There are two main options for GPSF’s future: In one, they would form an individual legislative body separate from Student Congress, and in the other, their role within student government would be redefined.
GPSF president Dylan Russell said graduate students have different concerns from undergraduates, like health insurance, TA stipends or parental leave, that make it difficult for them to operate in the same body.
“We’re here to figure out a way to best represent all of our students,” Russell said.
Russell said because of conflicting interests and ambiguous boundaries between GPSF and Student Congress, it would be best for the two entities to diverge. He said this summer, graduate and professional students weren’t sure they were for the 2015-16 academic year.
“Right now we have a body saying, ‘hey, we don’t feel like part of this conversation,’” Russell said.
Student Congress Speaker David Joyner said he sees GPSF as an independent advocacy agency, and student government provides oversight on all independent agencies to better serve the student population.
Joyner said GPSF should remain part of Student Congress for financial reasons.
“All of the plans that have been proposed muddy the waters on where we stand financially and that scares me,” Joyner said.
Russell said because of underrepresentation of graduate students in student government in the past, changes would be beneficial.
“The thing that would change is that you would have a more legitimate graduate student branch of government,” Russell said.
Student Body President Houston Summers said he is worried about the role of the student body president as a Board of Trustees delegate if GPSF separates from Student Congress. Summers said Board of Trustees representation might be more focused on the undergraduate population if graduate and professional students had their own congress.
“That is not something I would be willing to risk if I was a graduate or professional student,” Summers said.
He said the board has been open to changes in representation, but changes would be decided by the state legislature.
In an effort to be more inclusive, Joyner said Student Congress is willing to add 20 more graduate representatives along with a proportional number of undergraduates.
Russell said any vote about separation would have to be proposed by a senator in Student Congress or through a campus-wide student referendum. He said he is not criticizing Student Congress, but he wants to do what’s best for all UNC students.