Rackham Student Government is leading the charge to remove University graduate students from the jurisdiction of Central Student Government, following an RSG executive order that called for the creation of a committee dedicated to drafting ballot language for secession.
The move was instigated at RSG’s Thursday night meeting in preparation for the November student government election. RSG president Michael Benson said the proposed split, which would result in CSG losing more than $215,000 of annual revenue, is a result of CSG’s failure to meet the concerns of graduate students.
“Since I was elected to the presidency (of RSG) a few years ago, and even before that, RSG has been looking to connect more with our students, and also to help have graduate students have a larger impact on campus or at least have our voices heard,” he said.
If the November ballot question drafted by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Steering Committee indicates that students feel graduate and undergraduate student governments should be separate, then the framework of what the graduate student government will look like will be examined during winter semester, Benson said.
At a very preliminary level, Benson said the $7.19 per semester that the more than 15,000 graduate students pay to CSG and the $1.50 per semester they pay to their respective school or college student government would become a flat $8 fee.
Of the $8, $2 would go to the childcare fund, $4 would go the student’s college or school’s student government and $2 would go to the new over-arching graduate student government, Benson said. He added that under the current system every student pays $1 to the childcare fund. The new $8 plan would increase funding to the graduate school student governments and childcare and fund the new all-graduate government.
CSG, however, would lose more than one third of its annual funding. In total, CSG collects more than $600,000 through a semesterly fee of $7.19 from each student. Graduate student secession would account for a loss of than $215,000 each year.
RSG vice president Kaitlin Flynn said CSG does fund some activities for graduate students, but the undergraduate-centric focus of CSG, coupled with the limited funds of RSG, leads to graduate student organizations coming to RSG for money that the organizatoin doesn’t have.
Currently, Rackham and several other schools and colleges with graduate students at the University hold many seats on the CSG assembly, but few graduate students actively fill those seats. Rackham has 10 allotted seats — with 57 total seats in the assembly — and eight are vacant.
During discussion of the new committee, one member of RSG questioned if secession was necessary and suggested that greater participation in CSG could solve graduate representation problems.
Benson, who has served as a representative on the CSG assembly and the CSG General Counsel, said CSG rarely discusses issues affecting graduate students.
“The undergraduates, and this is by no means disrespectful toward them, they didn’t quite grasp some of the issues with (graduate students),” he said.
Specifically, Benson said big issues over the last few years for undergraduate students and CSG — including the open housing initiative and Saturday night dining — typically have little bearing on graduate students, adding that the reverse is true for undergraduate students.
“Oftentimes graduate students honestly don’t really care about some the issues that affect undergraduates and vice versa,” he said.
While two separate student governments with a budget over $100,000 would be alien to the University, Benson said it is actually quite common at other institutions.
“Every other school in the Big Ten that has a student government … has separate and equal graduate professional student governance, as well as undergraduate student governance as the issues are really unique and separate,” he said.
Despite the possibility of having two major student governments on campus, Benson said this does not rule out graduate and undergraduate students working together or having graduate students serve CSG.
“For the issues where there is overlap, at these other schools, there is a great deal of collaboration,” he said.
While the assembly does have several seats open for graduate students that do not have regularly attending representatives, there has still been graduate student representation. The current chair of the rules committee, for instance, is a law student.
Benson said the committee and the potential move to a new graduate student government will take multiple semesters
“We don’t want to jump the gun,” he said.
The creation of a separate graduate student government would likely require changes to the all campus constitution, and Benson said there are multiple avenues to achieving this. He cited petitioning CSG, convincing the assembly to amend the all-campus constitution or going straight to the University’s Board of Regents.
“I’m not sure at this point … if the undergraduates would even have a say in this, truthfully,” Benson said. “We want to work collaboratively with undergraduates, but at the end of our day, our main focus here is ensuring proper representation and giving proper voice to the graduate and professional student bodies on campus.”