Give the Graduate Senate a Chance, Not Secession

“Give the Graduate Senate a Chance, Not Secession”

Law Street Journal Article (January 14, 1991)

By Randol Schoenberg

In a few days, the SBA will take a poll of the student body to determine whether or not they should try to secede from the USC Student Senate. The issue is likely not one that has caught the attention of the average law student, but it has been a subject of heated controversy in the SBA for the past four months.

The SBA is nearly unanimous in its support for secession of some kind, yet I believe not enough consideration has been given to the idea of a Graduate Student Senate. For that reason I oppose complete secession and support forming a separate Graduate Senate.

The proposal of Student Senate President Steve Webber to form a new Graduate Student Senate has been in the works for nearly a year. This week the Graduate Assembly of the Student Senate will hold a meeting to accept proposals for the new graduate student governing body.  One of those proposals will come from our own Student Senator Michelle Milner. In two weeks the proposals will be debated by the Graduate Assembly and one will be selected as the blueprint for the new senate. In February there will be a university-wide referendum and if the results are positive, the new Senate may begin operating this Spring.

I support the new Senate because I think it will be the best way to address the concerns of the SBA and of law students as members of the University community. The primary justification given for secession is that our student programming fees are not returned for use in the Law School. I am sure law students are not the only ones who feel that they are not getting their money’s worth. It is likely that other graduate students share our feelings that most of the programming activities are geared to undergraduates. If that is the case, then a graduate senate could provide a good forum for planning activities that are directed at graduate students.

The SBA has plenty of money already for funding student activities at the Law Center. Invariably much of the money that the SBA does have is wasted on failed events or distributed to small organizations. Last year the SBA approved an allocation to pay for the transportation cost of students working on the Mariel Cubans project. The members of the SBA were largely indifferent when I pointed out that they had just approved an allocation $100 more than what was requested. There is no shortage of money at SBA, only a shortage of ideas for using the money.

We stand to lose a great deal if we push ahead with secession instead of supporting the Graduate Student Senate. Primarily we lose any say we might have in the creation of the new senate. Other graduate students will not be very responsive to our needs if we have declared our intention to pull out our funds from the new body.

Secession will not be an amicable divorce. We cannot expect the other graduate students to pay much attention to us once we have withdrawn from their body. We will not be invited to any graduate student events or be able to debate any graduate student issues. One of our only avenues for airing our grievances to the University will be closed.

We have very much to gain from a new graduate senate. Foremost will be increased representation commensurate with our size. The Law Center is likely to hold a great deal of power among the graduate students because our school is one of the largest and most cohesive. One proposal would be to increase the number of representatives so that there is a chance for a law student to be on the senate for more than one year and gain the experience needed to be President or Vice-President.   One problem that we have now is that our senator is always a neophyte and is therefore unlikely to hold significant positions in the student government. A new Senate could solve that problem.

The problems that the proponents of secession are quibbling over are minor ones. We should at least give the new Graduate Senate a chance to prove itself. Steven Webber has already announced that he will propose that law students who work as researchers be treated like other graduate students and get paid appropriately. The Graduate Program Board also wants to play a more active role in bringing grad students together. I for one would welcome the opportunity to meet other graduate students, and I would hope that we would act in such a way that they would also like to meet us. That is why I am voting to support the formation of a separate Graduate Senate.

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