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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration


What Administrators Did To The Graduate Student Association

Editor’s Note: This blog post originally appeared on the website of “Safeguarding Traditions Of Penn State,” which was the precursor to Safeguard Old State. It appears here for posterity.

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If students doubt that Penn State administration’s involvement in UPUA or “committee appointed” positions rather than democratically elected ones, we don’t need to wait to see what will happen with UPUA v. USG. We already know that student representation and advocacy has suffered, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) being the sad example.

Last semester, during the height of the tensions between USG and UPUA, GSA’s President Brian Borawski endorsed PSU Stop!’s mission and offered the story of his own organizations decline over the past decade thanks to meddling by Student Affairs.

I encourage all to read the letter in full, available here, but for the sake of this article I’ll at least excerpt a few portions.

Mr. Borawski recalls a time, more than a generation ago, when student representation at Penn State used to mean a very different thing than it does today:

There were no separate student governments; there was one singular SGA (Student Governance Association), which was the sole student government. The government had powers which would leave student affairs quaking in fear. We had the power to tax students (determine our own student activity fee). We had the power to distribute the money as we saw fit. We had far more power to affect academic and financial decisions. We also benefited by having one strong singular student voice.

Imagine that. Students having the authority to determine exactly how much they want to pay in activity fees for the programs they would demand over an academic year. Today UPAC (University Park Allocation Committee) faces its own troubles as Student Affairs has moved to severly lessen the amount of money they have control over.

UPAC, a democratic student body, used to determine how all money that came in from the Student Activity Fee was spent. Starting next year Vicky Triponey and Student Affairs will allow them only $600,000 out of the $2 million or more raised annually. Where does the rest of that money go? To the administration-created Fee Allocation Board, which itself has some “appointed” members.

Back to GSA, though:

Now, lets move ahead in time to about a decade ago. The GSA was a very robust and brilliant organization. We had very strong and active membership. While we did not have particularly strong ties to the USG, we were willing to work together on important issue. The GSA sold health insurance to students who needed it, and we had broad support for student affairs. We had three half-time office staff. One student had a graduate assistantship, and two were paid wage of $6/hr, all supported by the SAF and student affairs. We were robust and flexible. We now enjoy many benefits because of the robust student governments of the past.

Today, the GSA rests in shambles. We’ve lost funding for our office manager, and our remaining assistants are still getting paid less than $7/hr. Trying to find anyone with a bachelors’ degree to work for that has been very difficult. Our turnover time is now measured in a few months. This is no way to run an office. No one knows what is going on anymore. Bills have been neglected and publications have been nearly completely absent. I have had people from collections calling me because they had not been paid. Without our office staff, the GSA is slowly shutting down.

Out of 5 executive board members, we were only able to elect 1 member, the treasurer. If no steps up to the plate, there will be no student government for graduate students next year. Why? The job is too hard to accomplish when student affairs is trying to undermine your very existence. Also, what is the point of being a student government without any power at all? There does not exist enough space to explain all that has been done to undermine student governance. But this situation is widespread, and encompassing. We have gone from the cream of the crop, to nothing more special than the paintball club. We officially have no rights than any run of the mill club.

Did he really say what I thought he said? That because of lack of support from Penn State, there could be no student government for graduate students? Now, as of today, people have stepped up to the plate, as he mentioned needed to happen. GSA does continue, but for how long?

Mr. Borawski goes on to explain what the ultimate motives are behind Vice President of Student Affairs Vicky Triponey’s actions toward regular students.

Dr. Triponey has been attempting to replace the USG and the GSA with a new group, not just the UPUA, but the Cabinet of Student Leaders. Whenever she makes a decision, she no longer consults the student government, she consults this body. However, she decides who should be on this committee, what the topics will be, and there are no official votes. This is a very ‘nice’ way to interpret the needs of students. It is also a bit strange that all of the COSL meetings for the last few years have been on the days and same times as the GSA general assembly meetings, this is very convenient. The COSL used to exist of the seven Class A student organizations. Now it is a body consisting of so many organizations, that any type of real action is impossible.

What Brian is saying, ultimately, is that Student Affairs is in its last stages of dismantling real student government, the kind where students weren’t appointed, but elected. The kind where students actually had control, rather than serve as little more than “advocates”.

As we watch Penn State’s administration and its student enablers continue to deride groups like USG or GSA, it’s important to realize that when average Penn State students don’t know how to help and don’t make their voices heard, Student Affairs actions become even bolder.

We’re not watching a new era of student government be ushered in with UPUA. We’re watching the last era of representation fade away. With UPUA and groups like FAB and COSL, there are little if any effective mechanisms by which students can challenge administrative decisions.

UPUA can’t even amend their constitution without approval by Vicky Triponey. The implications of that fact are startling. Does that sound right to you? Does that sound like student government?

If so, then by all means, become a part of UPUA.

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[…] have historically been treated at Penn State. Flashback further, to September 2006, and we learn from Mr. Borawski a bit more about the history of the GSA: Now, lets move ahead in time to about a decade ago. The GSA was a very robust and brilliant […]

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