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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Grad students right to vote against ASUA representation

    Paul ThornExternal Affairs Vice President of GPSC
    Paul Thorn
    External Affairs Vice President of GPSC

    guest commentary

    I think the fundamental reason why graduate students voted in such big numbers to refuse Associated Students of the University of Arizona representation (1085 to 64) has to do with the large differences in the issues and needs of graduate students and undergraduates and the inability of undergraduate student government (or student government dominated by undergraduates) to effectively represent graduate student interests.

    Despite its protestations, ASUA is effectively an undergraduate student government whose record of success in advocating for graduate students is minimal at best. Based on information that the Graduate and Professional Student Council has gathered from peer institutions, there is evidence that there is no way to form a student government that “”represents all students”” that doesn’t end up with undergraduates running the whole show. In general, “”inclusive”” student government, student government “”for all students,”” tends to create barriers to grad student advocacy. Another universal problem with “”inclusive”” student government is its tendency to result in an unfair use of resources, where graduate students’ needs are marginalized and resources are focused on serving undergraduates, as is the case with ASUA currently.

    As for ASUA’s claim to represent graduate students, the truth is that it has never had graduate student consent in the first place. The current ASUA constitution was formed in contravention of the procedures for constitutional amendment outlined in the ASUA constitution that was in place in the spring of 1996. Moreover, no graduate student voted in favor of the current constitution, nor signed off on the current constitution, nor gave permission for the ASUA to represent graduate students.

    It may be that the ASUA constitution provides no means for graduate students to opt out of the organization. For this reason, ASUA has decided to call the graduate student referendum “”a survey.”” Regardless of what you call the referendum, its result sends the clear message that graduate students want to be represented by the GPSC and do not want to be represented by ASUA.

    Moreover, I think that the ASUA’s “”constitutional mandate”” to represent graduate students was never legitimate in the first place. The mandate was self-proclaimed and without the consent of graduate students. ASUA could just as well inaugurate the ASUA president as president of Tucson. Such self-proclamations are empty without the consent of the governed, and given the graduate student referendum, ASUA does not have the consent of graduate students.

    In response to the landslide vote against ASUA representation, ASUA leaders have complained that the GPSC distributed inaccurate information in order to skew the results. If ASUA believes that the GPSC disseminated inaccurate information, I wish that they would actually say what errors were made. Granted, the GPSC distributed information that explained the situation to graduate students, and the information explained why graduate students would be better off without ASUA representation. As the representatives of graduate students, the GPSC had a duty to inform graduate students about the problems with the current system.

    Since the vote, ASUA officials have falsely described their role in bringing a number of positive changes for graduate students. According to one story, ASUA played a role in bringing tuition remission to graduate assistants/associates. The truth is that many graduate student groups, including the GPSC, worked long and hard to bring tuition remission to UA graduates, and it is problematic for ASUA to try and take any credit for that work.

    A further misleading claim is in regard to ASUA’s advocacy in the area of student health insurance. While I will not say that ASUA has never advocated on this issue, there is no evidence that it has ever been successful. The GPSC, on the other hand, has done extensive research and advocacy in this area and reaped dramatic results when it brought student health insurance as a benefit for all graduate assistants/associates in 1999.

    Part of the resistance to graduate student independence seems to stem from a concern that it will result in a cut to the ASUA budget. I assume that independence will not result in an immediate change in this area. I also assume that graduates will remain eligible for any of the ASUA programs that they actually use, and that adjustments to the relative size of the ASUA and GPSC budgets will be made over time in order to allocate resources in a way that is fair to graduate students.

    Resistance to graduate student independence seems to increase according to how closely one is connected to the office of ASUA president. I take it that this results from a concern to protect the prestige of that position. But to be honest, UA undergraduates would be better off if ASUA would simply focus its energy on representing undergraduates. Unlike graduate students, undergraduates have no viable alternative to ASUA representation.

    Paul Thorn is the president-elect of GPSC and a philosophy graduate student. He can be reached at

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