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Administration's undergraduates-first philosophy ostracizes grad students

Last week, 50 graduate students marched on Nassau Hall to make sure the D-Bar would remain open to all graduate students. It's both hopeful and distressing that the graduate student body has been forced to mobilize on issues that seriously affect the quality of graduate student life. It's hopeful, because we are developing a voice that is slowly being heard and recognized by the administration; it's distressing, because in this, our centennial year, the University is not reaffirming the vitality of the graduate school, but threatening it with precipitous actions like restricting D-Bar patronage and, even more shocking, discussing converting the Graduate College into an undergraduate dorm.

The idea of transforming the G.C. into an undergrad residential college began in the University Planning Commission as one "solution" for housing the 500 new undergrads brought in by the Wythes Committee Report. The G.C.'s occupancy is 500. Problem solved. But those 500 spaces in the G.C. are full and have been so for the past three years. When a room in the G.C. opens up, it is quickly taken. Apparently the G.C.'s popularity is its best-kept secret: President Shapiro recently mused that demand for the G.C. is diminishing since more graduate students are married.


As a Princeton graduate alumnus, Shapiro can rest assured that the G.C. is not just filled to capacity. It overflows with activities that offer prospective graduate students a vital social base on a campus where party life revolves around drinking on Prospect Avenue. The G.C.'s House Committee and House Advisors work hard to make life at the grad college fun and fulfilling by planning study breaks, responding to residents' concerns, running the D-Bar and organizing large scale social events and dances that are open to the entire University.

More than two-thirds of all entering graduate students spend a year or more in the G.C.. It is our residential college, the gateway through which we enter Princeton and within which we develop lasting friendships. For that reason, the administration may understand why even talking about closing the G.C. to graduate students and turning it into an undergraduate hall is distasteful and painful. Moreover, raising such plans just as the graduate school turns 100 is plain insulting. It demonstrates that graduate students are excluded from the University's decision-making processes unless they literally march on Nassau Hall to make their voices heard.

Even a hypothetical plan for changing the G.C. should have first been brought before G.C. residents. Instead it was circulated among the undergraduate colleges where the main objection had nothing to do with graduate opinion: The G.C. was considered too distant a location for undergrads. Not to worry, however. The University would offer shuttles every 10 minutes to ferry undergrads to campus. Ironically, the expanded shuttle service is what graduate students themselves have lobbied for. Now, it's a policy tool for propelling a process devoid of graduate input.

Graduate students cannot acquiesce to the culture that asks us to be seen in precepts, but not heard in Nassau Hall. The D-Bar situation has dragged on because we were quiet throughout the fall. We cannot dismiss the proposed plans for the G.C. as rumors or a project that won't happen any time soon. We've got Princeton's ear and should press for this idea to be buried permanently. Shapiro holds office hours and graduate students who want to stop the G.C. from turning into the "U.C." can tell him so on Tuesday, March 21, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. We can explain that any proposals that potentially affect graduate student life should be immediately aired in the Graduate Student Government or another public forum.

And we can ask for a greater institutional presence in the University's decision making. Providing four new graduate alumni trustees, elected by graduate students, would consolidate long-term graduate student representation and anchor Princeton in the graduate program that distinguishes it from being "an excellent Swarthmore." These young graduate trustees would make grad student input a priority, rather than an afterthought.

Instead of covertly dismantling the social institutions available to graduate students, the University should commit itself to strengthening its century-old graduate school. Shapiro and Dick Spies GS '72 (chair of the University Planning Commission), should guarantee publicly that the possible Graduate College conversion they've discussed privately will be taken off the table permanently. Then they can bring the shuttles on, help us to elect four young graduate trustees, and reaffirm in this centennial year that Princeton stands behind its graduate students, the graduate school and our Graduate College. That would be cause for celebration. Jason Brownlee is a politics graduate student from Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at