GSC not represenative
Having reached a point of utter frustration with the present focus and tactics of the Graduate Student Council, I have just resigned as one of my department's GSC representatives. Over the course of the summer and early autumn, the GSC -- the only organization mandated to represent the interests of the entire graduate community to the administration -- has been increasingly used as a vehicle to extend the personal political agendas of some of its members.
In the past, the GSC has generally voiced public support for reforms to benefit both large and small groups of graduate students and has provided the best sort of representation possible in a community where such a wide diversity of opinion exists. Unfortunately, the positive effects of many GSC members to plan social events, revitalize the graduate newspaper and examine housing and medical problems are presently being overshadowed by ridiculous political posturing on the part of some elements of the leadership. In short, I believe the GSC as a whole no longer serves its constituency and has, by now, lost any of the good will and respect its formerly even-handed challenges had engendered among the Institute's administrative officers, deans, and faculty members.
Most of us realize that the issue of the GSC is not a particularly hot topic among the graduate students, who generally harbor great apathy towards existing forms of student government. Many graduate students justifiably claim that their impossibly busy lives afford no spare time or energy to force the slow-moving machinery of the Institute to address the legitimate academic, professional, and adult personal issues faced by the graduate population. Others complain loudly about advisors, departments, and the Institute while uniformly scorning any existing student government organization and its heroic or feeble attempts to effect change.
In 1988, I realized that I was becoming a member of the second group -- increasingly vocal about the generally poor quality of life for graduate students and quite adept at constantly badgering my beleaguered GSC representative about his voting patterns. When I finally joined the GSC to address some of the problems on campus, I found a group of energetic, articulate, and concerned graduate students who had no delusions about the poor public image of the GSC, but who were committed to improving graduate life. In the past two years, we have passed resolutions on taxation and stipends; examined housing, athletic and medical programs; organized and provided financial support for social activities; and challenged administrators and deans to answer tough questions about a wide range of issues.
Given the full slate of graduate student problems which face the GSC, imagine my surprise to find an October agenda item calling for a resolution to save the Cambridge and Somerville Alcohol Rehabilitation Center. In the overall context of our membership in the greater Boston community, one must certainly support the content of such a resolution, but I find it hard to believe that my constituency is concerned about this issue or that anyone outside MIT really cares about the GSC's opinion on this matter.
Although I am frustrated by GSC's focus on matters irrelevant to the graduate student population, I am even more disturbed by the shrill tenor of recent GSC debates. The GSC seems to have adopted a militant adversarial relationship with the Institute, perhaps as an ill-reasoned attempt to force people to take notice of the group.
My disillusionment with GSC tactics became entrenched when we passed a much-publicized resolution on committees. Although many aspects of the resolution were reasonable, the document included language insisting on our "right" to approve of the very existence of Institute committees on which graduate students are asked to serve. GSC already screens graduate student members of Institute committees in a process that many view as imposing a political litmus test; now the GSC seems to seek the opportunity to give its political stamp of approval to each committee.
My GSC colleagues seem to have forgotten that MIT is a private university and that we are fortunate to have graduate student representation on Institute committees in the first place. Furthermore, it is truly naive to believe that we gain any political ground by insisting on our "right" to evaluate Institute committees. Our membership in the MIT community grants the right to make responsible challenges to unjust or inane Institute policies, but we must exercise that right in a manner that demonstrates a desire for level-headed negotiation with
the administration and for a relationship based on mutual respect.
The GSC was lucky this time, and its frontal assault on the Institute's policy on committees has borne some fruit. But the price for this small victory has been the alienation of some of the faculty, deans, and administrators who control nearly every aspect of the graduate students' lives. That leaves roughly 5000 graduate students -- the people who spend the most time at MIT, perform the bulk of hands-on research, bear a hefty portion of the teaching load, and struggle against enormous odds to maintain family and personal relationships -- without an effective advocacy organization representing their concerns.
I can only hope that GSC members more concerned with advancing the interests of graduate students than their own political agendas can force some changes in the GSC over the next few months. Otherwise, the GSC may forgo any possibility of being taken seriously by either the graduate student population or the administration.
Carolyn Ruppel is a graduate student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.