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Exercising the grad student voice

At the Feb. 14 U-Council meeting, graduate and undergraduate students joined together in opposing the planned closing of Chancellor Green Cafe. Graduate U-Councillor Brad Bailey challenged the chair to demonstrate evidence of student involvement in the decision and Karthick Ramakrishnan, president of Graduate Students for Local Activism, proposed transforming Chancellor Green into a centrally located home for the Third World Center. Along with a slew of statements by undergraduate student leaders, Bailey and Ramakrishnan's words demonstrated the deep concern the Chancellor Green plan evokes among all students, graduate and undergraduate alike. Moreover, they showed that the time has passed in which graduate students are to be seen and not heard. It is vital that on major issues affecting student life graduate students become more active and better integrated in the University's decision-making bodies.

One of the most direct ways for graduate students to gain leverage on their interests is through Princeton's committee system. Although the University's committees may seem bureaucratic and distant from work for graduate students, these groups shape the parameters of the grad school experience. For example, the Priorities Committee, which sets room and board fees and from academic year 1998-1999 to academic year 1999-2000, raised the cost of living in the Grad College by 10 percent.

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In its next meeting, the U-Council will consider the recommendations of the Wythes report which calls for increasing the size of the undergraduate student body while holding the number of graduate students constant and continuing to offer small precepts. Who will teach the extra sections needed to meet the increased demand?

The new campus center, the Wythes proposals and the proposed closing of Chancellor Green show that the University is undergoing very important, ambitious and long-reaching changes in its institutional development. Some of these projects hold great promise for enriching this community, but that potential, and the continued vitality of the Graduate School, depend upon more active participation by graduate students at all levels in the University. To communicate our needs and interests (post-enrollment, dental insurance, the D-Bar, neonatal care) we must speak with a broader voice and listen with a more attentive ear.

Through the Graduate Student Government, graduate students are currently better equipped than ever to proactively influence the University's growth and development. The GSG (formerly the GSU) draws its representatives from Princeton's academic departments, residential organizations and multicultural groups. This year, the GSG has demonstrated an unprecedented strength of purpose, orchestrating an extensive survey of graduate student health concerns and a hugely successful Valentine's Party as well as frequently co-sponsoring other graduate student events. The GSG offers a cohesive forum for all graduate students to discuss their concerns and, like the USG, chooses its representatives to the University's committees.

At Monday's meeting, the U-Council amended its charter to enable the GSG to choose graduate student representatives to the U-Council. The U-Council's decision recognizes the GSG as the primary organization for articulating graduate student concerns. Other staff and administration leaders can follow suit and approach the GSG for graduate input in policy-making. Just as the USG links responsible representation to the large constituency of undergraduates, the GSG provides a channel for bringing graduate students together in working with both undergraduates and administrators. This link will play a valuable role in shaping Princeton's future planning.

Greater coordination between the undergraduate and graduate governments and the administration is crucial for reforming the disconnected decision-making process that afflicts the Chancellor Green project. Strong institutions need committed participants. Graduate students have often felt ignored and ineffectual in their relations to other branches of the University. Now, as opportunities for greater graduate student influence emerge, we must seize them and work for more. Those who are concerned about improving student life and want to share their ideas should seek a position on the U-Council in upcoming elections held within the GSG. Other ways to become involved include running for a position on the GSG executive board, serving as your department's representative to the GSG, working on the activities committee for your dorm (GC, Butler, Hibben/Magee) or joining Graduate Students for Local Activism.

The U-Council meeting on Chancellor Green demonstrated that if students want to influence the changes shaping Princeton they must speak up. The best way for graduate students to lobby for their interests is by actively engaging the U-Council and the University's other policy-making bodies. With greater involvement, graduate students can transcend the image of being only preceptors and reclusive researchers and make our voices heard. Jason Brownlee is a politics graduate student from Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at brownlee@princeton.edu.

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