Student Senate resolution moves to UAS

Ryan Jarvi

The Executive Committee of the Senate voted to send a Student Senate resolution, which asks for more student seats on university committees, to the University Academic Senate for more discussion and a possible vote at its meeting Friday.

The motion passed eight to five.

The resolution calls for more seats on five university committees that would be designated specifically for graduate students, who make up 13.2 percent of Grand Valley State University’s 2013-2014 student headcount, according to Institutional Analysis.

Robert Hollister, chair of the Faculty Salary and Budget Committee, said his committee—including the student representative—unanimously opposed the resolution.

“(The Faculty Handbook) doesn’t specifically say an undergraduate representative but just a student rep, and the assumption is that that student rep is coming from a body that represents students and that they talk about graduate issues,” Hollister said. “Secondly, we see that all but two of the colleges only have one representative, so to have two students would be larger than most of the colleges and it seemed unreasonable.”

Out of all seats with voting rights on the five committees, only about 6 percent are currently reserved for students, with faculty and staff members making up the remaining 94 percent. Students occupying these seats have typically been undergraduates appointed by the Student Senate.

Hollister said the FSBC also opposed the resolution because of low participation of student representatives.

“As someone that’s been on a committee for a long time, this is the first year that we’ve had a student, whether they’re a graduate student or not, come to more than two meetings,” he said. “Usually they’re not coming.”

If the resolution were passed by UAS as is, the Academic Policies and Standards Committee would also be required to add an extra student seat. The APSC stated in a memo that it would add the student seat but only as a non-voting member, citing absenteeism concerns with student representatives and possible conflicts of meeting a quorum—the minimum number of representatives needed to conduct business.

Ricardo Benavidez, president of Student Senate, said next week the senate will discuss a resolution that enforces stricter policies on student senators attending committee meetings.

“If they miss one meeting, they’re gone and they’re replaced immediately,” Benavidez said.

Shawn Bultsma, a professor in the College of Education, said he is concerned that the proposed resolution would undermine committees’ independence.

“I’m against it as it stands, thinking that we can do something better,” Bultsma said. “It is important for me to let you know that I support the idea—as a graduate faculty—that I support the idea of a graduate voice. But I think we can continue the conversation, a good healthy conversation, about whether it’s important to have both (undergraduate and graduate) voices there, etcetera.”

The University Assessment Committee, the Faculty Facilities Planning Advisory Committee and the Faculty Teaching and Learning Center Advisory Committee would also be required to add extra seats, none of which stated opposition to the resolution.

“It seems that the discussion here is do we consider that 15 percent of the student body deserves some sort of representation within faculty governance,” said Mark Luttenton, professor of biology and chair of the Graduate Council. “Is that a large enough block of students at the university that they really should have some kind of representation on faculty committees?”

Charles Pazdernik, chair of the department of classics, asked how much of this resolution is pragmatic and how much of it is symbolic.

“It seems to me that part of this is about sending a message and crafting a statement that says that as the university has grown and developed, as graduate programs have acquired an increasingly, sort of, larger stake in the university, it’s important to grant, at a minimum, the symbolic recognition that comes from creating these seats,” Pazdernik said. “Almost, and again I’m not trying to mischaracterize anybody, almost regardless of whether or not it makes a difference in terms of the functioning of the committees.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Pazdernik said if the new seats were to hold a pragmatic, voting role, other concerns could be raised.

“Is there a faction within the student body that can leverage the increasing weight that they’ll be given on these committees in a direction that will distort shared governance in a way that we should be concerned about?” he said. “Possibly yes, possibly no, but I don’t think anyone is advocating that position either.”

Under the proposed resolution, the graduate student representatives would be full, voting members of the committees. Representatives would be chosen by the Graduate Student Association, but would have to be approved by the Student Senate, as the senate is the sole governing body authorized by the Board of Trustees to appoint students to committees.

“The senate has decided to ask the Graduate Student Association for the recommendation of graduate students, seeing as they deal with graduate students on a day-to-day basis,” Benavidez said. “So the Student Senate appointment would essentially be the rubber stamp for the university, but the students would ideally be chosen by the GSA. At that point, if students aren’t being chosen by the GSA in a timely manner, in order to fill these seats for the benefit of the committees, the Student Senate would then choose our own graduate students. And that isn’t saying that they won’t—because there was discussion about voting seats having quorum, so if these seats aren’t filled in a timely manner, that affects quorum for the committees, so that’s just to cover that in case.”

Though some committees stated reservations regarding the proposed resolution, others brought up concerns of future committees and students.

“What is it for our present graduate students, as well as our future graduate students, that they’re going to have a voice in governance that is not written in the faculty handbook or bylaws of the standing committees?” said John Stevenson, associate dean of Graduate Studies. “Because administrations change; every year we elect a new student senate president to revisit the same themes year in year out because there’s a lack of continuity unless the officer serves for two successive years, and even then things get moved off of the agenda.”

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