University News

Graduate Student Council’s new executive board reveals platform

The board aims to push for grad students’ priorities under Paxson’s strategic plan

By
Staff Writer
Friday, December 6, 2013

The new Graduate Student Council executive board, elected Nov. 6 to take office next semester, articulated a platform that emphasizes improving outreach to the graduate student body and advocating for their constituents’ priorities related to the rollout of President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan.

Stephen Zins GS, who will serve as GSC president, initially declared his candidacy for vice president at last month’s elections but switched races when no one stepped up to vie for the presidency.

Lakshmi Padmanabhan GS was elected vice president once Zins left her the only candidate in the race.

Zins said he considered running for both positions and felt that he could be as effective a leader as president as he could be as vice president.

The new executive board will look “to help the University administration and the Graduate School administration figure out what the details of the strategic plan look like as they relate to graduate students,” said John Mulligan GS, currently GSC secretary and communications director.

The strategic plan, approved by the Corporation in October, proposes growing the number of master’s degree students over the next decade, an idea GSC leaders praised.

Zins served on a GSC committee that drafted a resolution expressing graduate students’ concerns and thoughts about the strategic plan, The Herald previously reported.

“We feel the graduate student body is extremely important, especially master’s students, and we don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle,” Zins said.

“We have to increase master’s programs to keep up with the tide of career changes,” said current GSC President Keila Davis GS, voicing support for continuing educational innovation at the graduate level.

Zins said he will work as president to maintain GSC leaders’ strong relations with University administrators to address graduate students’ priorities.

“The back and forth with the administration has been positive so far, and we would like to see that continue,” Zins said.

Though both Zins and Padmanabhan ran unopposed for their positions, current GSC officers said they are not concerned by the low number of candidates for top posts in last month’s elections.

“People are naturally a bit reticent” to run for executive officer positions due to the large time commitment, Mulligan said.

Between holding jobs as teaching assistants, conducting their own research and writing dissertations or theses, many graduate students think holding a GSC executive board officer position would be too much, said David Stout GS, GSC treasurer.

“Because graduate students are so spread out, it’s hard to market positions really well,” Davis said, adding that the council will work to improve marketing its executive board elections to graduate students, citing limited outreach efforts as another factor leading to the scarcity of contenders.

The low number of candidates was “pretty much expected” and in line with past years’ elections, Stout said.

Mulligan said the vastly different sizes of the undergraduate and graduate student bodies drives the differing rates of participation in student government. Graduate students also have less time to commit to other responsibilities than do undergraduates, he said, adding that GSC committee positions draw more interest than do executive board posts.

“All these people are standing up to spend a good deal of time trying to advocate on (the GSC’s) behalf,” Mulligan said. “We are sort of the central gathering point for grad students and we do have a high participation rate.”

Davis said the GSC continues to work to build a sense of community among graduate students.

“We try to do large and small-scale events,” Davis said, citing social events like this Friday’s Winter Ball, which GSC members are co-sponsoring with the Medical Student Senate and the Rhode Island School of Design’s Graduate Student Alliance.

In the upcoming year, the new executive board will aim to increase the number of small-scale campus events and expand GSC outreach with department representatives, Zins said.

“We’ve been looking at the possibility of starting some sort of graduate student parallel to the Departmental Undergraduate Groups” to help graduate students create groups on the departmental level, Mulligan said.

GSC officers said the council works to integrate multidisciplinary perspectives to effectively represent graduate students.

Mulligan said the GSC plays a constructive role in mediating between graduate students and administrators.

“The University needs to help with making a (stronger) grad student community, and the avenue to do that is through the GSC,” Stout said.