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Graduate students groups find common ground: advocacy

Graduate Students for a Better U.Va. seek solidarity with Graduate Council, improved communication with administration

The student organization Graduate Students for a Better U.Va. is calling for increased student advocacy and improved communication with the administration about issues affecting the life of University graduate students.

Mary Hicks, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and member of the organization, said there have been a number of drastic changes made recently to the graduate programs at the University that have negatively affected graduate students.

“The Graduate Program in Arts and Sciences in the past few years has undergone a very large transformation in the nature of the program, how it’s organized, how graduate students are funded, and what the expectations are for completion rates in programs,” Hicks said. “The last change included about a 400 percent increase in tuition for people who are ABD [All But Dissertation] — that means people who have finished their course work and are now writing their dissertations.”

The organization initially criticized the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Council for inadequately voicing the concerns of students in these programs. They created a petition to express a lack of confidence in the council’s ability to adequately represent graduate students, saying council members failed to respond swiftly to tuition increases and funding changes which severely affected students and as such failed to perform its duties.

Since spring, the organization has switched its focus from an overhaul of the council to establishing more substantive procedural changes, with several of its members joining the council at the end of last semester. The organization’s website says they strive to “emphasize solidarity rather than graduate infighting,” and that they did not want to encourage an “institutional breakdown in the operation of the council.”

There are, however, lingering concerns about student representation and increasing the role of the student body in decision-making, Hicks said. To address these, the organization has proposed semesterly town-hall meetings, elections which force candidates to outline their platforms, and procedural safeguards to prevent the council from unilateral action without consulting the student body.

“We have decided that what we would like to see is more students working with Graduate Council to facilitate this type of process,” Hicks said. “We just want more people to engage with Graduate Council and we want Graduate Council to engage more people.”