2005-2006 Annual Report

GSC Year-End Report, 2005-2006

Prepared by Sylvain Bruni, GSC President – Vice President, 2005-2006

Foreword: A Year of Challenges

The 2005-2006 officers of the Graduate Student Council focused their activity on the three pillars of Connectivity, Accountability and Transparency, as means to support the work of the Executive Committee to enhance the Graduate Experience at MIT. Connectivity was mainly accomplished through multiple collaborations with all actors of the Graduate Community at MIT, from the higher administration to departmental student groups, from the Graduate Students Office to the Alumni Association. Accountability of the Council was enhanced through optimization of our communication tools, such as the Graduate Student News, our websites, and more regular and structured Officers and Executive Committee meetings and reports to the Council. Transparency was mostly enhanced by the content of our communication support and the increased links with our constituents thrugh those media.

Although the year was dominated with management issues within the Council -including controversial summer General Council Meetings, difficulties in implementation of new projects, lack of involvement of some members of the Executive Committee, and resignation of the elected President-, the Graduate Student Council managed to achieve significant projects (Katrina response, travel grant revival, Task Force on Diversity…) and overcome tangible challenges (NW35, internal financial issues, representation in Institute Committees…).

This summary presents the main initiatives and activities of the Graduate Student Council in 05-06, in light of the objectives and challenges aforementioned.

  • Academic Advocacy
  • Community Advocacy
  • Support, Services and General Programs
  • Financial Activities
  • Representation
  • Communication

Academic Advocacy

Three major academic advocacy items were tackled in the 2005‐2006 legislature of the Council.

Illustrating proactive involvement of GSC Representatives to Institute Committees, a subcommittee on the Library Systems was created within the Academic, Research and Careers Committee of GSC in order to support a Library Systems User Interface Initiative. This initiative was aimed at starting a redesign of the user interface for the online library systems, to benefit both the graduate community at MIT, as well as undergraduates, faculty and other researchers. This initiative continues its work, in collaboration with the Faculty Committee on the Library Systems.

Stemming from the EECS’s graduate student group’s initiative, and now supported by GSC, a P/D/F Grading Initiative was launched in order to study the feasibility of implementing the P/D/F grading system for graduate courses in some departments where the “Credit vs. Listener” is not accommodating enough. This advocacy item exemplifies the ways in which GSC can collaborate with departmental student groups and Graduate Administratrs.

The Graduate Advising Initiative entered its Phase II in 2005. Following the tremendously successful implementation of Phase I, Phase II consisted in the diffusion of the initiative’s conclusions and materials to other Institute levels, especially to departments. Discussions were held with numerous departmental student groups, allowing those groups to partner with GSC in pushing forward the initiative in their departments. Discussions were also held with Graduate Administrators and members of the Graduate Students Office (GSO). Through involvement with the GSO’s C‐Network, GSC supported the graduate administrators group’s efforts to come together and share the conclusions of the Advising Initiativ’s Phase I for future, adapted implementation in the different departments. These efforts led to the creation of a “best practices” handbook supported by GSO, now available to the entire Graduate Community.

The Graduate Advising Initiative was awarded the Academic Governance Program Award at the 2006 National Association of Graduateand Professional Students (NAGPS) Conference. Two officers, one Executive Committee member and one prospective Executive Committee member were sent to Miami, FL to the NAGPS Conference. Although NAGPS was undergoing a strong mutation in its structure in 2005‐2006, the Graduate Student Council, representing MIT at NAGPS, committed to continue to offer its support to NAGPS. GSC will continue to be a highest‐level financial sponsor of NAGPS, GSC will continue to attend and lead workshops at the annual NAGPS conferences, and GSC will take on the role of motivating other New‐England area institutions for participation in NAGPS.

Community Advocacy

Within the past years, “diversity” has emerged as one of the most used buzzwords at MIT, at all levels of the Institute. In October 2005, GSC decided to be proactive about the issue, and created a Task Force on Diversity, whose mission was fourfold: (1) evaluate GSC and Institute diversity initiatives, (2) provide a comprehensive definition to “diversity” relevant to the Graduate Community and the Institute at large, (3) research external diversity responses at the Institute’s peer graduate schools, and (4) formulate a set of recommendations. The Task Force thoroughly investigated for five months and submitted its report in March 2006, whose conclusions were accepted on behalf of the Council. The Task Force provided recommendations for actions at all levels of the Institute, including the creation of a permanent standing Committee within GSC. In order to study the feasibility of this recommendation, the outgoing officers and officers‐elect (2006‐2007) worked for the establishment of an ad‐hoc Committee on Diversity for the year 2006‐2007, with the goal of making it a permanent standing Committee of GSC if it accomplishes its set of goals and objectives, and proves its usefulness within the Council.

In 2005‐2006, GSC also focused on advocacy for Graduate Families. Specific mailing lists for partnered students and graduate parents were created in order to maintain contact between GSC and tese constituents. GSC coordinated dedicated orientation events, in collaboration with several MIT offices, such as Spouses&Partners@MIT, MIT Medical Insurance, MIT Medical Pediatrics, and the Center for Work, Family and Personal Life. GSC continued to provide financial support and collaborative opportunities to Eastgate and Westgate on specific events and isses. Two projects for childcare coordination, Childcare Match‐up Database and BabyBeacon, were respectively implemented in beta phase by members of the Council or investigated for feasibility, in coordination with a graduate student group. In 2005, the “Family Needs Presentation” was introduced to higher levels of the MIT administration, including Provost Reif and Associate Dean for Graduate Students Staton.

Key components of this presentation were included for the first time in the GSC contribution to the Academic Council presentatin on Graduate Funding, alongside GSC’s recommendation for stipend increase. The Academic Council took into account GSC’s input and increased stipends by 3.5% (compared to an overall 2% in increased cost of living). The Academic Council addressed GSC’s call for consideration of Graduate Families by announcing a 16% reduction in health insurance costs for families, while health insurance for single graduate students would remain unchanged.

Building on the past years emergence of a structure for Off‐Campus social events, GSC strengthened in 2005‐2006 its ability to address the needs of its constituents residing off‐campus. With the support of a grant from GSO, and with newly recruited coordinators, GSC managed to organize one off‐campus event for each month of the year. Communication with off‐campus students was also reinforced and improved through the use of a mailing list. In terms of advocacy for the off‐campus population, GSC worked with the IS&T Advisory Board on potential discounts for home internet services in Cambridge and Somerville. This work is still in progress.

The issues of safety and transportation were not as strong in 2005‐2006 as they were in the previous year, when the Mass. Ave. Reconstruction Project was put into motion. However, GSC remained attentive to the development of this project and continued to provide feedback when needed. GSC also collaborated with MIT Parking and Transportation on the re‐routing of some shuttle services, to better accommodate the graduate population (on‐campus residences and off‐campus “graduate spots”). Some early work on a potential “u‐pass” for the subway and bus system was done in collaboration with the MBTA. This is still work in progress.

An all‐time advocacy item for graduate students, housing required in 2005‐2006 even more attention than in the years past, tackling the issues of rents, lottery, and, mostly, the new graduate residence NW35. First, GSC coordinated negotiations within the graduate residence officers group, in order to set a GSC‐wide recommendation to Dean for Student Life Benedict for on‐campus graduate rents. This effort failed, due to the strong opposition of one particular residence, and GSC did not provide such a unified recommendation. Rents were then flatly increased across the board by 5%. Following this, GSC and Dean for Student Life Benedict agreed to restructure the “Rents Committee” and enter negotiations right away for the setting of the 2006‐2007 rents for graduate residences. In 2005‐2006, GSC proactively worked with MIT Housing on the housing lottery. The lottery system for graduate housing allocations was thus revamped to better avoid vacancies, upon recommendation from the Council. This new lottery system was implemented for the 2006‐2007 allocations and seemed to have been successful at its goal of reducing vacancies for Fall 2006.

The project of a new Graduate Residence (NW35), to be located on Albany St, next to Sydney‐Pacific, was undoubtedly the most important, controversial, intricate and hard‐to‐manage issue that GSC tackled in 2005‐2006. The idea of a new residence for graduate students had been in the air for quite some time, and the officers of GSC maintained open communication with Dean for Graduate Students Colbert and Dean for Student Life Benedit. The content of those discussions remained private (because the official decision about the existence of NW35, i.e. the financial allocation by the MIT Corporation, had not been announced at the time), but allowed GSC to anticipate and prepare itself. The “package” that the MIT Corporation would announce would include the funding of a new graduate residence, in the North‐West quadrant, with 500+ beds. In the Fall of 2005, GSC created an ad‐hoc committee, dubbed G‐SPARC (GSC Strategic Planning About Residence Community), tasked with the elaboration of a coordinated, consistent, centralized graduate student framework of inputs for the new graduate residence project once it would become official. In February 2006, the MIT Corporation made the official decision to allocate $104M for the building of a new graduate residence in the NW quadrant for 500+ beds, and announced that this would be accompanied by the conversion of Ashdown House (W1, the 2nd oldest graduate residence in the country) to an undergraduate dormitory. Although the Council welcomed the greatly needed decision of building a new residence as a step forward towards building Gradute Community, the decision was accompanied with a set of constraints and embedded decisions that not only reduced considerably the possibiliy for GSC to provide any significant input to the project, but also were deemed detrimental to the Graduate Community (including the total disappearance of an entire part of it, the community of Ashdown House). Indeed, the work that G‐SPARC had accomplished became useless in light of these constraints. Despite this deplorable start of the project, and the numerous consecutive missteps in the process, GSC proved its ability to make the Graduate Students’ voice well heard and their interests defended, through a series of actions and collaborations. Student presence was drastically increased on the NW35 Stakeholders Committee, the group in charge of supervising the initial phases of planning and design of NW35. GSC managed to be involved in all aspects of the NW35 project, in order to allow concerned graduate students to work on the issue, and collaborate with the decision‐makers at the highest levels of the MIT Administration. Using all its legislative tools and operation networks, GSC and the graduate students involved managed to handle the difficult and intricate task of working within most constraints o the project, while still re‐directing the project so it satisfied some of the graduate needs and concerns. After a thorough review of the situation by the full Council, GSC Representatives decided to endorse the continuation of the project, despite its being not completely perfect. The GSC and graduate students continue to be involved with the project, through the Building Committee. NW35 is scheduled to go online in the Fall of 2008.

Support, Services and General Programs

2005‐2006 was a very prolific year for GSC in terms of support, services and general programs implemented for the Graduate Community. These include the following traditional programs, that have now existed for years: the Funding Board (which redistributes about $100,000 a year to graduate student groups), the Graduate Orientation (which welcomes the 1,300+ incoming graduate students with three weeks of events), the cultural and sports events organized by the Activities Committee (such as Acoustic Barbecue, Harvard‐MIT parties, rafting trips, ski trips, concerts, Celtics and Bruins matches, Ballet and Opera showings etc…), Grad School 101 (which provides seminars for graduate students new to MIT), the Academic Career series (where panel discussion and seminars provide information to students about careers in academia), the Professional Development series (for students who envision careers other than academia), the Business and Technology series (panel discussions and seminars), the Interview Skills workshops (for graduate students to prepare for the MIT Career Fair), the Airport Shuttle program (which provides transportation for international graduate students when they arrive from a foreign country), the International Graduate Student Mentorship program (which pairs up continuing graduate students with incoming international graduate students), the Tax Assistance workshops (which benefit both students and employees of MIT), the GSC Awards (part of the Institute Awards), the Graduate Ring (GradRat) (with significant increases in sales and recognition at MIT and in the Alumni population), and the MIT Career Fair 2005 (which drew more employers and student applicants than ever, driving the profits up by more than 100%, for a record budget of half a million dollars).

All these programs are done in collaboration with a variety of other organizations on‐campus, including the Graduate Students Office, the Division of Student Life, the Student Life Programs, the Student Activities Office, the International Students Office, the Careers Office, the Office of the Provost, the Postdoctoral Advising Council, the International Development Forum, the Technology and Culture Forum, Spouses&Partners@MIT, the Science and Engineering Business Club, TechLink, Sangam, CSSA, ROCSA, the Society of Women Engineers, the Senior Class, the Undergraduate Association, MIT Medical, all graduate residences, MIT alums, external entrepreneurs, etc… This year, collaboration within GSC, between Standing Committees such as Academic, Research and Careers (ARC) and Orientation, have significantly increased.

Beside these recurring items, GSC implemented a series of new programs. As part of the global Institute “Response to Katrina”, GSC, in collaboration with the Undergraduate Association, organized a “Katrina Orientation”: a series of events were organized to welcome those students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, who attended MIT for the 2005‐2006 year. Also, members of the Council participated in the different Institute committees that emerged to coordinate MIT’s response. The Council also voted a $15,000 special “Katrina Funding Board” allocation, in order to support initiatives by graduate students involved in the different reconstruction or related projects. This allocation was fully disbursed and used.

On a lighter note, summer 2005 saw the first edition of the “Summer Olympics”, a full day of sports activities aimed at bringing graduate residences together. This event, spearheaded by GSC’s Activities Committee, was a typical example of successful collaboration between the government bodies of all on‐campus dorms, as well as off‐campus representatives.

The first Summer Institute for Urban Leadership was also created in the summer of 2005. This new event, leadership and career‐development focused, drew MIT alums panelists from all over the country to discuss Urban Leadership. The event was very successful both in terms of attendance and in terms of collaboration with other partners, such the School of Architecture and Planning, the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, GSO, ASA, MIT Alumni Association, and Careers Office.

In 2005‐2006, significant renovations of the Muddy Charles Pub were implemented (flooring, paint, furniture, AV equipment), and a new manager was hired. This facelift will allow the Muddy to properly respond to the needs of the Graduate Community and to continue to operate its sccessful activities and events.

GSC collaborated with the Alumni Association on the first ever Graduate Alumni Convocation and Reunion. GSC contributed in three ways: financial support, publicity through the GSN, its mailing lists, website and posters, and presence with officers, Executive Committee members, representatives, and a GradRat booth on the day of the event. This event marked the renewal of strong links between GSC and the Alumni Association. The event was very successful, and will hopefully happen again.

The Council decided in 2005 to attempt a revival of the GSC Travel Grant. This program used to exist and provided gap funding for students lacking funding for research‐related travel purposes. This program had been cancelled in the past due to the unexpected consequence it created: MIT faculty would stop funding graduate student for travel expenses, always sending them to GSC. This caused not only a clutter in the application process, and an overall degraded situation as fewer graduate students would actually benefit from travel funds. In order to re‐instate the GSC Travel Grant, a group was formed within the Academic, Research and Careers committee to elaborate rules, procedures and a strict structure for the program, in collaboration with GSO, ISO, and the Office of the Provost. The first cycle of this revived program has been implemented and started for Fall 2006.

Financial Activities

In 2005‐2006, GSC addressed three financial issues that had not been addressed by previous administrations: the status of TechLink, the financial accountability of the Council, and the GSC ‐ SAFO operating agreement. In addition, an unexpected major financial challenge surfaced, and was diligently addressed by the officers.

For years, TechLink, a student organization whose goal is to bring graduate students from the different schools together in social and professionalevents, has been strongly linked to GSC. TechLink was featured in the GSC budget, and received a large amount of funding, similarly to the Standing Committees of the Council. The reason for this structure lies in the founding of TechLink as a joint venture between the Graduate Student Council and theSloan Senate (just like the Association of Student Activities, ASA, is a joint venture between GSC and the Undergraduate Association). However, over the recent years, financial support from the Sloan Senate appeared to be significantly lower than that of GSC, and reciprocal operating agreements were not being either agreed upon or implemented. In addition, TechLink received ASA recognition which allowed the group to apply for GSC Funding Board, LEF and ARCADE funding, sources that are not accessible to GSC Standing Committees. Criticism started building towards GSC and TechLink, GSC being accused of providing a preferential treatment to TechLink compared to other student groups on campus. Whereas past administrations of GSC have recognized the problem, none addressed it. GSC is proud to be a co‐founder of TechLink and re‐asserts its support, both moral, as we believe that TechLink’s goals are not addressed by other groups on campus except GSC, and financial, through the Funding Board, LEF, ARCADE, and partnership with GSC on specific projects. In 2005‐2006, it was decided (upon proposal of the officers and after vote of the Council in full assembly), to remove TechLink from our budget (which includes general accounts management and large source of funding), and to continue partnering with the organization in the way we collaborate with other student groups.

In order to prevent such future financial problems, and as a mean to increase transparency and accountability, the Council decided that abridged financial statements would be available on the GSC website to members of the MIT Community, so that budget line items and actual expenditures be easily compared.

GSC’s Funding Board operates in partnership with the Student Activities Financial Office (SAFO). SAFO handles reimbursement of expenditures by student groups who receive funding from GSC through the Funding Board. The GSC‐SAFO operating agreement between the two organizations was revised for the first time in 2005, and streamlined the collaboration process to enhance its efficiency, to make it easier for both sides to implement, and to make the process fair to graduate student groups.

In November 2005, serious inconsistencies in the GSC finances and budget were found by the officers, who decided to investigate the issue. It appeared that, over the four previous years, a total of about $300,000 in Institute funding was not accounted for in the actual funds transferred to GSC accounts. The officers intentionally kept the problem undisclosed to the Executive Committee, the Council and other MIT organizations while trying to understand the problem and find ways to solve it. The major concern was to prevent disruption of GSC activities and to prevent an unnecessary buzz about a very complex issue tht needed immediate attention. After four months of investigation, and collaboration with the GSO, DSL, the MIT Budget Office, SAFO, and past officers, the problem was not only understood but also solved. The root of the problem lied in GSC’s failing to properly transition from one administration to another. From one year to the following, what was a “goal” for Institute funding became an “expected” Institute funding: the GSC budget was then based on the false assumption that the Institute would fund GSC to a certain level. Regrettably, this error propagated over the years, and GSC has been operating with an increasing theoretical debt which had always been covered by unexpectedly increasing CareerFair revenues. This problem was corrected in a re‐evaluation of the 2005‐2006 budget, and a proper transition with the new GSC officers and re‐structure of the budget for 2006‐2007. Long term Institute funding for GSC is currently an item of discussion between its officers and GSO/DSL.

Representation

One major focus of the 2005‐2006 administration of the Graduate Student Council was to restore the representation level of Graduate Students in various Insitute Committees. Specific emphasis was put on recruitment of graduate students to represent the Council and the Graduate Community’s interests n Presidential Committees, Faculty Committees and Administrative Committees. A record 95% Institute Committee seats (more than 50) were filled as of May 2006. This allowed GSC not only to better advocate for Graduate Students but also to initiate tremendously effective partnerships wit other organizations on campus. Also, three newly created committees or advisory boards (MIT FCU advisory board, SLP’s Student Development Committee, and OCW advisory board) reached out to GSC to solicit student input and representation. The recruitment process was also streamlined, in collaboration with the Office of the President and Office of the Chair of the Faculty.

This noteworthy enhancement of representation at the Institute level was however counterbalanced by a below‐average recruitment of Council Representatives, which oscillated around 40‐50% seats filled (out of 88 seats), compared to 60‐70% over the past years. The causes for this shortfall are twofold: lack of manpower for recruitment (which was more oriented toward recruitment at Institute level) and large set of resignations after some controversial summer meetings.

Communication

In order to increase accountability and transparency towards our constituents, a thorough facelift of the GSC website was conducted. The hierarchy and layout of information was made more user‐friendly, content was updated to reflect the current state of the Council, documentation and archives were reorganized to be more quickly accessible to the Graduate Community. The level of depth of the website was also constrained, in order to minimize frustrating search and enhance the availability of the resources that fulfill the needs of those interactng with GSC (e.g. student groups that receive funding from GSC etc…). This rejuvenated communicated tool has since seen an increase in traffic and much positive feedback.

The Graduate Student News (GSN) also underwent serious enhancements in 2005‐2006. First, GSC conducted an effort to ensure that all 6,000+ graduate students at MIT receive GSN issues: through collaboration with MIT Mail Services and the Registrar’s office, and a new advertisement‐optimized cost model, it was made possible to mail a physical copy of every issue to every graduate student at their term address. In partnership with MIT Human Resources, issues were also distributed to the members of the Academic Council, Department Heads, and Graduate Administrators. GSN increased its visibility and recognition not only through increased distribution, but also through significant quality enhancements: a color, glossy cover, better layout, solidified internal structure. GSN issues now all feature a GSC report to maintain contact between the Council and the Graduate Community, a research profile which focuses on one or more graduate student’s work or laboratory, a graduate forum where readers are invited to contribute with letters, opinion pieces or editorials, and entertainment pages. The GSN website was also serious revamped, both in terms of layout and content. Recent issues of the GSN (May 2005 ‐ present) are now available online.

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