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Battle of the Senates

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Graduate Student Senate’s proposed splinter from Student Senate heightened tensions between the two bodies.

One of the most hot button topics among graduate student senators and student senators in the past few years has been Graduate Student Senate’s (GSS) call for independence and autonomy from Student Senate.

Ohio University’s governance is composed of five senates — Student, Graduate, Faculty, Administrative and Classified Senate. Student Senate oversees affairs that pertain to all students, including graduate students. GSS concerns itself with issues that affect graduate students, which evidently overlaps with Student Senate’s own operations. This overlap creates a lack of clarity over which body truly represents graduate students.

Student Senate President Lydia Ramlo wrote in an email that Student Senate defers any graduate student concerns to GSS, adding that Student Senate passed bills that prioritize GSS’s right to speak first on issues that concern graduate students.

Additionally, Ramlo cited the absence of certain commissions in GSS, like Minority Affairs, as one reason for the lack of clarity in constituency.

“Without these sorts of representation, graduate students who fall under (the Minority Affairs commission) will be underrepresented,” she wrote.

In March 2019, Student Senate proposed a constitutional amendment that specified its constituents as solely undergraduates. GSS unanimously supported the amendment, but when it came time for the Student Senate body to vote, the amendment failed to pass. In a press release, GSS said the move left graduate and professional students in an “unclear limbo on who represents their interests in university affairs.”

Ramlo said she agreed to work with GSS President Dareen Tadros to increase collaborative efforts between the two bodies and to improve the relationship and understanding between the senates.

“I believe there needs to be a cultural shift between Student Senate and GSS before this discussion can be productive, and I am dedicated to working with Dareen to build respect and collaboration between our bodies,” Ramlo said. “With an understanding of what each other does, we can have healthy discussions about the best path to go down.”

Brett Fredericksen, the GSS department representative for Environmental and Plant Biology, who helped pass resolutions surrounding the GSS and Student Senate conflict, pointed the finger at Student Senate’s composition as part of the issue, which includes a sole voting position for graduate students.

“Currently, Student Senate claims to represent all students at Ohio U,” Fredericksen said in an email. “However, their body is composed of one voting position for a graduate student, one position for a (Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine) student, and the rest undergraduates.

“Student Senate would likely retort that anybody can run for any position in their body, but the duality of graduate and professional students being represented by both Student Senate and GSS is needlessly confusing and detrimental to graduate and professional students.”

Fredericksen continued, adding that the needs of graduate and professional students are different than the needs of undergraduates because they are almost entirely different demographics in terms of familial status, age and financial position, among others. Lumping graduates and undergraduates together means the undergraduate voice will always win out, he said.

Fredericksen also highlighted the issue of funding for GSS and graduate programs.

“Funds are disproportionately allocated to Student Senate over GSS, meaning that graduate student fees meant to go to bettering student life on campus are disproportionately more likely to better undergraduate student life,” he said.

Last year, Student Senate’s budget was $20,718, according to Ramlo. Comparatively, GSS’s operating budget was about $3,500.

According to its end of year issue summary, GSS plans to reaffirm itself as the sole representative body for graduate students, highlight that independence does not imply an unwillingness to work with Student Senate and continue finding strategic allies within the administration to help GSS achieve its goal. 

The summary also wants to make more concise requests of the administration and Student Senate. This includes the removal of graduate students from Student Senate email lists, the removal of graduate student seats from Student Senate’s body and assurance that each university committee has both a GSS representative and a Student Senate representative.

 

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