An Endorsement of SGA’s Referendum

On the surface, the upcoming proposal to separate the graduate schools from the Student Government Association (SGA) seems unnecessary. Since its founding, SGA represented Emory’s graduate students with an internal branch that had its own elected representatives and governed alongside undergraduate representatives.

According to SGA President Max Zoberman, this is “not a new issue.” Graduate students believe this system has never been equal and needs a dramatic shift to fix the structural inequalities in leadership. Currently, the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) is under the Student Government Association (SGA), meaning that the GSGA president has less power and opportunity than the SGA president, not to mention that more SGA legislator positions are reserved for undergraduates than for graduate students . This is the only prompt that brought about the proposed referendum. The Editorial Board initially had reservations about endorsing this referendum, but after conversations with the members of the leadership of SGA, we the Editorial Board of The Emory Wheel endorse this proposal and believe it will create the necessary structure to cater to the differing needs of undergraduate and graduate students.

At Emory, like most universities, the graduate and professional school experience is fundamentally different. Graduate students do not usually live on campus. Their priorities are drastically different from undergraduates. GSGA once proposed the creation of a daycare on campus; undergraduate representatives could not understand why such a plan would be necessary to fund. For a person with a family, this could be the difference between being able to pursue graduate studies and not. The age difference can (and will) determine how distinct students utilize their student government. Postgraduates and undergraduates need separate associations to cater to their respective needs.

Furthermore, the executive branch of SGA was never equipped to handle issues unique to graduate students. Undergraduates have historically had majority representation in SGA and currently fill 23 of the 39 legislative seats. Undergraduates tend to support other undergraduates while postgraduates tend to be apathetic towards or too busy to work on student government, resulting in fewer postgraduate members running. Not only do undergraduates compose the majority of the legislature, the executive branch “never [had] a graduate student at the top of SGA,” according to William Palmer, SGA Governance Committee chair. This is a structural inequality that requires large-scale constitutional and structural reform or the current, simpler solution — a complete split of the graduate and undergraduate student government associations into independent bodies.

Emory’s current structure is unique among its peer universities. Many institutions including Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, UPenn and Georgetown have separate governing bodies for graduate and undergraduate students.

Initially, we had concerns with technical parts of the transition, such as how university-wide organization (UWO) evaluations would be handled between the two different associations. According to SGA, UWO evaluations will be handled by the proposed Joint Governance Committee (JGC) of executive representatives from both the graduate and undergraduate schools if the referendum were to pass. The JGC is an effective solution to handling issues that require  consideration from both graduate and undergraduate students.

Another concern is the unusual structure of the current SGA. The Student Programming Council (SPC) is an executive agency established beneath the President of SGA. Organizations such as SPC can potentially lose funding due to the upcoming UWO evaluation: if the referendum passes, there is a higher chance that more organizations will not be considered university-wide.

Ria Sabnis, the president of SPC, currently represents a UWO that could lose funding. Regardless, she supports this referendum as a member of SGA and does not acknowledge that her stance is not in SPC’s interest. It is our opinion that a representative of a divisional council or executive agency should not prioritize the interests of SGA over their own agency. This is unacceptable and requires further insight as to how SGA itself is structured.

In the long run, the Editorial Board believes this referendum will create a useful separation and resolve issues currently affecting graduate students. Over the years, this issue has been revisited to exhaustion. The creation of a separate Graduate Student Government Association is the only clear-cut solution to a perennial problem.

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board.