At the University’s Board of Regents meeting yesterday, graduate student instructors and graduate student research assistants spoke about the need for University administrators to recognize issues that impact the two groups.

During the public comments segment of the meeting, members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization addressed several issues, including economic distress among graduate students and issues affecting disabled graduate students.

This year marks the beginning of GEO’s new negotiation cycle, which takes place every three years.

In light of the negotiations, Interim GEO Vice President Chelsea Del Rio stressed the need for GSIs to assert control in their work environments. Del Rio gave examples of GSIs who were asked to grade papers during unsafe weather conditions and others whose health plans didn’t cover physical therapy.

She emphasized that GSIs play an integral role at the University.

“GSIs and GSRAs do the work that keeps the University running,” Del Rio said. “The (University) works because we do.”

In his comments to the regents, GEO Treasurer Daniel Marcin said though he appreciates his experience working as a GSI, many GSIs undergo financial distress as a result of their low pay.

“It isn’t all about the money,” Marcin said. “But we deserve a little more, and that’s what we’re asking for.”

Other issues GEO speakers addressed included the need for a policy for graduate students who have children and the possibility of including GSRAs in the GEO contract.

Following the public comments, Regent S. Martin Taylor (D–Grosse Pointe Farms) said the administration has had issues in the past with GSIs and GSRAs, but said he thought GEO and University administrators could work together in the future to resolve problems.

“I hope we can come together and reach a solution on this,” Taylor said. “It seems to me that if there’s a will, then there is probably a way.”

Marcin said in an interview after the meeting that he was happy with the regents’ reaction.

“I’m very pleased with what Regent Taylor said,” Marcin said. “We think that is exactly the viewpoint that we have.”

However, Marcin said he was disappointed with the lack of reaction regarding GSRA inclusion in GEO negotiations.

“We’re disappointed that we were that close to (University) President (Mary Sue) Coleman, but we still have not heard back about the meeting with her to discuss GSRA representation,” he said.

Last Thursday, members of GEO went to Coleman’s office with an oversized letter detailing their desire to allow GSRAs to join the organization so they could gain collective bargaining rights.

Marcin said it is important that these issues are finally being recognized.

“Graduate students are at risk of being considered minor in relation to other issues on this campus,” he said. “And it’s important that (the regents) remember who we are.”

Regents raise questions about lack of ‘U’ study abroad program in Israel

During a presentation on internationalization at the University by Mark Tessler, the University’s vice provost of international affairs, the regents posed questions about the absence of a University-sponsored study abroad program in Israel for undergraduates.

After Tessler said he had studied abroad in Israel, Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor) mentioned the recent petition by University students for an overseas program in Israel.

Tessler explained that University restrictions don’t currently permit for travel to Israel.

“It is the University’s policy that in countries that are under (U.S.) State Department … travel advisory, programs that we might have there are suspended,” he said.

Tessler also said students can study in countries under a U.S. State Department travel warning through other college and university study abroad programs.

“We have a fair number of students who, for a variety of reasons, actually go on an overseas program at another University because it’s more convenient for them,” he said. “That happens all the time, and we certainly do send students to Israel.”

He added that students and professors can also travel to countries that don’t have programs by signing a waiver and conducting an experimental program.

When Newman asked if the University’s study abroad policy would be reviewed because other schools don’t have the same policy, Tessler said it is something to consider.

“We have kind of looked into this,” he said. “It’s certainly fair to ask how we think about that.”

Regent Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms) pointed out that until recently, Egypt wasn’t on the U.S. State Department travel advisory, but Israel was.

In an interview after the meeting, University Provost Philip Hanlon said it might be time to reconsider the ban on programs abroad in Israel.

“It’s a new issue to me,” he said. “But I am motivated from today’s discussion to look at it.”

CAAS granted department status

The regents voted yesterday to officially give LSA department status to the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies.

In his comments to the regents, University Provost Philip Hanlon said CAAS has developed the strong curriculum and interest necessary to operate as a department.

“It has reached that level of maturity where it can be considered at departmental status,” he said.

According to Hanlon, the new title will provide CAAS more resources to strengthen the area of study.

“Elevating it to a department will fortify its undergraduate program and graduate studies,” he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Hanlon said the center won’t change substantially once it becomes a department.

“They really are at the point that they’re functioning like a department,” Hanlon said.

Construction advancements approved

The Board of Regents approved advancements in the reconstruction of several campus facilities at its meeting yesterday.

At the regents meeting in December, the new design for Alice Lloyd Residence Hall was approved. Yesterday, the regents voted to continue with the reconstruction.

During the meeting, Timothy Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said the University is on time and on budget with the project and is prepared to continue the Alice Lloyd renovations.

“We’re ready to roll,” Slottow said.

The $56 million project is expected to be finished by the beginning of the fall 2012 semester.

The regents also approved renovations to the Geological Science laboratories in the Clarence Cook Little Science Building. The renovations — which will involve mechanical, electrical and architectural updates to areas totaling about 10,600 square feet — are projected to cost about $2 million dollars.

The regents also approved changing 18,400 square feet of the School of Social Work’s first floor atrium into clinical space. Previously, the space held books for the School of Social Work. The books are now dispersed between several campus libraries. The project is estimated to cost $1.85 million.

— Managing Editor Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.

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