of the graduate school, saying “We won’t be able to do everything.” He also said that what graduate programs were emphasized would not be done on the basis of external revenue generated. He claimed that we are graduating too many Ph.D. students, and that we also need more training for alternative, non-academic careers.
That this was part of a crisis in the world of education was a continued theme of his discussion, as less public funding will be put into higher education. He did acknowledge that “We haven’t done enough of a good job controlling our cost structure,” and that he wanted to refocus resources where they would do the most good. He mentioned the need for flexibility, earning money, shakeups, and reallocation, and said that to an extent the University would have to be run like a business, but hopefully not a mechanical accounting mechanism. He is working on increasing the University’s capital campaign to a billion-dollar level. When asked for a final piece of advice for graduate students (a “magic bullet”), Hogan offered three nuggets of wisdom: be persistent, remember that not everyone starts at the top, and enjoy what you’re doing.
If you have any questions about this meeting or any GSS-related issues, please contact Danielle Bradley, Chantelle Jacobs, or Steve Mollmann. --SCM
1.) President Hogan will be speaking at the GSS meeting on 4/28. Grad students are encouraged to show up and bring their questions, with a view to creating a productive dialog between grads and the administration. Contact one of your senators if you'd like to attend. The president also plans to attend the social night at Ted's on 4/19, for a casual meet and greet with grad students.
2.) Bill Simpson from the UConn Coop Focus Group will be speaking to GSS on 4/28. If you have questions or issues regarding how the Coop is run, please communicate them to your GSS senators.
3.)Lee Aggison--Interim Dean of the Graduate School and Interim Vice Provost for Graduate Education--spoke on 4/14. He related that the Graduate School policies and procedures will be overhauled, including the advising system. The Graduate School will try to provide more services and go paperless in upcoming semesters. It will also add an Associate Dean (hopefully from the humanities/social sciences) and work on highlighting grad students' work on the website.
4.) Scott Kennedy and Francine DeFranco from the University Libraries
spoke on 4/14. They advised that the future of the library will move
toward more electronic resources. The libraries already offer a lot of
material on streaming video, as well as video cameras, kindles, and
laptops that can be charged out. Also, the library hopes to allot 150
research carrels to grad students next year, and open up more study spaces
exclusively for grad students. In the upcoming year the library plans to
focus on improving its services for dissertating doctoral students, so
send in your concerns and suggestions. And as always, contact your library
liaison if there are resources you want the library to have--the more
people request items, the more likely they'll be procured.
1.) The CORE Task Force is evaluating outside consultants to decrease expenditures and increase revenues at UConn. Among the possibilities for achieving this could be switching to online course evaluations and increasing summer and intersession course offerings.
2.) The Parking Advisory Committee is reevaluating parking. Parking and Transportation will be united under one management. B Lot will be converted to allow grads to park there, and T Lot will open 150 commuter spaces that can be used by grads.
3.) The Board of Trustees has begun a search for a new Dean of the Graduate School. The Student Technology Advisory Group plans to transition UConn to a new email system, and is currently reviewing possible plans for third-party providers.
4.) The University Senate Scholastic Standards Committee is considering changing the requirement that all undergrad courses have a final exam. The new policy may require only that courses have a final evaluation (which could mean a project or portfolio). Discussion continues on whether to shorten Thanksgiving break by two days that would be made up in added vacation days elsewhere. There is also a proposal to add an extra reading day on Thursday of finals week; this would mean extending final exams through the weekend.
1.) Spring Fling was held on April 2--a great time for everyone who attended. GSS successfully raised $208.91 for UNICEF by asking guests for donations at the door. The funds will go toward UNICEF's program for disaster relief in Haiti.
2.) There will be an ice cream social next month; look for details in an email.
1.) Executive board elections took place on 4/14.
2.) If you have a reimbursement to submit to the Treasurer, do so as soon
as possible or it may be delayed by the impending transition to a new
First an announcement: President Hogan will come to the GSS meeting on April 28 (the meeting starts at 7 like usual but Hogan plans to arrive around 8:30) and we hope to have great attendance if this happens—please consider being in attendance. It is important Hogan sees that we grad students take ourselves and our representative body seriously.
For anyone who hasn't heard yet, the Board of Trustees has approved a tuition increase of 5.66%, which is lower than the GSS pushed for and will result in a budget deficit after the 2010-11 academic year. The Powers that Be are debating where this money will come from, but President Hogan assures graduate students that he understands our value to the university and prefers not to save money by cutting our stipends. Hogan also recognizes that the decision not to replace professors retiring under the early retirement incentive plan is hurting the university, because these professors brought in grant money, and so we might see changes to hiring plans.
Guest speakers from the Something's Happening Committee, Cara Workman and Annie Noonan, informed us about the university's policies on "civil behavior," which encompasses harassment, bullying, violence, intimidation, and other sorts of workplace misbehavior. I've attached some of their documents to this email, including parts of the UConn Code of Conduct and non-retaliation policy, definitions of workplace harassment, and information on how to report inappropriate behavior. There was some question as to whether these policies apply to graduate students, as the documents' language specifies that university employees are protected under the Code, but Cara and Annie assured us that students can also rely on the reporting procedures (anyone bothered by the lack of any official language in the Code referring to graduate student GAs should contact your senate reps about making changes). The Something's Happening Committee meets every other Thursday at 9 am in the conference room of the Women's Center in the Student Union; all are welcome.
The library is changing the way it assigns research carrells to faculty and graduate students, which will open up more carrells for students. Priority will also be given to anyone willing to share a carrell. The library is also planning to extend its electronic book and document collections, as a money-saving measure.
Changes might be coming to the academic calendar, as the university senate is set to approve a plan to reduce the duration of Thanksgiving break and introduce a 3-day weekend earlier in the Fall semester, with the last vacation day going towards pre-finals prep. If this irks you or you want more information, contact a senator and we'll find out where to steer you.
The University's leave-of-absence policy has been revised so that fees will not be required while on leave; there is a drive to allow absentees to keep their benefits, and to introduce paternity leave for faculty and grad students.
Grad Prom is this coming Friday--you can find more information on the GSS website. You will have the opportunity to donate to UNICEF at the event, if you desire.
As always, contact your lovely senatepersons Danielle, Steve, and Chantelle with any questions, complaints, comments, or free plane tickets to Tahiti.
Attending Senator from the English Department: Steve Mollmann
It was announced at the meeting that President Hogan would be attending the March 3rd meeting, marking the first direct contact between Hogan and the Graduate Student Senate in at least two years, but word has since been released that this meeting has been postponed. Other upcoming visitors include Associate Dean of the Graduate School Lee Aggison (March 31st) and President of the Co-op Bill Simpson.
Graduate Organization Budgets
Graduate student organizations are required to submit their proposed budgets for the 2010-11 school year to the GSS by April 7th. Budget hearings will be held April 21st from 7pm to 9pm in Arjona 115.
The Tuition Increase
The biggest issue at the meeting was once again the proposed tuition increase. President Andrew Grubb reported that his comments at an open forum on the issue were the cap of an article in the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. It was also reported that the Undergraduate Student Government had been unable to pass a resolution on the issue.
Fortunately, the GSS was able to pass a resolution on the issue, calling for at least a 7% increase in tuition for fiscal year 2011. You have probably heard this news elsewhere by now, but the Board of Trustees passed a tuition increase of 5.7%, though Graduate Student Trustee Rich Colon tried his best to motion for a larger increase. This will probably result in services being cut to maintain the University budget: graduate assistantships are services. The meeting of the BOT can be read about in greater detail in February 19th Daily Campus: http://www.dailycampus.com/news/bot-increases-tuition-by-5-7-percent-1.1165779
One of the upshots of the ongoing discussions with the administration on this issue is that graduate students now have a seat on the Costs, Operations, & Revenue Efficiencies (CORE) Task Force, which works to increase the University’s savings and revenues. Indeed, CORE is looking for ways to continue generating savings, and you visit the CORE website, you can submit your own ideas for cutting costs. They would appreciate any help you can give: http://core.uconn.edu/
The tuition increase came about as a result of decreased government funding, leaving the University with little other choice. Mr. Grubb and Trustee Colon are going to be writing a letter to the governor expressing their dissatisfaction with the situation. Going forward, the best way to work on this situation is to apply pressure to the governor and the legislature to stop reducing funding for education in Connecticut.
A solution to the University’s e-mail woes is in the works; movement of services to a third party (external) provider, such as Google because everyone loves Google, is undergoing investigation. There are several issues to be considered: legal technicalities, listservs, emergency communications, and safety/privacy. One proposed method is an opt-in service where users would default to the University system as a provider, but could switch to the external provider if desired.
This is a long-term solution, however, and it will take some time to be implemented (if at all). In the meantime, the inbox cap is being increased from its current meager levels, and a new web interface that does not look like it was designed in 1993 is being implemented, though it will not have any increased functionality.
The Scholastic Standards Committee is recommending to the University Senate that Thanksgiving Break extend from Wednesday to Sunday, with a three-day weekend to be added sometime in the fall. They are also recommending that the requirement for a written final examination for all courses be waived.
Other Information of General Interest
Apparently, fringe benefit rates (the amount paid for health insurance and other non-salary items) for TAs are on the rise, which will affect the departments who pay these costs.
GSS Activities Director Marybeth Fafalla is working to create graduate student intramural sports teams; interested parties should be in touch with her.
A division to provide Student Legal Services is being created by the University; many of these services will be of potential use to graduate students, and when SLS cannot assist because of conflicts of interest (patent issues, for example), they will refer graduate students to those who can.
If you have any questions about this meeting or any GSS-related issues, please contact Danielle Bradley, Chantelle Messier, or Steve Mollmann.
The next meeting of the GSS will be on Wednesday, March 3rd in Arjona 115 at 7pm.
Attending Senators from the English Department: Danielle Bradley, Steve Mollmann
Upcoming Social Events
The next GSS social event will be the “Social Night” at Ted’s, which is today, Tuesday, February 9th at 5:30pm.
The Tuition Increase
The biggest item on the night’s agenda was the potential for a large tuition increase. The Board of Trustees votes on the tuition increase on February 18th, and both Graduate Student President Andrew Grubb and Graduate Student Trustee Rich Colon will be present. To this end, senators have been asked to discover the opinions of their departs so that the Senate can write a “Sense of the Senate” at the February 17th meeting to present to the Board.
Traditionally, tuition is raised by approximately 6% every other year. These days, however, thanks to the financial crisis, tuition is being handled year-by-year. Last year, the increase was smaller than had been desired, which has repercussions into this year. Raises for faculty were deferred, so those will have to be made up this year, and there has also been an agreement with the unions to not lay anyone off. Furthermore, the Economic Recovery Act, which has been providing us with extra federal funding, expires in 2011. Governor Rell wants a freeze on tuition increases: Central Connecticut State University voted in a 6% increase, and earned her ire.
This is an important issue because even though 81% of graduate students have a tuition waver, cuts cannot be made in faculty or staff, and the Cost, Operations, and Revenue Efficiencies (CORE) task force feels unable to squeeze any more money from the budget. Anything further has the danger of cutting into our academics, and impinging on our degrees.
The highlight of the meeting was when Mr. Grubb did his best Kai Ryssdal of NPR’s Marketplace imitation, and promised us that we would “do the numbers.” Senators with good radio-listening habits were amused. (All of this assumes the end of the ERA, cuts from the state, and the economy continuing as it has been.) This is the gist:
For a point of information: a 6.6% increase is about $1,244 more, while an 11% one is $2,126 more. Graphs were shown demonstrating that even if UConn does the largest tuition increase and our peer institutions all do a 6% increase, we will still be ranked in the middle.
You can read about this issue in some more detail in today’s Daily Campus, and it will also be raised at tomorrow’s EGSA meeting.
Other Information of General Interest
Mr. Grubb reported on the meetings of a whopping five of the committees he sits on. This included the Graduate Faculty Council, who should be clarifying the fact that there are no benefits for graduate students on leave in the new update of the graduate handbook. A new development, however, is that graduate students on leave will no longer pay fees.
He also reported that there is panic in the library: they are running out of shelf space on Level 4! They are also working on research carrels and their apportionment; sharing carrels is under investigation, though it will be done purely voluntarily.
The U.S. Census is coming up, and UConn is keen to ensure that all students get counted, as it affects federal funding. Make sure you fill out your census form, and make sure you fill it out for the place you are living as of April 1st, 2010.
A report from the Parking Advisory Committee also yielded the information that North Garage no longer has a night attendant. Bigger news was the fact that they are thinking of rezoning some resident lots as commuter/GA lots, and moving resident lots to the edges of campus. An extra price grade for central campus parking is also under consideration.
Cheapskates will be pleased to hear that a blue police phone/light is being installed in Area 3 of W Lot, and there is an effort to incorporate more street lamps underway, as well.
The Graduate Student Senate has been making landmark strides in its cooperation with the Undergraduate Student Government, which is important in these troubled times, trying to present a united student front between graduates and undergraduates alike.
If you have any questions about this meeting or any GSS-related issues, please contact Danielle Bradley or Steve Mollmann. The next meeting of GSS will be on Wednesday, February 17th in Arjona 115 at 7 PM. --SCM
Here's a brief report from the last two GSS meetings, 11-11-09 and 12-2-09 (apologies on the delay, but I've been encountering listserv problems):
Suman Singha, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, joined us on Nov. 11 to answer questions and hear our gripes and priorities related to graduate education. A few relevant points were raised, one involving planned changes to the grad housing on campus. Short-term goals involve renovating the current housing this summer, and long-term goals involve phasing grads out of dorm-style living and reserving more apartment-style units, such as those in Hilltop and Mansfield Apts, for grad use.
For the past few months the Board of Trustees and various university officials have been discussing the possible elimination or restructuring of the Graduate School, and Dr. Singha reported that it has been decided to keep the school intact, with more minor changes to improve its efficiency and effectiveness. Primarily, Singha's position will be divided into two (one person will administer the Grad School, one will be VP of Research) in order for the Dean to devote more time to graduate concerns. More info about these plans can be found on the Provost's website.
In terms of funding, the university is fairly safe through fiscal year 2011, but after this the state will be legally allowed to lower money granted to the university. Dr. Singha assured us that the university doesn't plan to compensate for this by hurting graduate student funding.
Research is still being done to evaluate problems with Huskymail and viable alternatives.
A big issue from last year came up again, the formation of a graduate student union. Unionizing plans went fairly far last year, but organizers failed to achieve enough student support to go through with the process. Major concerns are fair funding for graduate students and oversight to ensure workload standards. Certain members of GSS are working on a way to make last year's research available, so later meeting reports will hopefully update you on particulars. Also, anyone who would like to help investigate the viability of a union is encouraged to contact Jon Kotchian or Amber West, who are interested in finding and making information available.
On Dec 2 Steve Kremer, Assistant VP for Student Affairs (in charge of Residential Life) spoke to us about short-term plans to renovate the graduate dorms and long-term dreams of converting other residences to grad-only (such as Mansfield Apts) or building new residences (perhaps in Storrs Center). As always, harass Danielle, Steve, or Connor with any problems relevant to GSS.
Attending Senators from the English Department: Danielle Bradley, Steve Mollmann
The main advertised highlight of this week’s meeting had been an opportunity for Q&A with Associate Dean Lee Aggison, but he was a no-show thanks to some “flu symptoms.” President Grubb stated his intention to book him for another meeting, speculating that it could be December 2nd. He emphasized, however, than Aggison’s “boss,” Dean Sumon Singha, will be attending the next meeting, on November 12th. Mr. Grubb himself will be meeting with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees soon, as well.
By-Laws and Procedures
The current GSS Executive Committee is pushing for increased adherence to the by-laws of the Graduate Student Senate, which have become somewhat relaxed in recent years. Review of the by-laws is ongoing by the Procedural Committee.
As part of this process, they will be adhering to the rule requiring approval of the president’s pay. All members of the Executive Committee must have their pay approved by the Senate, and they are all approved at the beginning of the semester when they are paid, but as the president is paid on a regular basis, the Executive Board will be bringing his pay up for approval monthly. This was done by secret ballot later in the meeting. One rascal wanted to know what the president would do if the measure did not pass and he was to be paid no longer, but fortunately it was unanimous.
There is also an initiative for members of external committees to submit their reports in written form to free up time at the meetings.
Upcoming Graduate Student Events
On Wednesday, November 18th in the Student Union ballroom, the Senate will be hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for all graduate students. There was some discussion of whether or not to pay a slightly higher rate for increased vegan options and more varieties of pie; surprisingly, the Senate was in favor of an increased amount of free food. The exact time of the event has not been pegged down, but it will be either 5pm or 6pm.
The Spring Fling for 2010 has been scheduled for Friday, April 2nd, from 7pm to 11pm. This is Good Friday, but it was the only Friday the Rome Commons Ballroom was available that was not during spring break or spring weekend. Mr. Grubb claimed it was affectionately known as “grad prom,” but he was told that term was idiosyncratic to the English Department.
The surplus in the Senate budget this year is approximately $60,000. Though some surplus is nice, Treasurer Jessica Petriello emphasized that the Senate would like to spend its money, and requests graduate student organizations to “have more events.”
Other Tidbits of Information of Possible Relevance
It was reported to the Parking Advisory Committee that there are 200-300 new commuter students this semester.
The Graduate Faculty Council is considering a review of graduate certificate programs.
The International Graduate Student Affairs Committee held a discussion forum this past week, and is continuing its investigations into the needs of international graduate students.
GSS’s Activities Director, Janna Mahfoud, will hopefully be stepping down at the end of the semester (after she defends), and the Executive Committee is looking for a replacement. Elections will be held at semester’s end.
If you have any questions about this meeting or any GSS-related issues, please contact Danielle Bradley, Steve Mollmann, or Connor Trebra.
The next meeting of GSS will be on Wednesday, November 11th in Young 327 at 7 PM.
There are just a few bits of news to report from the last Graduate Student Senate meeting on September 30. Firstly, many of you have heard rumors of the vast number of books (around 80,000) removed from Babbidge Library recently. Although the issue is still 'under investigation,' GSS President Grubb heard back from a library representative who stated that many of the losses were government documents that are now available online, and that the library's procedure is to offer any materials to other libraries before disposing of them. Other losses were books from the Dewey collections which had not been checked out for a considerable period and also did not pass a review board, and thus did not seem worth integrating into LC holdings.
The flu is still a big topic, and info on university policies and vaccination availabilities is available at <www.flu.uconn.edu>. The university plans to offer H1N1 vaccines free to students as soon as they becomes available, hopefully this month. Official policies for student absences remain a bit difficult for TAs, who are not supposed to ask students for proof of illness if they claim they missed class for flu-like symptoms, because anyone suspecting they have the flu is asked to stay in isolation rather than see a doctor. However, I imagine the Office of Student Services and Advocacy (taking the duties of the former Dean of Students) will remain a resource for any instructor who suspects a student of abusing the system.
The university plans to move forward on replacing Arjona and Monteith by breaking ground on a new building this month in the grassy quad area behind the Student Union. Problems with Huskymail are also being addressed, and a student legal advisory service is under consideration. The Senate wants more graduate students to get involved in events, including an upcoming Social Night at Ted's on October 21. The calendar of events is available at <www.gss.uconn.edu>.
At this point in the year, the Senate is still determining its priorities, and input from graduate students (hint: you guys) is welcome and essential. Let Danielle, Steve or Connor know about issues you have, and we can bring them up in a Senate meeting or forward them to the appropriate committee representative. No issue is too big or too little to bring to our attention, and we sit on university-wide committees that deal with campus safety, parking and transport, faculty and scholastic standards, student fees, the university budget, student housing, and many other relevant issues. To plug my own committee, Environmental Health and Safety, I am currently trying to collect information on areas of campus that are particularly treacherous to either pedestrians or drivers, such as the intersection of Glenbrook and North Eagleville, so please complain to Danielle about other problem spots.
Attending Senator from the English Department: Andrew Grubb
University Budget and Possible Tuition Increase
The main objects of discussion at the meeting were the university’s ongoing budget shortfall and the impending decision regarding a possible tuition increase for next year. These issues are connected to larger factors statewide, notably the forecasted 43% drop in income tax revenue from last year as well as Governor Rell’s request that the university not raise undergraduate tuition and fees. A tuition freeze, however, is hardly feasible, especially given additional pressure from state government to avoid layoffs.
The Board of Trustees meets on Tuesday, March 10 to determine the amount for a tuition increase for next academic year, with the primary options being 13.6%, 8.67%, 6%, and 0%. President Hogan suggested that, in order to have input in the decision-making process, GSS should communicate its position directly to Governor Rell and to the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management as the governor is finalizing her opinion on the tuition increase ahead of the March 10 BoT meeting. Also, the presentation of an opinion from GSS will affect the decision-making of board members going into the meeting. With these objectives in mind, GSS discussed its position on the tuition increase as well as how it should present that perspective to the governor. The opinions of those present at the meetings leaned overwhelmingly in favor of the 8.67% increase: it strikes a balance between placing a burden on students and employees and allows the graduate students to stand united with undergrads (who, a recent survey showed, are overwhelmingly in favor of the 8.67%). Ultimately, GSS drafted a resolution at the meeting in support of the 8.67% increase. The resolution emphasized the deleterious effect that the 0% increase advocated by Governor Rell would have on undergraduate education at UConn—the underlying (but not directly stated) logic being that money not obtained through a tuition increase would have to come from elsewhere, possibly graduate students, who teach many undergraduate courses. In this way, the GSS hopes to assuage general worries about putting undergraduate education at risk (especially since undergraduate education, reflected in metrics like student-to-teacher ratio, is such an overwhelming priority in the university’s Academic Plan for 2009-14).
UPDATE: The BoT approved a 6% tuition increase at their March 10 meeting. GSS President Brooke Morrill read the GSS resolution on the tuition increase at the meeting.
GSS Spring Semi-Formal, March 27
The GSS spent a fair amount of time discussing plans for the semi-formal dance on March 27. This is one of the signature events of GSS, but cost is becoming an issue this year: having the same food offerings from UConn catering as last year will be significantly more expensive this year. Someone suggested attempting to hire an outside caterer with an eye to lowering costs. Another person suggested that the activities director request a special allocation from GSS to cover food costs beyond the initial event budget—in other words, absorbing the expense instead of decreasing it—at which point discussion expanded to talking about the event in the context of the larger financial problems of the university. One senator noted that, under the bleak economic circumstances, the event should take on an air of modesty and demonstrate responsibility on the part of GSS. Others countered that the money being spent on the semi-formal is set aside precisely for these sorts of events (i.e., from graduate student fees), asking what would happen to the money if GSS did not spend it (apparently, it would roll over into a surplus). GSS is continuing to look into the best and most cost-effective ways to put on the event within the available parameters (e.g., on campus, due to the large number of resident students who attend the event, and only in particular rooms, due to the classification of GSS as an organization by the university). In regard to actually attending the event: tickets are free. Look for more information in the not-too-distant future.
GSS Budget Season
GSS Treasurer Jeff Bernath briefly outlined the upcoming schedule for the process of obtaining a budget from GSS for next year. It is as follows:
Tuesday, March 31 at 6 PM (time--?): Meeting with Treasurer to discuss budget how-to. This meeting will be in the graduate student lounge in the Student Union (Room 110).
Tuesday, April 7: Budgets are due by email to Jeff Bernath.
Tuesday, April 14 at 7 PM: Budget hearings. Someone from your graduate organization must be there. It is a long meeting, but there will be free food. Following the budget hearing, the budgets will be subject to approval at the next GSS meeting (April 21).
If you have any questions about this meeting, please contact Andrew Grubb.
The next meeting of GSS will be on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 in CLAS 434 at 7 PM.
Attending Senators from the English Department: Stacey Decker Andrew Grubb
Having been snowed out on February 3, the Graduate Student Senate held its first meeting of the semester on February 17. The meeting lasted over two hours, covering a number of topics and catching up on business that has taken place since the previous meeting on December 3. What follows are summaries of a few major topics that the GSS discussed.
Scott Kennedy from UConn Libraries spoke for about thirty minutes on recent developments at Babbidge Library. He noted that the libraries recently expanded graduate borrowing privileges to 300 items and for a term of 6 months (with 5 online renewals); they have also been working on expanding electronic resources (which now account for most of the libraries’ collections budget) as well as starting a laptop lending program and enabling the scanning function on an increased number of copiers around the library. The newest plans for graduates include setting aside some group study areas with whiteboards and keyed entry that could be reserved in advance. There will also be a handful of private study carrels (perhaps a half-dozen initially) available for one-day use.
Disbanding the Graduate School?
In recent testimony to the state legislature about possible budget-cutting measures at UConn, President Mike Hogan floated the prospect of dissolving the Graduate School. It is important to note that this proposal is a) one tentative suggestion out of many possibilities and b) refers to the dissolution of the Graduate School as an administrative unit—not to the end of graduate specific graduate programs or graduate education in general at UConn. The particulars have not yet been fully considered, but the elimination of the Graduate School would presumably lead to the devolvement of its responsibilities on to departments, schools, and colleges within the university. There is recent precedent for this, as the Graduate School at the University of Minnesota disbanded (or, as its website phrases it, “restructured”). Members of the GSS expressed great concern about the idea of closing the Graduate School at UConn, particularly because of the role it plays in endowing graduate students with an identity as a distinct constituency within the university. Also, there has been a lot of recent talk about “sunsetting”—phasing out—underperforming or otherwise declining programs (e.g., the one-student Music Education Ph.D. program that was just eliminated), though this is a far distant possibility for most departments (there is an established process and detailed criteria for it, and it usually has to do with more than just the recent economic troubles).
Report from Graduate Student Trustee Rich Colon
After reviewing some recent business conducted on the UConn Board of Trustees (particularly with regard to reforming Spring Weekend), Rich addressed matters relating to the recent budget troubles—specifically, considerations about a possible tuition increase for next year. The board is currently considering a tuition increase for UConn students, with four primary options on the table (all under the legal maximum of 15%). The possible tuition increase amounts are 13.6%, 8.67%, 6% (the standard biannual hike), and 0%, with the amount of rescission required and number of jobs expected to be lost rising in inverse proportion to the amount of the increase. Rich expressed his support for an increase of 6% or 8.67%, asserting that something needs to be done to offset otherwise necessary cuts. The governor has asked that the university not increase tuition for the next year.
Graduate Student Unionization
Following a vote at the December 3 meeting, GSS has resolved to a) suggest to the graduate student workers at UConn that they form a union and b) create a committee within the GSS to begin the organization process. There was little discussion of the union at this meeting beyond the membership of the related ad hoc committee. Presumably, the tasks of discussing union-related business have passed to the committee, which will report back to the GSS at large as needed.
If you have any questions about this meeting or any GSS-related issues, please contact Stacey Decker or Andrew Grubb.
The next meeting of GSS will be on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 in CLAS 163 at 7 PM.
Attending Senator from the English Department: Andrew Grubb
Graduate Student Survey
This meeting was the first GSS meeting in a while that did not feature a lengthy presentation by a university administrator about budget cuts or extensive discussion of the potential benefits and drawbacks of graduate student unionization. The item that received the greatest amount of attention was the draft of a survey that will be sent out to UConn graduate students in order to gauge their concerns both generally and in light of the recent budget cuts. The GSS will use the information gathered from the survey as it makes decisions about unionization and other potential responses to the budget cuts. The survey will also generate a lot of information that will generally be useful in addressing the needs of graduate students.
There appeared to be disagreement among GSS representatives regarding the purpose of the survey. Some representatives—including members of the committee that drew up the survey—argued for the importance of neutrality, allowing graduate students to voice their concerns and ideas without leading them too far in any one direction. With that in mind, the draft of the survey did not include any explicit references to graduate-student unionization. Opposing that position, other representatives countered that the purpose of the survey is to ascertain whether or not graduate students wanted a union and, therefore, GSS could not expect them to give their opinions on the matter if the survey did not inform them of the possibility of forming a union. Although the survey committee had attempted to resolve the issue by including a question asking if graduate students think another sort of organization (hint hint) might be better suited to respond to recent conditions (e.g., budget cuts) than GSS, representatives pointed out that many respondents might not know enough about GSS to adequately respond to that question. Some suggested changes in wording—for example, highlighting that GSS does not have collective bargaining power (as one representative described it: avoiding explicit mention of “union” but still posing the problem to graduate students)—and the matter of whether and where the survey should lead graduate students responses remained unresolved as the meeting ended. Another lingering concern was the length of the survey (estimated at 10-15 minutes), which some representatives thought would deter participation. Members of the survey committee argued for the importance of most of the questions but remained open to some streamlining, and the GSS approved funds for an offering of UConn Co-op gift cards as an enticement to complete the survey (see below).
Before the end of the meeting, the GSS voted to reauthorize the survey-drafting committee to finalize and then implement the survey by email using Survey Monkey (an internet-based program with which several representatives expressed familiarity). Representatives desired more time to review the survey as presented, though many also recognized the importance of getting it out to graduate students as soon as possible. In the end, the committee consented to accepting further comments by email through the weekend before circulating another draft of the survey for GSS consideration. The committee will also send the survey for review by a Political Science professor with expertise in surveys. Although there is no exact timetable, the GSS and the committee expect to send the survey out to graduate students before the next GSS meeting on November 19.
Tuition on Grants: The GSS heard a report from Treasurer Jeff Bernath, a member of the taskforce overseeing implementation of this policy that affects research assistants (RAs). Adding tuition costs into grants is definitely happening, so concern has shifted from opposing it in principle to making sure that it is done right and in a way that benefits graduate students in the long run (i.e., only adding tuition into large and/or federally funded grants and filtering the money back into graduate education at UConn).
Upcoming GSS Events: The GSS Thanksgiving Dinner will be on Monday, November 17 from 6-9 PM in the Wilbur Cross North Reading Room. It is open to all graduate students. The next GSS Coffee Hour will be on Tuesday, December 2.
Special Allocations: GSS approved a special allocation of $1,500 to the Political Science Graduate Student Association for its 2009 Democracy and Democratization Conference. GSS also approved a special allocation of $290 for the survey committee ($40 to cover the costs of Survey Monkey and $250 to purchase UConn Co-op gift cars in the amounts of $25 , $50 , and $100 ).
If you have any questions about this meeting, this report, or the forthcoming graduate student survey, please contact Andrew Grubb (who is on the survey committee).
The next meeting of GSS will be on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 in CLAS 163 at 7 PM.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Attending Senators from the English Department: Stacey Decker and Andrew Grubb
Dean Teitelbaum Presentation
Jeremy Teitelbaum, Dean of CLAS, spoke to GSS about the budget cuts and their consequences for the university. He began by outlining “the basic arithmetic of CLAS”:
Starting Point Annual budget: $100,000,000+
Cuts State Cuts: c. $3,000,000
Internal Cuts: c. $500,000 (announced earlier in the year, for Honors Program)
Credits Break from Provost: $800,000 (CLAS “may have to pay that later”)
“J.T. Money” $600,000
[So called by the Dean after his initials, this was apparently money that his contract stipulated would be set aside for hiring new faculty. In response to the budget cuts, he gave it back to the university.]
Left to cut: $2,000,000
According to the Dean, however, there is “more to the story,” since CLAS was carrying a “structural deficit” of at least $1 million at the time of the cuts: in other words, the college had commitments to spend around $1 million over its income. Thus, the college could have absorbed some of the cuts if it had been in better financial shape coming into this year. Instead, it still owed $3 million ($2 million in cuts + $1 million in deficit). Teitelbaum did not address the internal cuts any further. These presumably entail the strategic reallocation money that Provost Nicholls discussed at the previous GSS meeting, which he maintained had not been spent (see October 8 report).
Teitelbaum also noted that CLAS will have to cut an additional 1% next year, bringing the total cut to around $4 million ($3 million from this year, but permanently, and the additional $1 million for FY ’10). As he concluded his initial presentation, Teitelbaum emphasized the uncertainty of the situation. First, he reminded GSS, it is difficult to estimate the extent of currently anticipated cuts (i.e., the extra $1 million) or the extent of additional state cuts. CLAS does not know how much of its $800,000 break it will have to pay back, nor how much of the $750,000 worth of new faculty will actually show up and begin working. Also, even as Teitelbaum wrote his initial figures on the whiteboard, he conceded that the estimates came from deliberations during the summer and that they were therefore obsolete because the national and global economies have deteriorated further over the past few months.
In Q&A, Teitelbaum continued to strike notes of uncertainty. Asked about what would happen if the state took an additional 2% projected for the current fiscal year, he replied, “We really don’t know what the situation is going to be this year.”1 Asked whether future cuts might be across-the-board or selective, Teitelbaum replied, “I don’t think that anyone in the university has a plan at that level of detail.” Echoing Provost Nicholls’ confidence in UConn’s legislative connections, Teitelbaum said that no one will know about cuts for next year until the legislature puts together the state budget in May. He implied that this climate of uncertainty is particularly difficult because the conventional wisdom with the budget is that one year will essentially be like the preceding year, and so on. Thus, while he expressed his belief that graduate students are vital in “many, many ways” and “as a constituency,” he also did not want to make promises that the university could not keep. Although Teitelbaum did not explicitly link graduate students to achieving this goal, he did say that the university wants to continue offering the same number of seats in undergraduate courses. “When you admit someone as a graduate student,” he summed up, “I think you do incur an obligation to them,” but there are still no iron-clad guarantees for the future.
Asked about the possibility of a graduate student union, Teitelbaum alluded to his own experience in failing to organize a union as a young assistant professor. He noted that the AAUP has some “interesting effects” at UConn, and that the professors here are better off than his colleagues were when he tried to organize. He questioned, however, the extent to which the union benefits the institution as a whole. He warned about the unintended consequences of unionizing—mostly notably the abrupt reduction of the number of TA positions by the university (something he witnessed as a postdoc in the Mathematics Department at Michigan)—but ultimately admitted, “I’m the wrong person to talk to about this.” Moving away from discussing a possible union, he said that, in the long term, he wanted to facilitate graduate students finishing their degrees as quickly as possible. He said that the deficit that CLAS took with it into the budget crisis bugged him most of all, and that he was going to work to change the way the college does things in order to avoid a similar situation in the future. Finally, Teitelbaum offered the reminder that, in universities, “This [i.e., financial troubles] is always happening in some form or another.” In the wider context of the bad economy, he said, “Keep your fingers crossed. It will all work out somehow.”
Much discussion during the GSS regular meeting revolved around Dean Teitelbaum’s remarks, budget-related news from various external committees, and reaction to the GradLIFE information session on October 16. GSS representatives expressed varying opinions after hearing from union representatives on October 16, and the resulting disagreement between optimistic and pessimistic perspectives led to the decision that the GSS as a body still needs more information—not about the positive and negative consequences of organizing a union so much as whether or not the graduate student employees at UConn want to do it. There was further disagreement as to what role GSS should assume in organizing a union, which in turn was based on disagreement about the extent to which GSS could be taken as accurately representing the interests and opinions of UConn graduate students. While some contended that GSS representatives could unequivocally speak for their constituents and that those who do not come out to hear and be heard must settle for what the GSS decides, others noted that some departments do not even have representatives (for whatever reason) and that not participating in GSS (i.e., showing up to meetings whether one is a representative or not) should not lead to the exclusion of other graduate students. In the end, the GSS voted to establish an ad hoc committee charged with formulating questions for a survey to gauge graduate student sentiment about the possibility of forming a union. Andrew Grubb volunteered to sit on this committee, which tentatively plans to meet on Tuesday, October 28 in order to have questions drafted for the GSS executive committee by Friday, October 31.
Other issues from the GSS regular meeting:
1. The GSS is currently considering publishing upcoming events as well as news in the Daily Campus. Having space on a regular basis would require payment, and the GSS is currently considering whether such a media outlet would be worth it.
2. In his report on the Student Welfare Committee meeting, GSS Vice President T.J. Morin recommended that graduate students protect themselves from budget cuts by studying up on the treatment of graduate students at other universities. The university’s general goal—as indicated in the Academic Plan—is to elevate its position among the Top 25 public universities in the country (currently: 26th), so graduate students should have a sense of how graduate students fare at the current Top 25 in order to convince the UConn administration that it would only be hurting itself and working against its goals by applying any proposed cuts to graduate students here.
3. GSS approved two special allocations at the meeting: $550.00 for Halloween Extravaganza 2008, hosted by the Physics Graduate Student Association and the Society of Plastics Engineers and $600.00 for the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Student Seminar Series.
If you have any questions about this report, please see Andrew Grubb. For general questions and concerns going forward, see Andrew, Todd Barry, or Stacey Decker. Also: If you have any suggestions or questions related to the survey mentioned above, please contact Andrew Grubb (TurismoABG@hotmail.com; firstname.lastname@example.org) by the afternoon of Tuesday, October 28. Additionally, if you have any library-related matters that are near and dear to your heart, Andrew also volunteered for the Provost’s Library Advisory Committee, which met for the first time this semester on October 23 and will meet again (tentatively) on November 13. Please offer your questions, concerns, and suggestions!
Report from GradLIFE—Informational Meeting on Possibility of Forming a Graduate Student Union at UConn, Thursday, October 16, 2008
The meeting ran for about two hours and was structured as a question-and-answer session. There were two representatives from the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, one representative from the graduate student union at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Mark Sullivan, a professor from UConn with expertise in and longstanding involvement with labor unions.
A major part of the discussion involved the technical details of organizing a labor union. The conversation developed from a question about the origin of the UMass union. Their union developed after dissatisfaction with working conditions led to a seven-day strike by graduate student teaching assistants, after which the university backed down and recognized the union, which has successfully negotiated several contracts since 1990. The UMass representative outlined the steps to forming a union as follows:
1. Going “door to door,” having face to face conversations with grad students.
2. Listening to issues, identifying problems and areas for change.
3. Answering questions—figuring out the consequences of unionizing.
4. Agitating—working to get the word out and increase support.
5. Inoculation—counteracting employers’ anti-union arguments and threats.
According to the UAW model for organization, we would need 10% of our workforce (approximately 300 graduate students out of 3,000 working for UConn) as a core group heading up the organizing effort. By Connecticut state law, we would have to obtain petition signatures from a minimum of 33% of graduate student workers as a “demonstration of support” (the UAW recommends 65-75%). With an adequate number of signatures on the petition, we could then hold an election whereby 50% + 1 vote would form a union.
Beyond descriptions of the process of unionizing, the message of all of the representatives present seemed roughly to be this: forming a union will provide tremendous benefits stemming from having a unified voice and the leverage that comes from having collective bargaining rights. Sullivan introduced himself by saying, “If I didn’t have the AAUP, I wouldn’t be here tonight.” He emphasized that, working as individuals, “you have nothing,” and that “you are more protected in a union than without.” He also insisted that faculty would continue to support graduate students as they unionize. The representative from UMass, fielding questions regarding the possible negative consequences of forming a union, said that, while the organizing process is difficult, there are no lingering tensions afterward. She emphasized that threats from the administration were just that and that bad blood does not follow students and administrators away from the bargaining table. Importantly, as all of the speakers noted, it is illegal for the university to take action against workers attempting to organize. Asked directly what the downside of forming a union would be, the UMass representative said that there would be none. Asked what sort of sacrifices graduate students would have to make for the union, she replied, “Time.” Dues are projected as minimal: 1.15% of pay. They would only take effect after ratification of a union contract, and so would hypothetically be deducted from negotiated higher wages. In the event that graduate students at UConn formed a union, state law would require everyone, according to Sullivan, to join in some form: either as full members or as “agency fee payers,” who pay a percentage of dues to enjoy the services of the union without voting rights.
While the speakers noted that workers attempting to organize typically receive assistance from other unions and visitors from outside their workplace, they also repeatedly stressed that a union is only a strong as its members. A number of questions about possible consequences of unionizing went unanswered or received only short, vague responses because the speakers maintained that the answers depended upon who was involved and how they were involved in the union at UConn.
Finally, on the issue of job standardization, the speakers said that there will be none. Some previous discussion in GSS have centered on discrepancies among teaching assistant responsibilities from department to department, with some suggesting that standardizing the requirements for a full TA would be the next step of a union after ensuring continued job security in the face of budget cuts. This is a matter of particular thorniness for English TAs, since TAs in other departments apparently see the 1:1 course load of English without considering what that entails. Thus, there is the lingering fear that unionizing would level the playing field in a way that adversely affects English TAs. The speakers suggested that such fears were unfounded, as each department could have their particular responsibilities written into the recognition clause of a union contract, thereby protecting the status quo in terms of working conditions while enjoying the general benefits of the contract (e.g., a guaranteed, university-wide minimum salary or raises for TAs). Of course, following the comments of the speakers, since the character of the union depends on those who constitute it, a surge in opinion in the opposite direction could produce a different outcome.
The GSS did not convene in any way, shape, or form at the meeting and did not make any decisions based on what was said there. The next GSS meeting is Wednesday, October 22 in CLAS 163 at 7 PM, at which time we will discuss the GradLIFE meeting and how to proceed from there. Please consider showing up to hear and be heard. The meetings are NOT restricted to GSS representatives—in fact, some of the most outspoken attendees are non-senators—and there is always extra food!
Attending Senators from the English Department: Todd Barry and Andrew Grubb
Provost Nicholls Presentation
In light of the continuing fallout from budget cuts, GSS invited Provost Nicholls to speak and answer questions at the meeting. He began by explaining the budget cuts and placing them in context of the wider state and national economic problems. Noting that the budget cuts for this year (fiscal year 2009, which began July 1) have already happened—"The money is gone"—he emphasized that the administration's goal is to survive this year and, hopefully, be able to plan better for the next fiscal year. Moving on to how the administration is thinking of getting through the current year, he observed that about 98% of the budget is tied up in personnel. In other words, cutting things liked equipment and related costs would not be sufficient. Responding implicitly to recent calls for a graduate student union, he said that the security of faculty members has little to do with their union and more to do with the contractual obligations of tenure. Between twenty and forty faculty positions turn over annually, however, and empty budget lines for the coming year are useful for saving money and moving it around. Although he warned that the administration has to be careful with such moves, they provide opportunities to achieve the administration goal of getting through FY 2009 in "one-time" ways. There is not enough time to thoroughly plan for the next fiscal year, but there should be some additional flexibility then.
Thus, the idea is to cut open positions as opposed to laying off people, and the governor has encouraged this approach. Nicholls said, "To anyone to whom we have a continuing commitment…we will honor that commitment," though he also conceded that some graduate students might have their informal guarantees shortened with notice (i.e., no guarantees beyond five years).
No segment of the university is under as much pressure as CLAS. With over 500 faculty members and a budget exceeding $100 million, it is a disproportionately large part of UConn and its share of the budget cuts is around $3 million. In addition to financial pressure induced by the cuts, CLAS's problems are compounded by the tremendous pressure it faces in the realm of undergraduate education. Tuition accounts for a lot of the university's revenue, so classes needed to be taught in order to keep this money coming in and, thus, to avoid an even greater financial crisis. In light of the difficulties, Nicholls reached a deal with CLAS whereby the college has cut $2 million, with an additional $600,000 from the provost with the remaining $800,000 to be cut over the next two years.
Provost Nicholls addressed a number of questions in Q&A. One important exchange revolved around a longstanding question among GSS members, namely "What is going where?" in regard to money that has been cut. In addition to the amount required to meet the 3% budget rescission, the university also took additional money: 0.5% (approximately $1.7 million)—twice. One of these $1.7 million funds is set aside as a "rainy day" fund in anticipation of future cuts. Nicholls said that, in his discussions with deans about the rescission, everyone concluded that they would prefer to be hit big once instead of having to suffer repeated cuts. The other $1.7 million fund consists of money set aside for strategic reallocation, a move which Nicholls reported announcing months ago. The money was intended to go to high-priority initiatives like expanding the undergraduate Honors Program, but Nicholls stressed that all of those projects are on hold. Indeed, he said, this second fund has shrunk after he took money from it to help CLAS meet its obligation in regard to the rescission (see above). He emphasized that plans to use the money are in place but that no funds have been committed, especially since the governor can ask for another 2% this year without legislative approval. GSS was particularly interested to hear about the state of the reallocation money in light of informal comments made by President Hogan at the recent graduate student picnic, at which time he apparently said something to the effect of, "That money has already been spent." GSS members requested figures from Nicholls with the aim of clarifying this contradiction, though nothing was finally resolved at the meeting.
Also, one GSS member asked Nicholls, "What would you say to those suggesting a graduate student union?" Nicholls mentioned that this was the first campus on which he had worked that featured a professors' union, saying that it brings great benefits and that it is "quite a good way to work" (he seemed to be talking about the relationship between faculty and administration). He praised the standardizing practices of the union, having stressed the importance of fairness throughout his talk. His advice to the GSS regarding forming a union was summed up by saying, "This is something you may want to explore…go into it with your eyes open," particularly in regard to considering what graduate students would get for their dues. "It's obviously up to you," he said. "I would not advise you one way or another."
Following Provost Nicholls, GSS conducted regular business. Topics included:
1. Publicity: Inquiries about a graduate student section in the Advance met first with claims of non-affiliation with particular groups and then with silence. GSS discussed forming a committee to approach the Daily Campus about getting some space for reporting on graduate student news.
2. Special Allocations: The Physics Graduate Student Association requested $100 to supply food for an upcoming game night that they are going to host, and GSS unanimously approved the request. If you have an idea for an EGSA event and you are looking for money to stage it, the executive committee has made it clear that there is money to be had.
3. Graduate Student Labor Information Forum and Expo (GradLIFE): This information session on the proposed organization of a union for UConn graduate students will feature union representatives, faculty who specialize in studying unions, and free food. You should have received a flyer in your mailbox as well as an email notice. The event will be in Castleman 212 on Thursday, October 16 at 7 PM. This is extremely important—GSS will likely be making major decisions based on what comes out of this information session, and those decisions will have the potential to affect all graduate students at UConn (even those who are relatively insulated from the current budget cuts!). Stop by, grab a chicken wing (or five), and stay informed on these important developments.
If you have any questions about this report or what else went on at the meeting, please see Andrew Grubb. For general questions and concerns going forward, see Andrew, Todd Barry, or Stacey Decker.
Attending Senator from the English Department: Stacey Decker
As with the last GSS meeting, much of the discussion concerned the budget cuts, and the GSS executive board tried to clarify the numbers per the University Senate Budget Committee Report. The 3% cut we've been hearing about is not off the University's annual operating budget, but from what the state provides UConn. For the state appropriation to cover costs, UConn needs to hire $6.7 million less, in order to pay fewer benefits, since the state is not making $2.7 million in fringe benefits available. We've all been aware of the confusion surrounding these proceedings, since the state has mandated cuts, and the administration has made discretionary cuts on top of those. President Hogan also claims that he estimated the cuts as larger than the ones which are actually being made.
The GSS executive board noted that CLAS has been hit harder with budget cuts than other schools/colleges since CLAS ended last year in debt, while others ended in the black, allowing them to absorb the rescission fairly easily. While grad students won't lose their assistantships this year, some department heads are expecting reduced classes of incoming graduate students (i.e., not replacing students who've finished or left). At the University Senate, a provost made clear that protecting undergrad classes and seats in them comes first; priority concern goes to tenured faculty and undergraduates. Per that statement, staff and graduate students comprise the more vulnerable parties in this situation. Also, the university wants to minimize half TA-ships since it has to absorb the cost of tuition for more students (i.e., they want 25 TAs at 20 hours/week, instead of paying tuition for 50 TAs at 10 hours/week). Senators from the Political Science and Sociology departments pointed out that cuts in the grad student workforce will certainly have a trickle-down effect on the undergraduate experience, since grad students have a hand in their instruction.
The GSS voted upon having a forum/panel in the next few weeks, likely at the next GSS meeting, providing clarification for all graduate students about the budget rescission, and combining that with an informational session about union options. I should make clear that we are not organizing, but are only at the step of requesting information. The GSS Executive Board will try to have representatives speak from the UConn professors' union, the staff union, and possibly a rep from the group that organized grad students at UMass. Date to follow.
Attending as Senators for the English Department: Todd Barry and Andrew Grubb
Given the timing of the meeting, it should come as no surprise that budget cuts were the main topic of discussion during the meeting. In fact, the "Issues Forum" portion of the meeting, usually restricted to ten minutes of free-ranging discussion, transformed into an hour-long conversation on the implications of and possible solutions to the budget cuts for graduate students. Discussion of the issue consisted of two primary parts, with representatives from various departments sharing what they had heard and experienced in relation to the cuts before moving on to proposing strategies for action in light of the cuts.
1. The News from Other Departments
The discussion about the effects of the budget cuts on graduate students stemmed mostly out of comments from senators in the Political Science department, who had been told to anticipate big cuts and that "no teaching assistantship is safe." Their call for some sort of response found support from the senator from Sociology, who reported that teaching assistantships for some ABD Ph.D. students had been cut just before the semester began. Senators from Classical and Modern languages reported that their faculty members were already planning on not receiving raises because of the budget cuts, and that their department had been told to come up with a plan or that CLAS will decide what to cut. On the contrary, the senators from English could only report that the proverbial storm clouds were gathering, while a senator from Economics claimed that this was the first she had heard of the cuts. There was no uniform opinion on what is happening or what should be done, which is consistent with the report that the new Dean of CLAS, being unfamiliar with the college, has decided to leave cuts at the discretion of individual departments.
2. Proposals for Action
Discussion of possible action focused on both long- and short-term responses to the situation. Most of the talk revolved around the possibility of forming a union for graduate student that would be able to collectively bargain with the university and thereby protect graduate student rights and benefits. Talk in that direction briefly expanded not only to include protection against the consequences of budget cuts, but also to the topic of standardization in teaching assistantships (this after one senator made the unqualified announcement that English TAs only teach 1:1). Eventually, the discussion scaled back to discussing the possibility of inviting a representative from the professors' union to speak at a GSS meeting or in an even larger forum of graduate students. A couple of senators urged caution, citing the institutionalized antipathy that unions create as well as the negative consequences that such antagonism could have for all graduate students, even those who do not support unionizing. Ultimately, the idea of gathering more information about unionizing expanded to include gathering more information about the effects of the budget cuts on each department. The GSS executives charged the senators from each department with gathering information from their department heads and graduate directors, with the idea of discussing findings at the next meeting on September 24. After reviewing the information, GSS will consider what sort of action is appropriate in addressing the issue further.
On a final note, there is a related issue that was discussed separately from the budget cuts. This is "Tuition on Grants," which primarily affects Research Assistants (mostly in the sciences, from how it sounded). Currently, when a student receives an RA, the cost of his or her stipend is written into the research grant of the associated professor and the tuition is waived by the university. In light of recent circumstances, however, the university is looking to recover losses like this, so the administration is looking to pass a regulation whereby the cost of tuition would also have to be written into grant applications. There would be no change for the graduate students, at least directly-- tuition would still be waived if the grantor does not agree to cover it-- but the change will filter money away from other things for which departments might otherwise use it. GSS is pushing for the new regulation to only apply to big, federal grants. GSS is also insisting that the money saved in this way also goes back into research and graduate education. The administration seems bent on making the change, quoting the statistic that 23 of the top 25 public universities have tuition on grants in some form. GSS hopes that, if UConn adopts such a system, that the tuition charged for RAs will be at the ABD rate or otherwise prorated. The senators from English explicitly asked if this would affect TAs, and GSS Treasurer Jeff Bernath, for whom this is a pet issue, assured us that it would not. It appears here mostly because it seems like a good thing of which to be aware as we consider our situation and prepare for the immediate future.
If you have any questions about the report, please see Andrew Grubb. For general questions and concerns going forward, see Andrew, Todd Barry, or Stacey Decker.