GSA lobbying illustrates need for dialogue

Complaints of budget restrictions may have limited Yale’s movement on undergraduate financial aid, but the University has not ignored the finances of graduate students, whose stipends will rise by 5.5 percent this year. For those studying humanities and social sciences, this translates to about $19,000; for those in the natural sciences, considerably more.

We are glad to see that, tuition aside, the University acknowledges the pressures that come with the rising costs of life at Yale. And though it is frustrating that officials deny the possibility of expanded undergraduate financial aid with one breath and fund three years’ worth of graduate summer fellowships with the next, we find it difficult to argue against subsidies for research or child care. But the degrees of credit given to student organizations for this expanded support highlight two different ways of lobbying for reform, and they suggest that one of the two gets better results.

Yale comment on the issue credited the work of some, but not all, of the graduate students themselves. They strenuously praised the Graduate Student Assembly, while studiously ignoring the Graduate Employees and Students Organization. The distinction was conspicuous because, excepting unionization, both bodies campaigned for similar measures — GSA through petition, GESO through protest.

This is a shame, because many issues GESO has taken on deserve more attention from the administration than they have received. The lack of knowledgeable TAs for some undergraduate courses, the lack of diversity among tenured faculty and the lack of jobs available for graduates pursuing a career in academics are all legitimate concerns without easy answers, and Yale has yet to foster dialogue to address them. But the success of GSA lobbying efforts suggests a GESO monologue is not the best way to fill this void, either.

One major limit on GESO’s effectiveness is the makeup of the organization itself. Dominated by graduate teachers in the humanities and social sciences, GESO has difficulty appealing to graduate researchers in the natural sciences, especially when castigating them for making more money. By contrast, the secretary and treasurer of GSA study cellular and molecular physiology and cell biology, respectively, and assembly committees see representation from a broad range of disciplines. GESO’s aims frequently do reflect those of the graduate student body as well as those of GSA, but GESO cannot currently claim that it speaks for the student body.

For the administration, of course, the primary difference between GSA and GESO lies in control. Like the Yale College Council, GSA does not fight its status as an advisory body lobbying for student concerns. GESO, however, goes out of its way to demand, not to lobby. And while we admire the tenacity of GESO organizers, they must understand that demonizing the University is a less efficient way to achieve progress than working toward mutual compromise.

Administrators took a similar tack when announcing Yale’s divestment from the Sudan, lauding the calm legwork of the Law School’s Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic without a word for the somewhat shriller protests by the Undergraduate Organizing Committee. GESO has frequently partnered with the UOC in recent years, but we now ask that they stop to think whether their means are justified by their ends.

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