The Graduate Student Association approved two agendas concerning the future of graduate student life at the university and abroad at their Tuesday night meeting.
Assembly members unanimously approved both GSA action agendas and passed the University of California Student Association (UCSA) agenda. A funding request for the Raagmala Concert on Dec. 4 was tabled until next month’s meeting because a representative from the group failed to attend and give a presentation about the event.
GSA President Matthew Allen said the three GSA issues from last year – housing, funding and diversity – are still the focus of this year’s action agenda. Action agendas are specific issues executive GSA members and general assembly members work on throughout the year.
Allen said the GSA would continue to investigate affordable and local housing for graduate students and follow through on housing information that has already been acquired.
Specifically, the GSA will work with the university administration to improve the on-line housing database graduate students use to search for desirable rental units and to provide resources that enable new graduate students to find housing before they move to Santa Barbara. The GSA will also coordinate a number of guaranteed housing options for new international graduate students, even if it is only a temporary arrangement until the students can find adequate off-campus housing, he said.
Because most graduate students have low-paying jobs, such as teaching assistants, it is even more difficult for many of them to afford expensive local housing, GSA Vice President of External Affairs Christine Shearer said.
The university is attempting to provide graduate housing through the future San Clemente Graduate Student Housing Project, said Karen Blair, the Vice President of Graduate Student Affairs. The project, to be located on a portion of Storke Field along El Colegio Road, would accommodate about 972 graduate students – roughly a third of the graduate population at UCSB.
The project is under the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) because it will be located near the Goleta Slough. According to its Web site, the commission plans for and regulates land and water uses – such as the construction of housing projects in wetland areas – in coastal zones, such as Isla Vista.
Blair said although construction for the housing project was scheduled to begin this fall, the CCC has delayed a decision to approve the project until this coming spring. The earliest construction of the project, therefore, will not be able to begin until fall of 2005 and completion will be delayed until at least the fall of 2007.
In addition to housing needs, Allen said funding for graduate students is especially important now that UC systemwide tuition fees have increased 40 percent this year and will double from what they were last year by 2006.
To assist graduate students in finding additional sources of income, opportunities for grants, fellowships and scholarships will be better publicized, Allen said. Students will also be provided with chances to communicate with people who have successfully applied for external funding in the past, he said.
“The goal is to use approaches of empowerment through professional development, private funding, time management, personal finances and a decreased [amount of time to finish a graduate] degree,” he said.
In regards to diversity on campus, Allen said budget cuts at state and university levels have resulted in less spending on outreach efforts. He said it is important such services still be offered in order to provide a feeling of community on campus and bring groups together to celebrate cultural diversity.
The approved UCSA agenda included the recent Get Out the Vote registration efforts, the prioritization of education campaign and UC-system admission and eligibility reform. Shearer said both graduate and undergraduate students in UCSA would work on these statewide campaigns.
During the 2004-05 academic year, the UCSA agenda states the group hopes to ensure a $50 million allocation to outreach, freeze student fee increases, maintain the 33 percent rate for financial aid and protect and maintain enrollment numbers of graduate students in the UC system.
Allen said current institutionalized admission standards prevent increased diversity in the graduate community. These standards include extremely high grade point averages and standardized test scores as a means of deciding admissions and the university’s policy of choosing to only admit the top 12.5 percent of candidates, he said.
The GSA is funded through a $9.50 quarterly lock-in fee per graduate student. The money goes toward paying executive officers’ stipends, committee representative stipends and the funding of various campus groups.
The GSA consists of representatives from a variety of different graduate departments on campus. Each graduate department may have one representative for every 50 students. The assembly member’s office term runs for an entire calendar year beginning in October. Representatives are elected in the spring by graduate students and can nominate themselves or are nominated by fellow graduate students.
Carlos Nash, GSA Vice President of Communications and Records, said there are not enough representatives from different departments in the GSA.
“Some departments don’t even know that they can be represented,” Carlos said. “They don’t know the benefits of being in GSA.”
These benefits include the opportunity to voice opinions and vote on important issues such as funding and the graduate student health insurance plan, he said.
Blair said some departments are not represented because of problems in communicating information about the positions to graduate students. She said that they hope to figure out how to get this information through the system in order for the GSA to represent graduate students as best as possible.