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Community Content: Former GPSA Members Explain Resignations

Dear GPSA Executive Board and Assembly,

Why We Are Resigning from the Graduate and Professional Student Association

In our involvement in the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) we have learned one thing: that the GPSA cannot effectively represent, advocate and serve students as it is presently constituted. It cannot fulfill its mission at present.

We have found that GPSA meetings are not meetings where decisions about student concerns are made. The University does not appear to take the GPSA seriously, most of the student population does not take them seriously, and we no longer can take our involvement with them seriously. Additionally, there have been several attempts to remove us from our offices throughout our time serving in the GPSA, creating an unwelcome environment.

Given this, we must turn in our resignations as to continue to work in this organization would starkly contrast with our belief in democratic process and be counterproductive to our desire to give the student body a significant voice at Penn State. The below members of the GPSA Assembly and Executive Board immediately resign from the positions noted. We are not alone in our frustration with GPSA’s conduct. Other colleagues that we respectfully consider allies, such as Colleen Unroe and others, who were important and valuable delegates whose voices were lost to us by their departure, resigned due to similar frustrations.

Before leaving we want to share a few facts of which we think all graduate and professional students should be aware.

  1. The GPSA is not governed by democratic principles. Committee Chairs serve at the prerogative of the Executive Vice President. The assembly meeting agendas are set by the Executive Vice President who decides what comes to the floor, which can limit important discussions or issues. The President claims absolute control over all communications that go out to the graduate and professional student body even though the GPSA Constitution gives the Executive Secretary control over the newswire. This clearly is an infringement on the right to a free press. As it stands now, those of us resigning are not sure of the purpose of the Assembly other than to implement decisions made by certain administrators in old main and or other sections of the university structure.
  2. The GPSA cannot take criticism. The hostile reaction to the recent survey demonstrates that the GPSA is afraid of feedback from the student body at large. Although the survey was aimed only at getting general information about how students view the GPSA, the leadership within the GPSA reacted aggressively. We are publishing the results of the survey online for all to see. Although we hope that the GPSA can learn from what the students had to say, we are afraid they won’t.
  3. The GPSA has a budget of approximately $60,000 and expenditures are not transparent. This budget is at the discretion of the Treasurer. Although certain joint sponsorships come to the assembly to be voted on, these decisions do not make up the bulk of the budget. Those who are resigning had to continually ask for information on costs and attendance figures of events. While we instituted discussions of budget reform, we remain skeptical of their implementation in the future. We found that Grad Cup cost $10,000 dollars last year. In other words, almost 20% of the GPSA annual budget was spent on 500 individuals, approximately 8% of the graduate and professional student body for activities such as potato sack and three legged races. Another 25% of the budget was spent on the Winter Gala, Fall Mixer party, tailgates, a Luau and the Summer Retreat. Assembly meetings put more focus on these events than the concerns of graduate and professional students. While we support social events, we can certainly make them more cost effective and most certainly need to serve a wider diversity of graduate and professional students. We have suggested using our funds or finding creative funding for conference registrations, emergency childcare, mental health support and have suggested reaching out more to students in need. We have shown evidence of other universities’ student government organizations providing these types of services, but have been told this is impossible or exceedingly limited here at Penn State.

None of us want to step away from giving students a stronger voice at Penn State. We plan to continue working towards opening and democratizing Penn State through more effective avenues. We ask that anyone who is interested in supporting this cause join the Penn State Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Graduate Students have a home in the AAUP.

We will continue to work with individuals and groups throughout Penn State to try to improve the situation of graduate, undergraduate, fixed-term and tenure faculty and other residents. We’ll work with other organizations on campus and within the community to work towards bringing a better quality of life. Together we hope to make this university a place that welcomes diversity and pledges to work on creating the fair and equitable world that we all deserve.

While we are saddened that we were blocked from making more meaningful changes in our time, we remain supportive of our allies in the Assembly, the Executive Board and Administrators within Old Main and throughout many colleges and departments on campus: Enica Castañeda, Nathaniel Porter, Alison Franklin, Jon Reader, Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, and Philip Burlingame are a few among others who have demonstrated that although we share differences of opinions that we can work constructively without personal animosity.

We wish them luck and will continue to support their work in creating an environment where graduate and professional students are truly served, represented and advocated for in important matters that affect their lives and the lives of their dependents.

Finally we are disappointed that some here might view this as a victory were we truly see it as a lost opportunity to build a better, more vibrant Graduate and Professional Student Association.

Thank you and good luck,

Jeffrey Masko, Executive Secretary (will retain his position on Graduate Council)
Aparna Parikh, College of Earth & Mineral Sciences Delegate
Kevin Reuning, Liberal Arts College Delegate
Mehmet Ali Doke, At-Large Delegate
Morteza Karimzadeh, At-large Delegate, (will retain his position on Graduate Council as well as
GPSA Liaison to the Student Health Insurance Advisory Board)
Spencer Carran, Intercollege Graduate Degree Program Delegate

About the Author

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