The History of the UC Davis Graduate Student Association has been not surprisingly filled with conflict. What follows is an account of the birth and legacy of the GSA.
30th Anniversary History
by Javier Lopez Jr., Public Relations Officer 2000-2001
This school-year, the UC Davis Graduate Student Association is proud to celebrate thirty years of service, advocacy, so to begin the celebration we figured this would be a great time to look back on the incredible, sometimes messed-up thirty-year history of the UC Davis Graduate Student Association.
The GSA has not always been the same robust creature that you may know and love. In fact, over the years, the GSA has been known by many names, shut down seemingly for good, and one year, even had a Spring Picnic where no-one came. Surprisingly, such a conservative, respectful and long-lived organization as the GSA began during the psychedelic, anarchistic days of tie-dye, hippies, the invasion of Cambodia, moon landings and alternate forms of recreation. Well, okay, so maybe it's not that surprising.
In 1970, the Dean of Graduate Studies put together a committee to better understand UC Davis graduate students. This committee—named the Graduate Student Steering Committee—was formed in January 1970 and was composed of nine graduate students selected by the Dean. These students were selected for their interest and leadership in departmental student organizations, and their function was to advise the Dean on matters relating to graduate students, to analyze problems, and present proposals on these various matters to the Dean—in other words, to make sure that the Dean of the Graduate Division would never lose sight of the desires, needs, frustrations and hopes of the graduate student population.
The Graduate Student Steering Committee initiated and constructed an independent representative organization, and in November of 1970, the GSA (then known as the Graduate Student Assembly) was born. It was decided that the GSA would have a constitutional structure and, before not-too long, was on its way to representing Graduate Students, at that time recognizing sixty-six separate graduate groups.
Shaky beginnings, premature steps and unexpected sudden death...
The first two years of the GSA, under the leadership of Bill Rubenstein and Lindsey Allen, were spent building the framework of the GSA. However it was in its third year, under the direction of Richard Huff, while the GSA appeared to be the fully functional organization it was designed to be, that it faced perhaps its greatest test. During that same year, the GSA attempted to present a fee referendum to the graduate students to provide funding for the organization. However, several problems arose with the handling of this referendum, which could serve as object lessons for future Executive Councils. Some of these problems included the fact that there was a surprising lack of lead-time given for the administration to evaluate the proposed referendum process; in addition, the referendum was held by mail and was conducted over the summer. Finally, many errors in ballot distribution arose making it impossible for many students to vote in the ballot election. Of all the graduate students who received ballots, more than 50% voted and approximately 62% were in favor of instituting a mandatory quarterly fee to be placed upon graduate students. However, the affirmative vote was approximately 5% short of meeting the two-thirds vote of approval that was a stipulation of campus policy at the time. Also, in view of the discrepancies in the handling of the referendum, it seems likely that had it passed, the validity of the balloting would have been questioned, causing big problems for the GSA. This would prove, however, to be just the beginning of problems for the fledgling organization.
In its fourth year, under the leadership of Dennis Stevenson, a new constitution was written. This constitution specifically included the filing-fee status, which automatically granted each graduate student membership in the Graduate Student Association. However, this act created an irreconcilable position between the administration and Graduate Student Association. Feeling that the GSA had overstepped its bounds the GSA was then forced to fold after the fall quarter of 1973.
Rebirth, renaissance and beyond?
In October 1974, an ad hoc committee was formed for the sole purpose of resurrecting the fallen GSA. On November 19, 1974, graduate student representatives from approximately thirty-five departments and groups elected Gary T. Patterson as the GSA's fifth chair and elected four other graduate students to serve as the GSA Executive Council. On January 17, 1975, the GSA ratified its third constitution; this constitution, however, had the new distinction of having been accepted by the administration. 1975 was a banner year in which, despite suddenly not having any financial support, the GSA fulfilled its responsibilities to graduate students and the administration. The GSA regained its reputation and stature campus-wide and even began to look to the future.
The GSA, now positioned on a firmer foundation, began to fulfill its mission to act as an advocate to the university for graduate students and their issues. The GSA's next major accomplishment was to secure a base of financial support as it was running solely on the volunteer hours and contributions of graduate students. Previously, the GSA had had some financial support from the university, but during this year, there was no direct financial support.
The GSA branches out?
The GSA made several attempts to establish a fee to fund the association during the early years, with as we have seen, varying results. Things were beginning to look up; besides being able to establish an office from which an advocacy program could be run, the GSA hoped to be able to provide services to graduate students. The first services to be considered were a typist referral/paper preparation service and contracting with ASUCD for undergraduate rates of various services like the Bike Barn and Zapple Records. The GSA saw its role expanding from just graduate student advocacy to providing services for graduate students.
The constitution also underwent many changes as the organization evolved. Department representation was always a central theme to organizing the General Assembly, and the Executive Council was initially made up of a chairperson and several representatives grouped by disciplinary areas. This would slowly evolve into the recent form: Chair, External Chair, Vice Chair, Campus Office Director, Treasurer, Secretary and Public Relations Officer. In 1999, however, the Assembly voted to divest itself from the University of California Student Association and split the duties of the Campus Office Director (which included acting as the GSA representative to that group) amongst the remaining officers. This decision was later reversed and the GSA has begun to clearly define the responsibilities of the C.O.D.
Communication with graduate students has been vital to the continued success of the GSA, and to that end in 1977, the GSA began publishing the graduate student newsletter, The Davis Graduate (initially The Grad News). The GSA Chair also frequently wrote a column in The California Aggie, the campus newspaper, a tradition that 1999 Vice-Chair Laura Akers reinstated, opening monthly columns to other graduate students as well. These forums have informed graduate students about important issues and were used to excellent effect in 1998, when graduate students joined with other campuses to strike in order to get University recognition of the first California graduate student teaching assistants' union, the Association of Graduate Student Employees.
They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and this seems to be the case with the wild history of the UC Davis Graduate Student Association. Many of the issues that the GSA continues to deal with have, at their heart, the very same desires, passions and concerns that characterized the advocacy program that the GSA began way back in 1970: TA training and fair employment practices, child care, housing, providing ASUCD services to graduate students, legal services, GSA funding, and health and dental insurance. The GSA has established a long track record of advocating for graduate students and that will always continue.