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.