From My Perspective – Graduate Students’ Association for AU Students

Regular Voice readers are aware of my recent disillusionment with my employment. I’ve received many letters of encouragement, so I wanted to share an exciting new venture that I’ve become involved in.

As many may know, during my time on AUSU council, I became interested in representation for graduate students. This came about because we often had graduate students coming to us seeking advice, assistance, and advocacy, yet we could do very little on behalf of these students because they did not pay student union fees and were not AUSU members.

In response to this demand, about a year ago AUSU Council formed a Graduate Association Steering Committee, comprised of graduate students from several different programs. Progress was slow, largely because I was far too busy as AUSU President to really devote serious time to development of a GSA.

Now, I’m pleased to report, the situation has changed. I’m now taking charge of the development of a GSA for AU, with a target date of June, 2005 for a completed, elected representative group of graduate students.

There is an additional impetus to this project. Alberta government’s Bill 43 has outlined several key areas where a GSA plays a role, and it is now imperative that AU has a GSA. Three of these requirements stand out:

“¢ Item 94(1). If a university offers a program of graduate studies, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may incorporate a graduate students association for the university. The association will consist of the graduate students of the university and is responsible to provide for the administration of graduate student affairs, and promotion of the general welfare of graduate students.

“¢ Item 95(5). The council of a graduate students association is the official channel of communication between the graduate students at a university and the board. (Grad student representatives to any university committees must be nominated by the GSA, including AUGC and AUAC.)

“¢ Item 96(1). The graduate students association of the university has the exclusive authority to negotiate and enter into employment agreements with boards on behalf of graduate students

What do the above items mean? Basically, that any university that has a program of graduate studies must have a graduate student association. That association will be responsible to ensure that graduate students are represented on university committees, and it will also be responsible to negotiate employment contracts for grad students.

What is the current status at AU? Well, Grad students really do not have a voice. There are no grad student reps on any AU committees (even though the current bylaws allow for this). In recent years grad students did participate in some committees, but they were appointed by individual programs, each program taking turns in appointing a student rep. This was hardly a democratic process, and there was no mechanism whereby the student rep could take student concerns forward to the board or by which they could take the decisions of the board back to the student community at large. This situation is obviously not to the benefit of grad students as a whole.

Another area that is of increasing concern is the issue of employment contracts for grad students. About a year ago, AUSU was approached by a member of AU’s Psychology department. He asked for our support in a request to AU that more positions be developed to enhance research opportunities for students, which we provided.

AU is also in the process of developing two doctoral programs, and the need for student teaching and research opportunities is becoming extremely important. Now that the Alberta government has decreed that the GSA will bear exclusive responsibility to negotiate any such employment agreements, well – AU needs a GSA!

It’s going to be an exciting venture, developing a GSA for AU. There aren’t many role models to follow, so the AU GSA will be breaking new ground. Development of a GSA model that suits the unique needs of this university is the first part of the process. A Graduate Student Development Committee has been struck, and this group will play an important role in providing feedback and guidance throughout.

The goal is to have a GSA ready to go by June, 2005. A GSA website will soon be ready, where students can go to get information and provide feedback on the process. I will be keeping Voice readers apprised of where we are at, and I’m very excited to be heading up this new project. To be part of something that will impact forever this university and its students is incredibly exciting, and I consider myself honoured and fortunate to play this role. I will be keeping Voice readers apprised of progress.

Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology.

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