Vance Roper

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

After months campaigning for increased graduate student housing, members of the Graduate Student Assembly said they are hopeful administrators will approve housing plans in the near future.

GSA’s Graduate Student housing committee began administering a housing survey to graduate students in February at the request of the UT administration, and more than 2,300 students responded. GSA president Brian Wilkey said the University administration has responded positively to the results of the survey.

“Our data was presented to the Graduate School and President [William Powers Jr.] has come to address at the GSA saying that the likelihood of the housing being approved is high,” said Wilkey, human development and family sciences graduate student, in an email. “This means we’re simply in a holding pattern until approval is given.”

Joy Wyckoff, psychology graduate student and committee chair, said most graduate students who responded to the survey said they felt affordable housing should be provided by the University.

“The majority [of] graduate students felt that it was important for UT to provide graduate student housing,” Wyckoff said in an email. “One reason is because many people found it difficult to find off-[campus] housing when they first came to UT.” 

Once the Graduate School drafts a plan that is approved by the University, Wilkey said they will send the plan to the UT System Board of Regents for approval.

GSA Vice President Vance Roper said he believes implementing new housing off campus seems fairly feasible, although finances are always an issue. 

“The challenges are less [about] getting approved … because the University is behind this,” said Roper, public affairs graduate student. “The biggest challenge is detailing what kind of housing do you get. That’s a big bulk of the problem … the nuts and bolts.”

The survey also asked students about their housing preferences, including room size, price and location. The committee and Graduate School have looked at placing the housing in nearby neighborhoods, Roper said. 

Wyckoff said affordability is one of the main issues graduate students face when looking for housing.  

“This is an important issue for graduate students, especially as rent prices are increasing in Austin,” Wyckoff said in an email. “Students also are moving from far away (only 11% of survey respondents were already living in Texas), so having graduate student housing option would make the transition to Austin smoother.”

Although the University does not have graduate-student-only housing, it currently operates three off-campus University apartment complexes, each approximately six miles south of campus. According to the Division of Housing and Food Services, the apartments are traditionally reserved for graduate students, student families and undergraduates.

Earlier this month, the GSA renewed the committee for another year so that they can continue to address the issue, Wilkey said.

Editor’s Note: Graduate students Brian Wilkey and Vance Roper were recently elected president and vice president, respectively, of the Graduate Student Assembly. They served together part of this year after David Villarreal stepped down from the presidency early last semester.

Daily Texan: Why did you decide to run again for president? 

Brian Wilkey: Vance and I had an interesting year, both of us starting from different positions. By the time I took office in August, David [Villarreal] had stepped down. By the time we got caught up, it was November. I had only two and half months where I could effectively be working. That’s not a lot of time to do things. But Vance and I have felt we made a great partnership, we are very proud of what we have done. We believe the next steps of GSA are very plain before us, and we thought they are the right direction to take, so we thought, “Let’s do this another year.”

DT: Speaking of change there’s a lot coming to UT. How do you handle the transition to the new president [of UT], the recent transition to a new chancellor and to new leadership beyond UT?

Wilkey: The main job as [GSA] president is relationship building. I look forward to those chances to build relationships, with the new president [and] the new chancellor to make sure that from the start, the concerns of the graduate student body are being heard. I am looking forward to delving in with the relationship with the new Student Government and some college councils. 

DT: Do you think graduate student concerns are being better heard now than they were this time last year?

Wilkey: I think part of it is just that we are little more organized. You have a lot of people talking about graduate student concerns, but some of those concerns are housing, some are stipends, some are academic grievance processes, but if we all yell at the same time, no one is going to hear what needs to be done. Vance and I came in and made a big deal of organizing and made sure we spoke in a resolute voice with the message that we wanted to say. By that standard, I think yes, graduate students are being better heard. I think the same concern raised last year are being raised this year, but we have new and more innovative ways of discussing that with the policymakers and the administrators. 

DT: Can you say more about that?

Wilkey: For example we have the housing committee. Approximately 2,400 responses [came back] from its recent survey. Considering 12,000 graduate students and professional students, that’s about one out of every six for a group that for the most part doesn’t participate  in the University traditionally. This committee reached out to the constituents and made sure they participated. We have people sitting on different committees now that weren’t represented by us before. 

We found some better ways to get everyone engaged. Because every graduate student has a concern. COLA’s very concerned about TA stipends and TA positions, and we are trying to make sure that COLA organizes a college council, just like the graduate student engineering council, a place for them to be just graduate students to make sure they are sharing best practices.

DT: How likely do you think it is that new graduate student housing will be built in the near future?

Wilkey: No administrator is going to say is going to happen in the near future. Everyone is going to tell you the party line is just planning right now. We have no idea. I know it’s a big project which a lot of people are passionate about, so it’s hard to believe that we are not going to see progress.

DT: So maybe first we’ll see improvement in existing graduate student housing?

Wilkey: That’s one thing we are considering. The housing committee is slowly dividing into two sections: the group working on new housing and the group working on current housing situations. Mostly, at this point, we’re just trying to assess and grab all the necessary data.

DT: Are there any differences between your platforms this year and David’s last year?  

Wilkey: One thing we are going to continue trying to do is a database for funding resources and graduate students opportunities. One of the things is that we see an increase of membership and participation, we want to keep going. Our goal is to make sure every department is represented. For me, I’m working on trying to help the GSA to become its “better self.” We get a lot of funding from the Student Services Budget Committee — that’s our primary fund. We don’t have an endowment, we don’t have extra cash for social hours or giveaways or lectures. And we would like to do that. So for me [the task] is to begin the process of helping GSA to find some additional revenue strings.

DT: What do you think of COLA’s task force report?

Wilkey: I think they did a very good job of highlighting just how hard it is to be a TA. Not just the funding issue, but you want to feel appreciated in your work. I think they found sometimes TAs didn’t. 

DT: The GSA called for town halls on issues TAs currently face. Has the administration been interested at all?

Wilkey: I don’t have enough information to comment on it.

DT: Anything else you want our readers to know about GSA for the rest of this term and next year?

Wilkey: It’s Graduate Students Appreciation Month. This month saw some of us in DC to do our advocacy lobbying in Congress. We are concerned about research funding, we are concerned about taxation indebtedness. And some climate issues. We are really excited to have a whole year at the helm. You are going to see more and more graduate students making changes and waves.

Who decides your fate? Who has the right to make life-and-death decisions on your behalf? You may not know it, but, for many of you, it happens be the University of Texas at Austin. I am writing this article to bring to the student body’s attention a policy that, at its very core, violates a right to which each and every one of us is entitled. It is the right of medical determination that many of us may be signing away without even realizing it. 

Let me start by describing who I am and why I am writing this. My name is Vance Roper, and I am a graduate student and disabled Army veteran. I am writing this as a student, disabled veteran and concerned citizen. I suffered a severe, traumatic brain injury during my service, and, as such, have very specific medical needs. I do not speak about my injury often or publicly, and I hesitate to do so now; however, my history drives my motivation and action on this issue. I joined the Army and served my country proudly with the belief that, as a country, we stand for so much that is right: the freedoms we espouse and the rights we hold firm. When we, as a people, lie down in the face of violations of our rights, we are no better than those who strive to strip our rights away from us.

Time and again, courts and public opinion have affirmed that a student does not give up his or her rights just by attending a particular school. Yet that is exactly the situation we face today. I recently learned that the University of Texas at Austin requires any student traveling to an event that happens to be sponsored/sanctioned by the University to fill out a medical authorization form titled Authorization for Emergency Medical Treatment. This form, in its complete and utter vagueness, removes the medical determination right from University students. Take the phrase at the bottom of the form:

“I, the undersigned, do hereby authorize The University of Texas at Austin and its agents or representatives to consent, on my behalf, to any medical/hospital care or treatment (including locations outside the U.S.) to be rendered upon the advice of any licensed physician.” 

This statement is problematically vague. The term “agents or representatives” can be construed to cover just about any University of Texas employee or representative. This could include secretaries, landscapers, cooks, clerks at the bookstore and a plethora of other personnel. These individuals, while talented, are likely not medical experts. With consent to this form, though, any of these agents or representatives can authorize a wide array of medical treatment as long as a licensed physician recommended it. In essence, any of the people I mentioned could authorize an amputation, brain surgery, blood transfusion or innumerable other medical procedures.

I attempted to clarify what this statement meant with the administration; I was told that procedures are in place that require any request for medical treatment to be forwarded to the Dean of Students’ office. At the time of this writing, it is still unclear if these procedures are written or merely a verbal policy. 

There are several problems with this system. First, procedures are not always followed and mistakes can be made. Second, verbal directions or information on how a policy is supposed to work does not supersede a signed authorization. The fact that a person is supposed to pass the decision on to the Dean of Students does not mean that he or she is required to do so. Further to this point, there is no liability against the University’s agent or representative if the decision is not passed up to the Dean of Students’ office. 

It is not the place of the University to insert its will in place of our individual rights. It is not the place of the University to supersede our family in making medical decisions for our well-being. A family member or loved one should have the right to make medical decisions in the event that any of us are unable to do so. However, this document, if signed, would brush aside those rights with the stroke of a pen. A stranger who has no idea of our needs or wishes is placed in a position to decide our fate. Is that truly what we should accept? Should the school we attend have the power to decide what happens to us regardless of our wishes and the wishes of our family? 

I am truly saddened that the University of Texas denies students the opportunity to participate in University-sponsored events unless they relinquish their right to medical self-determination. No student should be required to give up any rights in order to fully participate in the University experience. We should certainly not have to give up rights in order to represent the University. A school of higher education should strive to protect the rights of students. Expression, understanding and thought are the hallmarks of what we expect out of the student body, and the University ignores these hallmarks when its thoughts on our medical determination are substituted in place of our own. 

I do not write this piece to be difficult, confrontational or denigrate the school that I love. I bring this issue to the forefront out of my sincere desire to rectify an obvious wrong and hold the University to the high standards of individual opportunity to which it aspires. I have fought too long and too hard and sacrificed so much for my beliefs in this country; I watched many of my closest friends perish before my eyes in the name of defending our rights. I cannot stand idly by and have those rights held hostage in order to participate in the University experience. 

In fairness, several administrators have been supportive of my concerns and have attempted to address this situation. I greatly appreciate this, but ultimately the policy remains in place. An exemption applied to me does not solve the issue of students’ rights being superseded by this policy now or in the future. 

I feel it is my responsibility to continue to fight for the individual rights of myself and of other students. As such, I intend to work with rights groups and the Texas Legislature to right this wrong. I encourage any of you who feel the same way to join me in this endeavor by emailing me at vanceroper1@gmail.com.

Roper is a public affairs and community and regional planning graduate student.

Vance Roper was elected vice president of the Graduate Student Association on Tuesday. Roper hopes to improve graduate housing options and increase participation in GSA.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

Brian Wilkey, Graduate Student Assembly president, appointed architecture graduate student Vance Roper as the organization’s vice president Tuesday after having the seat vacant since August.

On Aug. 21, David Villarreal stepped down as GSA president, making Wilkey president and leaving the organization without a vice president. Since becoming president, Wilkey has been searching for his replacement.

Wilkey said he sent out emails and made announcements to the graduate student body, and two people expressed interest in being GSA vice president. Out of the two applicants, Wilkey said Roper was the best candidate.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the assembly unanimously voted to instate Roper as vice president, moving him from his previous position as legislative affairs director. 

“In our conversation, I believe he very much shares the vision of what the GSA should be working on this year and working towards,” Wilkey said. “More importantly, he’s got a long-term mindset about what we will do this year and what will be beneficial down the road.”

According to Roper, his experience as legislative affairs director, in which he helped form resolutions aimed at graduate students, has helped to prepare him for the position.

“When the position opened, I felt I had the qualifications and the desire to step in and make this a really successful year for Graduate Student Assembly and for graduate students on the campus itself,” Roper said.

Roper said some of his platforms include improving graduate student housing options and increasing participation in GSA. Roper said he hopes to use his public policy background to encourage robust debate and participation among members.

“I’m also going to try and have a very engaged assembly throughout the entire session,” Roper said. “We had a lot of turnout, and we expect a bigger turnout as time goes on.”

Ropers’ appointment left the legislative affairs director position open. Wilkey said he made the executive decision to appoint Sharla Chamberlain, former election supervisory board member and director of Invest in Texas — a student initiative focused on voicing student concerns to the Texas Legislature.

“It went through more of an appointment process based on what was allowable in the constitution, in the interest of time,” Chamberlain said. “I was a member of the election supervisory board, so I got a good view into all of the candidates and into how the electoral process works.”

Wilkey said he expects a smooth transition into the adjusted executive board.

“A lot has remained really unchanged, and it’s just a different name on the card,” Wilkey said.