GSA approves Graduate Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

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Beth Cozzolino, Graduate Student Assembly student affairs director and sociology graduate student, speaks at a GSA meeting in the Graduate School of Business building Tuesday evening.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The Graduate Student Assembly on Tuesday approved the Graduate Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, the first official legislation outlining graduate student rights in the organization’s history. 

The bill includes the right to a basic standard of living, nondiscrimination and inclusion in the University grievance process. This year’s Graduate Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities Committee will begin meeting with faculty bodies to discuss the language of the document as well as the rights they approved.  

“Even just getting this passed all the way up and all the way through is going to take a really long time,” said Beth Cozzolino, GSA student affairs director and sociology graduate student. “But the hope is by having this document in policy, we will have laid the ground work and the method for how you make other kinds of changes, and the other battles will come later.”  

GSA began working on the bill in January 2014. Members of the committee said they do not expect the University to fully recognize the rights immediately.

“We’ll have to meet with administrators at all levels and discuss the options to move forward with the document as a whole or in pieces,” said Jake Jordan, committee member and geological sciences graduate student. “I kind of think it’s going to be an iterative process.”

Cozzolino said there were many points that the committee and other graduate students wanted to include in the bill, such as parental leave, higher pay for graduate students and better health care. The committee did not include these items because of administrative pushback, Cozzolino said.

“The ones we’ve landed on are the ones that we think are more feasible,” Cozzolino said. “All the ones we got more pushback [on] we have not included on this document.”  

A lack of funding is at the root of the pushback, Jordan said. Additionally, graduate student housing is one of the largest problems the committee hopes to address with the bill, said David Ottesen, committee member and aerospace engineering graduate student.

“There’s problems with the current grad housing — a lot — and we’re aware of the issues,” Ottesen said. “It’s mostly a quantity issue, but it’s also disproportionately toward international students and families. And that’s not a bad thing, but there are other grad students [out there].”

Jordan said even students who have not encountered problems at the University could see the benefit in having a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

“I still sort of see the need for there being [an] underpinning document that really outlines … guidelines for what we should be providing to the University in conjunction with what they’re supposed to be giving back to us,” Jordan said. “This really is a symbiotic relationship.”  

GSA President Brian Wilkey said this legislation is one of the most important ones that has been passed in GSA all year, although getting faculty to aid graduate students in these rights could
be difficult.  

“This is going to be a long process,” Wilkey said. “They’re going to have many suggestions, and we’re going to have to hash it out. But this long journey has to start somewhere. It’s time to break the champagne over the ship, and let's get started.”