Recently, The Michigan Daily has reported the on efforts of Students for Progressive Governance (S4PG) to amend the Michigan Student Assembly All-Campus Constitution, which establishes a central student government for all students at the University. (Students move forward on changes to MSA constitution, 2/2/2010.) While the reforms being proposed by S4PG will benefit all students, they will produce particularly strong incentives for graduate students.
One of the most powerful changes proposed by S4PG is a new legislative body called the University Council. The body would consist of a representative from each school or college government. Graduate representatives could fill more than half the seats of this body, which will facilitate communication and collaboration among the school and college governments and propose legislation that must be considered by the central student legislature.
The University Council will fix a longstanding problem with graduate representation. Currently, MSA representatives are supposed to maintain contact with their constituents. But after three years as a Rackham representative for MSA, I can count on one hand the number of Rackham reps who have regularly attended Rackham Student Government meetings (fewer than half of the Rackham representatives on MSA who served in that time).
Not only are graduate student representatives disconnected from their constituents, but their constituents are divorced from each other. Medical students rarely interact with Law students and Rackham students rarely interact with MBA candidates.
Through the University Council and increased participation in the assembly and commissions, graduate students would meaningfully collaborate in student government for the first time. We will have access to University-wide resources and be able to bring the best practices back to the students we serve.
Some graduate students may believe that S4PG’s proposals are insufficient. In particular, some have expressed a desire for two “separate but equal” governments — one for undergraduates and one for graduate and professional students. They claim more graduate and professional students would participate in a student government composed of graduate and professional students.
My personal experience indicates otherwise. In a past election, I was elected separately to MSA and to the Rackham Student Government by fewer than 10 votes. In that election, more voters elected me to MSA. The new constitution encourages graduate students to create a common government and participate in University-wide government. Graduate students will have their donuts and cider, and eat them, too.
Some “separate but equal” advocates may claim that their ideas were not properly considered by S4PG. I disagree. Graduate and professional students participated in all S4PG general body meetings and committee meetings. A graduate student served as an S4PG executive officer and others chaired and I, a Rackham student, vice-chaired the S4PG Governance Committee, which formulated the proposed reforms. The idea of a separate central undergraduate student government and central graduate and professional student government was deliberated at length at several S4PG Governance Committee meetings. When the issue was finally put to a vote at the Dec. 16 S4PG Governance Committee meeting, as many graduate students voted for one central student government as voted for “separate but equal.”
Over the past week, members of S4PG have been circulating a petition to place a question on the ballot of the upcoming MSA election to adopt S4PG’s proposed constitution. They collected well over the 1,000 signatures required, so pending the certification of the petition by the Central Student Judiciary, it is likely that S4PG’s proposed constitution will be put to a vote of the entire student body in the upcoming MSA elections in March. I encourage all students to read about S4PG’s proposals (available on the S4PG website: http://s4pg.info) and to vote for the adoption of S4PG’s proposed constitution so we can create a better student government for the leaders and the best.
Elson Liu is an Electrical Engineering Ph.D candidate.