Graduate Student Bill of Rights has lost its original purpose

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The Graduate Student Assembly passed the Bill of Rights and Responsibilities on March 3. 

The bill, which was introduced more than a year ago, outlines students’ right to voice their grievances and be treated respectfully and professionally by the university administration. 

However, the bill lost its original purpose in the process of negotiating with university administrators. Several rights in the May 2014 draft such as the “right to compensation that meets the standard of a living wage," “right to affordable and comprehensive health insurance and housing” and “right to advising guidelines and accurate information in selecting advisors and committee members,” do not appear in the passed version of the Bill of Rights. 

Former GSA President Columbia Mishra, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, started the Bill of Rights believing that graduate student stipends are below the poverty line for Travis Country and, if adequate, can reduce stress associated with graduate school.  

During an interview with Inside Higher Ed in early 2014, Mishra stated, “The idea for the whole baseline conversation is to help students have an appropriate cost of living standard.”  

According to Pathik Joshi, an urban design graduate student and architecture teaching assistant, he received approximately $700 a month after taxes last year.  

“$700 a month is not enough to pay the rent and live comfortably,” Joshi told the Texan. 

Apart from trying to improve compensation that meets the real living-wage standards of a graduate student, the GSA also wanted to address issues such as the wide variation in college stipends and extra working hours assigned to teaching assistants. This is a serious concern, especially for TAs in the College of Liberal Arts, where a TA Task Force recently released its recommendations on how to improve working conditions for TAs in that college.  

Those are the real issues that need to be addressed by the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, they have been deleted from the current version or worded very carefully so as to avoid disputes with administrators.  

Since Gage Paine, the vice president for student affairs, challenged the feasibility of a University commitment to providing new graduate student housing during the GSA's February meeting, the organization added an amendment to the Bill of Rights changing the phrase “university commitment to affordable housing accessible via public transit, and in reasonable proximity to campus” to “university commitment to a basic standard of living." 

“We found that in conversation with people that if we included the living wage in the original propositions, that will be the end of the bill, and it will never get passed,” Beth Cozzolino, GSA student affairs director, said. “So I am actually really happy with the current wording of a University commitment to a basic standard of living." 

Since Texas does not permit unions at public universities, graduate students have to rely solely on the GSA than other states to voice their concern and demand their rights. Instead of caving into “suggestions” that was given by the administrator, GSA should better represent the student body and ask what we truly deserve. 

Liu is an associate editor.