Graduate Student Senate holds final meeting of the year

The normally innocuous, yet subtly fruitful setting of the University of Connecticut’s Graduate Student Senate (GSS) meeting took place in a context fraught with recent activity.

Yesterday, UConn President Herbst handed down a letter outlining the proposed deal with the UConn Graduate Employee Union (UGEU). This came on the same day that 150 graduate students took to the Student Union to demonstrate in hopes of acquiring the best possible terms from the university in the agreement.

The union and the students at the sit-in, carrying signs with slogans like: “Dear Herbst, I do not make $141/hour!” were gratified.

Most of their demands were acknowledged. The three-year contract included a nine percent pay increase in that time span. The graduate students were also granted state employee health plans, with the university subsidizing healthcare benefits.

The graduate students are afforded free tuition in the range of $12,000 to $31,000 annually, and make $21,000 to $24,000 a year.

The proposal will be seek approval in the Board of Trustees before being presented for review by the state legislature. If accepted, the union will have to construct a constitution and elect an executive board.

In the GSS’s last meeting of year, all of this information was clear to members. Comments of congratulations were shared between members, and the atmosphere was generally upbeat.

An end-of-the-year theme took the night, with last-minute allocation requests made, awards handed out, and farewell speeches from those that hold executive positions were delivered.

Casey Green won the GSS Service Award for her yearlong efforts, and expressed the wish for the GSS to work more closely with the UGUE, mentioning the recent settlement.

Current President of GSS, Jason Charrette, gave his final update and a sendoff speech. His update addressed the Spirit Rock incident.

“What is interesting is there is a certain perplexity among administration as to how to fix it,” Charrette said. “Punishment does not ever solve these problems.”

Instead, Charrette said that the constitution protects free speech. He took a word out of the administrative lexicon to explain what needs to be done: “civility.” According to Charrette, the administration is earnestly attempting to combat these issues of racism. He said that the most important thing is the ability to promote a civil environment.

Charrette’s farewell address consisted of an accounting of “things I did terrible at,” and things he did well. He said that he wanted to fight raising student fees for the new recreation center, and admitted defeat, noting that the administration is trying to appeal to more students from abroad and out of state with flashier facilities.

Charrette said that he came in to reduce fees for all graduate students, and while he wasn’t able to, the UGUE was able to for all of its members. He also said that his goal to increase transparency was a “total failure.”

“There are huge underserved populations that quite frankly we are invisible to, and they are invisible to us,” Charrette said.

The professionalism and impact of GSS has increased under Charrette’s tenure.

“We used to be seen as a group that got together for pizza parties,” Charrette said. “That’s changed, and we gotta take advantage of it.”

Charrette expressed a wish for GSS to work with USG, “as opposed to working against each other as we did a few times over the past two years.”

Charrette ended his speech with these words: “It was my pleasure to serve you, and I’m sorry if I failed you in any way, or I pissed anyone off…actually I’m not sorry if I pissed anyone off.”

After Vice President Talea Cornelius gave a short speech, Treasurer Michael Ambroselli went over the budget for this year and the following year.

In the academic year of 2014-2015, GSS budgeted $115,380.

There was a discussion of the specifics of this year’s budgets, but it was admittedly less heated than years past. There was also an accounting of the yearly stipends for executive board members. The President and Treasurer make a $3,600 stipend, while the rest of the board makes $1,000.

Next year’s budget for GSS was required to be determined by a two thirds majority vote. It was passed with a unanimous vote.

Secretary Danielle Wong said that she won’t be a GSS Senator next year after two years on the executive board.

“My whole point of being on GSS was that I wanted to meet people from other departments,” Wong said. “Thank you for that.”

Many members of the board said that they weren’t continuing with GSS because they wished to be able to graduate.

The Senate voted on whether or not to pay the executive board members, not including the President and Treasurer, their stipends. Pat Bulter, the Parliamentarian, conducted the vote. The senators voted in favor of doing so.

“I got to count a lot of votes. Don’t fear the reaper, guys. Peace out,” were Butler’s last official words as parliamentarian.

A student statement from the Higher Education on Student Affairs program (HESA) was given by Monique Golden. She spoke to recent anti-minority events on campus, and displayed a letter to the UConn community from HESA “standing in solidarity with the students have been harmed.”

Discussion turned to a proposed Graduate-Undergraduate Liaison Committee with GSS and the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). Secretary Wong brought up last year’s battle between graduates and undergraduates regarding the new Recreation Center – undergraduates mostly in favor, graduate students mostly against.

“There are a lot of common things we can work on, like parking and transportation,” Wong said. “There are times that it can work and times that it can’t work, and I think the times that work outweigh the times that don’t work.”

“Ed Courchaine and I got along great, I did not get along with his successor,” Charrette said of the past two USG Presidents, including current President Mark Sargent. “Will a committee fix this? Maybe…I think it could be beneficial.”

Ian Fignon, a 4th semester political science major, spoke to GSS about mingling between graduate students and undergraduates.

“I think it would be great to develop a relationship with USG,” Fignon said, “but as a student who has had to present in front of them, I absolutely despise USG.”

This drew laughs from the graduate students in the room.

While many GSS members expressed skepticism, a majority wanted to work in some way with undergraduates more than they currently do.

The senators collected their prize tumblers at the close of the meeting.

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