Prepared by Eric Weese, GSC President, 2006-2007
This past year has seen many important developments at the GSC. First, the largest new project in many years – the Grad Gala – is set to be a great success, with about 700 graduate students and their guests attending the sold-out event. Second, continued advocacy regarding the new graduate dorm (NW35) helped to ensure that its scale would not be reduced, despite significant budget overruns. Third, new internal policies resulted in a more accurate budget and will hopefully increase student involvement with the GSC in future years. A full description of ’06-’07 GSC activities follows:
The largest single GSC event this year will be the Grad Gala, with a budget (including ticket sales) of approximately $70,000. There is every indication that it will be a great success, and hopefully funds can be found so as to make the Gala an annual fixture of MIT graduate student life. Other events being run for the first time this year included a summer picnic and a hypnotist comedian show. Recurring events, such as the GSC ski trip, Acoustic Barbeque, and Harvard-MIT parties, continued to be extremely popular. To encourage collaboration between graduate dorms, as well as between dorms and off-campus students, a number of successful joint events were organized. Coordination problems with dorms, however, caused significant issues with the fall Harvard-MIT party, and attention should be directed to improving GSC-dorm communication in the future.
Orientation ’06-’07 was extremely successful, with high participation, several new events, and significant positive feedback from participating students. The most substantial addition to the orientation schedule was the Carmen Sandiego Dance Party, which drew over 900 people. Other innovations were a Six Flags trip and an excursion to an orchard for an afternoon of apple, peach, and berry picking. As in previous years, some events were held in collaboration with graduate residence halls: the Rock n’ Roast BBQ, outdoor movie screenings, Dance Fusion V, and the Orientation Carnival were the most notable of these. Finally, the Orientation committee spearheaded the Delano Spring Orientation Party held in Walker Memorial, the first Spring Orientation event of its kind. The committee also continued perennially successful events such as the Harbor Cruise, Prudential Skywalk, Welcome Reception Under the Dome, and Hiking Trip.
On the more academic side, the Academic Career Series and Professional Development Series continued to provide valuable information to graduate students, while Grad School 101 and the International Mentorship Program served incoming students.
Although most of the problems with the construction of NW35 were resolved during ’05-’06, budget overruns prompted the administration to cut a floor from the blueprints, eliminating almost 100 beds. Fortunately, this decision was reversed less than a month later due to some combination of student and faculty pressure, personnel changes, and the realities of economies of scale. Continued vigilance, however, is required to ensure that in the future the administration does not secretly and arbitrarily change course even after explicitly promising to consult students regarding any changes.
For several years, the annual GSC stipends presentation to the administration has relied on data collected in 2002. In fall ’06, however, the Office of Institutional Research was starting a new graduate student survey focusing on academic issues. After some discussion with students, OIR agreed to include cost of living questions on these surveys. OIR graduate student surveys will be run on an ongoing basis, and thus this new system should produce a more consistent stream of data.
Some of this new data was used in the annual GSC stipend presentation, where the administration approved the GSC’s request for a 3.5% increase in stipends, as well as lower health insurance premiums for students with families. Unfortunately, the student life fee continues to be billed to graduate students in such a way that they are forced to pay out of post-tax earnings: this results in over $100,000 of unnecessary taxes being paid.
In ’05-’06, student activism had drawn attention to the rents paid by on-campus students. Over the summer, the Dean of Student Life convened a subcommittee to examine the way rents were set and to make recommendations for future years. The committee included students for every graduate dorm, and was given access to Housing Department financial data. A final report showed that demand for many on-campus room types has been steadily decreasing and that family housing is becoming less desirable due to decaying infrastructure. Recommendations included more financial support for some aspects of the housing system, and ensuring that rent increases do not continually outpace stipend increases. The rent increase from ’06-’07 to ’07-’08 was limited to 3.5%, likely due to the work of this group.
Another administration subcommittee was charged with examining the possibility of housing couples without children in single student dorms, and students suggested that the issue of co-ed suitemates also be considered. The subcommittee concluded that efficiencies were unsuitable for housing couples, and that taking a bed away from an MIT student to house a non-student was also undesirable. The option of having co-ed suitemates drew a more positive response from the subcommittee, but met significant criticism from some single graduate dorms. The final conclusion was that a pilot program should be run in Edgerton and Tang, whereby students in those dorms could request to live with a co-ed suitemate.
Dental care is a recurring topic, and, despite significant effort on the part of a number of students both this year and previously, tangible results are somewhat scarce. MIT Medical, however, did show some interest in discussing the possibility of using MIT Dental. This is a new development, and future advocacy targeted in this direction might be productive.
In response to regular complaints, MIT Cable proposed major changes to the on-campus cable system. An initial survey of on-campus students showed widespread opposition to this proposal. A second survey was done to establish what channels were in highest demand, and what students might be willing to pay to obtain them. The channel lineup on MIT Cable is now far superior to that that was available at the beginning of the year, with 14 new channels. This outcome was due in large part to the extensive cooperation between numerous student governments at all stages of the process.
Finally, cuts were proposed to the MIT shuttle network, but students convinced the administration to reorganize the system so as to increase the level of service provided at the most important times of day.
Historically there were significant inaccuracies in the GSC budget, with revenues from Career Fair dramatically underestimated and Institute support radically overestimated. In addition, many line items in the budget were much smaller or larger than necessary, resulting a sharp divergence between proposed spending and actual spending. To correct these problems retrospective financial statements were drawn up for the first time, and data on actual expenditures in the ’04-’05 fiscal year was used to improve the accuracy of the ’06-’07 budget. In addition a new simplified format was introduced to make the budget easier to understand, with a goal of decreasing the number of financial errors caused by misinterpretation. Finally, financial regulations were added to the GSC bylaws, in order to clarify how the budget was to be approved and modified, and who was responsible for approving disbursements. One measure of the success of these policy changes is that the level of unspent funds carried forward by the GSC is likely to be low relative to previous years.
Due to increased revenues, the total funds available for student groups through the GSC Funding Board was increased to $125k, a level that had not been reached for several years. In addition, several short-term Public Service Fellowships (IAP or summer) were funded through the MIT Public Service Center for graduate students with an appropriate project.
A decision to restart the GSC travel grant program was made in ’05; however, due to budget issues and organizational delays, the first grants were not actually made until fall ’06. For ’06-’07, $15k is available to fund conference presentations of at least 15 students. Great care was taken to ensure that those funded would not otherwise have been able to travel to the conference. The grant program received a very positive reaction, and hopefully there will be sufficient funding to continue it in future years.
This year a decision was made to mail all issues of the GSN to all graduate students, allowing the magazine to reach a much larger audience. Building on improvements made in ’05-’06, the ’06-’07 GSN featured both more and higher-quality content, drawing praise from both administrators and students. To facilitate recruitment, one recommendation is to hire one or more student workers to handle layout and other less desirable tasks. This would allow the editors to concentrate on higher-level issues, and further improve the magazine.
For ’06-’07 an ad hoc Diversity Committee was formed, helping to organize several important events, including Converge (a preview weekend for minority students), an evening discussion session on race and identity, and Peer2Peer diversity training. There was considerable debate regarding whether to create a permanent Diversity standing committee, but in the end this proposal was not approved. Identifying how the GSC could best handle diversity issues should be a priority for the coming year.
There are a total of 82 GSC representative slots available. Historically, 60-70% of these slots have been filled at any one time. Due to internal GSC problems, however, in ’05-’06 fewer than half of the slots were filled. This low number of representatives was indicative of a general lack of interest in the GSC: for the ’06 GSC officer elections, only one candidate was nominated, and it took three election meetings over the course of a month to fill the four officer positions. In contrast, for the ’07 officer elections there were five nominations, and every GSC committee chair position was filled by election night. Representative participation has also returned to standard levels, despite the fact that this was not an area of special attention. A significant recruitment campaign in ’07-’08 might well be able to raise participation above 70%.
A related topic is that of student participation on Institute committees. In ’05-’06, a very dedicated recruitment campaign filled almost all available committee positions; however, many of those students chose to serve only for one year. Rather than spend large amounts of time – again – recruiting students to serve on these committees, an internal policy change was made. Previously, GSC representatives were allocated $500/year for funding social activities, provided that they had good attendance at GSC meetings. Now, GSC representatives are allocated $1000/year, but in addition to attending GSC meetings they must also volunteer for an Institute committee or arrange an appropriate substitute activity. Hopefully this incentive will ensure a steady supply of students interested in serving on Institute committees, as well as increasing the number of Institute committee representatives attending GSC meetings.
In many years, GCMs were used mostly as an opportunity for committee chairs to inform reps about planned activities and solicit volunteers. The ’06-’07 GCMs had a very different objective, with the majority of every meeting spent debating resolutions, and very little time spent describing activities that were underway. Instead of a committee chair merely announcing a new event, they were expected to submit a resolution adding a line item for the event to the GSC budget. This new approach was most evident when Career Fair revenues were more than $50k higher than originally estimated. In most previous years, those funds would likely have gone unused, or would have been distributed as decided by the officers or the Executive Committee. This year, however, the decisions on which individual events to fund – and how much funding to allocate to each one – were made by the GSC representatives.
A total of 34 resolutions were brought before the Council, of which 23 passed as presented, 7 passed with amendments, 2 failed, and 2 are still pending. This is almost certainly a record amount of legislative activity. Of these resolutions, 2 were bylaw amendments, 5 concerned official GSC positions on issues, 1 established an ad-hoc committee, and the remaining 23 dealt with the ’06-’07 budget. Goals for ’07-’08 GCMs could include diversifying resolutions presented beyond current financial issues, as well as encouraging representatives to speak and vote against resolutions when they are not in favour of them. Although the GSC summary of Robert’s Rules of Order was significantly revised over the past year, representatives might still benefit from further training on parliamentary process.
The GSC received the “Academic Governance” award at the ’06 NAGPS national conference for its advocacy regarding NW35. This continues a long history of GSC activities being recognized by national awards. In addition, this year the GSC hosted the NAGPS regional conference for the northeastern US, helping to build NAGPS support in an area of the country where membership has generally been somewhat weak. GSC members also traveled to Washington to support NAGPS lobbying efforts, and the possibility of purchasing a lifetime NAGPS membership is currently under discussion. For the coming year, the possibility of applying to host the ’08 NAGPS national conference should be seriously considered.