By MANI THANGADURAI
The week of March 27 brought the elections for the 2018-19 UT Student Government and an outstanding group of young student candidates will now lead UT in the coming year. Of course, one fact which cannot be overlooked is that historically the Student Government administration has been exclusively occupied by undergraduate students. According to Stephanie Russell Krebs, Dean of Students, these students pay a Student Government fee of $96 per semester, every semester, and are given more of the opportunities to run for positions. These students therefore have the power to make any and all decisions which affect campus and university life for all students, including the graduate students who don’t have an opportunity to run or have their voices heard.
The reason why graduate students don’t have the ability to run in these elections is because they aren’t given the option of paying the fee. It also seems to be taken for granted that students in graduate school on the whole just don’t have the time to devote to this endeavor, with their focus primarily being on their advanced academics and career progression. However, as a graduate student myself I haven’t shied away from getting involved on campus. There are many advantages to getting involved, including personal and potential leadership development which can be beneficial for students of all ages. Not all graduate students share my point of view, but there are a few students who aren’t afraid to take on that challenge and balance their academic work with extra-curricular development. I therefore believe that graduate students should be given the option of paying the Student Government fee if they want the option of being a part of the Student Government body. Graduate students have in the past been able to lead various individual organizations on campus like the Business Analytics Club. I myself have served as president of the United Nations Student Alliance.
Sabrina Schmidt is in the first graduate year of the MBA 4+1 Program here at UT, and is still actively involved with her sorority, Sigma Lambda Gamma.
“My involvement with my sorority has always been consistent, and I credit Sigma Lambda Gamma for my professional networking connections,” Schmidt said. “Personally I wouldn’t have been able to handle the extra responsibility of being in Student Government, but I believe that there are many 4+1 students and other graduate students who would love the option of being involved in student government. This would give us another opportunity to be leaders on our campus, to be represented and to have our voices heard.”
According to Tim Harding, the associate dean of career development and engagement, graduate students are already well-represented on campus via some select organizations.
“I have seen more than a few undergraduates who enter the graduate program and decide for themselves that they are done with the undergraduate life,” Harding said. “Simply put, graduate students who are committed to getting involved on campus are very rare, and market research has to be done in order to explore the option of whether or not they would like to be involved in Student Government.”
The issue of commitment is something which does stick with a number of graduate students, not to mention the issue of finances. Edward Metzger, a MS Finance student, is also a resident assistant (RA) on campus.
“If I see myself having something to contribute to Student Government, I would consider it because it is a great resume builder,” Metzger said. “However, I have to make sure that I have the time for that and I also have to take career opportunities into question.”
When I applied for readmission to UT for my second master’s program, as on the first occasion, I wasn’t given the option of paying the $96 Student Government fee. I am also aware that due to the length of our programs which is normally two years or even less, we may not have much time to make a long-lasting contribution. So, we definitely cannot run for the top jobs of president and vice president. However, if there were a chance for second-year students to become class senators or campus-wide senators for example, this would definitely be an opportunity for us to have some representation and make ourselves seen and heard. I always say that as graduate students we are just as much a part of this university as the undergraduates, and it has never seemed fair that we haven’t at least been given the option to pay the fee and potentially be more involved.
I’m not saying that graduate students should be compelled to pay the fee, especially if in all likelihood most of us will choose not to be involved. However, we cannot address the issue of school spirit and unity without looking at the dichotomy between the two groups and at least considering the potential benefits of increased graduate involvement. I always believe that graduate students like myself have a lot to offer in terms of experience and perspective. Given the option, we can certainly contribute to the smooth running of Student Government while also making sure that our voices are heard on many issues. This is especially important since policies drafted by Student Government have the potential to affect us with regard to campus life. As UT students, albeit a lot older, we have a great deal of leadership potential and we are collectively a resource which can make a great contribution to the improvement of our university. An attempt must be made to tap that potential.
Mani Thangadurai can be reached at email@example.com