Ohio University Student Senate doesn’t serve the interests of Ohio University graduate and professional students or Graduate Student Senate (GSS). On the contrary, recent movement in Student Senate, which is comprised almost entirely of undergraduate students, demonstrates they are actively working to undermine the autonomy of GSS.
Alongside my peers in GSS, I recently co-sponsored a bill to amend the GSS constitution and clarify the autonomy of our body within the structure of Ohio University shared governance. That bill was ratified unanimously by graduate and professional student representatives and now only requires the approval of the Board of Trustees.
Student Senate leadership, in response, pushed through a vague and retaliatory piece of legislation in an attempt to move the goalposts in the middle of the GSS ratification process. The bill, which seeks to consolidate Student Senate’s ability to skirt the input of the Board of Trustees, left no time for public comment from GSS leadership, nor input from the student body—the same undergraduate, graduate, and professional students they claim to represent.
The bill is being presented at the Board of Trustee meeting this Friday.
For those of in Graduate Student Senate working on behalf of graduate and professional students, this sort of bad-faith acting from Student Senate is nothing new. Student Senate has repeatedly sought to frustrate GSS attempts to assert our organizational autonomy throughout my time in GSS. In my first meeting with the body, during a discussion regarding the potential for GSS autonomy, the former Student Senate President Landen Lama lambasted graduate students and our president, Maria Modayil, in a blustery, meandering diatribe, the substance of which seemed to indicate that the onus was on GSS to convince Student Senate why GSS was the superior representative of graduate students.
The issue stems from ambiguous wording in the Student Senate constitution. In its founding documents, Student Senate claims to represent “all Ohio University students,” thusly negating two fundamental realities: the first being the lack of graduate student and professional student representation in Student Senate, of which there is only one voting position for each group respectively. The second is the current nature of GSS functional independence in the pursuit of better conditions for OHIO graduate students.
In the past year, GSS has meaningfully engaged with university leadership to align ourselves with President Duane Nellis in the advancement of graduate education at OU. We have worked to increase the subsidies many graduate students use to pay down their general fees. We successfully advocated for the right to paid parental leave. We were involved in talks that led to the creation of a meal plan specifically for graduate students, in addition to lobbying for a health insurance waiver for qualifying international students. All of this, it must be mentioned, on a budget exponentially smaller than that of our Student Senate colleagues.
Nearly ten years ago, former GSS president Dominic Barbato penned an op-ed in this publication highlighting the problems inherent in Student Senate’s absurd claim that they represent graduate students. I reproduce his words here:
“For Student Senate to maintain that they represent graduate students despite all evidence to the contrary is as insulting as it is puzzling...despite the delusions of some current and former members of your organization - nothing at Ohio University operates as if you represent graduate students. I am not engaging in hyperbole, nothing does. You will never be the first group approached by the administration if there is a problem that primarily concerns graduate students.”
Nothing has changed in ten years, including the fact that GSS effects real, tangible changes for graduate students without waiting to take its cue from our colleagues in Student Senate.
Both the unique needs and demographic makeup of graduate and professional students necessitate a dedicated system of representation. It’s no longer incumbent on us to prove to our colleagues in Student Senate the pretexts for our autonomy as a body.
Spencer Cappelli is a graduate student at Ohio University and is a member of Graduate Student Senate