New graduate/professional student government takes effect today

Creating one governing body to represent all graduate and professional students was a process years in the making. This spring, Graduate Student Senate (GSS) and Graduate Professional Council (GPC) independently voted in favor of merging the two groups to form Graduate Student Council (GSC). The council goes into effect today (June 1).

The new student council will allow for better collaboration and communication on issues concerning both groups, among many other benefits, according to leaders of GSS and GPC.

Combined, graduate and professional students are the largest constituency group on campus; by joining forces, the two organizations aim to increase the strength of students’ voices.

Queenie Cheong, former president of GSS, said the new student organization will ensure better resource allocation and “will foster endless interdisciplinary academic and social opportunities to promote a better sense of community.”

Throughout the merger process, which began in 2012, there were many questions about if and how the two governing bodies could unify.

“The feeling I got was that everyone really liked the idea and concept, but this is a big change and it’s a big hurdle to cross,” Neetu Gulati, GSS-GPC liaison, said. “There was a lot of hesitation on the logistics. This will only work if we can get every ‘i’ dotted, every ‘t’ crossed.”

The merge proved to be complicated, as the two organizations had different goals, histories and processes.

GSS held its first meeting in 1970—three years after the federation of Western Reserve University and Case Institute of Technology. Over the years, the organization represented students whose degrees were conferred through the School of Graduate Studies. It had a governmental structure in nature: The organization sought to enact changes to campus, including initiatives to bring graduate students together, placing graduate student voices on university committees, developing resources for professional development and participating in the governance of the university.

GPC, which formed in 2010, focused more on developing communication and collaboration among the different schools it represented, which mostly included students in the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Weatherhead School of Management, School of Law, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and some students in the School of Medicine. Its representatives sought mainly to foster relationships with one another, so they could get to know students from other schools and work together more effectively.

Throughout its short history, GPC had fewer funds to work with and lacked the same level of involvement that GSS enjoyed. With the merge of the two organizations, graduate and professional students will benefit from activism by the governing bodies.

“By unifying, all graduate and professional students now have the same direct channel to the university leadership,” said Raymond Horton, former vice president of GSS. “By combining into one governing body, we are doubling our constituency and, we believe, doubling the impact of our voice on campus.”

Ensuring that all voices are heard and accurately represented proved to be one concern of Gulati and the task force she worked with to unify the organizations. GSS and GPC had very different representation structures: In GSS, each academic department had one representative, regardless of its size. Some students could be representing 100, and others as few as five, students. In GPC, each school had two representatives, regardless of the size.

To address the concern, the task force decided that each school would have a base of five representatives, with larger schools gaining an additional representative for every 500 students in the school. The number of representatives for each school ranges between five and eight.

“I am most excited to see graduate and professional students working together to resolve common issues on campus and to see the effects of a strong, unified voice on campus,” Rachel Grdina, former co-chair of GPC, said.

Though the task force was able to anticipate many of the issues the new organization could face going forward, Gulati admits that there will likely be some issues that will arise.

“There’s probably going to be some growing pains,” she said. In order to account for some of those potential problems, the task force included special in the governing documents. Every year, the executive team will review the governing documents to make sure it still accurately represents what the organization stands for.

“This is something that was done by graduate students, but it never could have happened without the support of the faculty and staff,” Gulati said. “We’ve had a lot of support from the Office of Student Affairs, we’ve had support from the School of Graduate Studies, the provost has supported us. We’re really looking forward to working with the other deans of the schools who have showed interest in this moving forward.”