Graduate Student Senate Talk Proposals for Spring Elections

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Brian Healy

News Editor

Graduate student senators recently submitted a list of proposals that, pending approval, will appear in April’s Spring Elections. Randy Menjivar, President of the Graduate Student Senate (GSS), helped assemble a team of senators who were tasked with formulating proposals that reflected the needs of the graduate student population.

GSS will now vote on whether or not to include the proposals, although it is more of a formality at this point according to Menjivar, who will be graduating in May with a Masters degree from the School of Education.

The biggest proposal comes in the form of raising the graduate student activity fee from $25 a year to $45 by fall of 2018 and $65 in fall of 2019. These changes would also affect graduate students at USF’s satellite campuses, such as the ones in Sacramento, Orange County, and San Jose.

Menjivar said he expects the increase of the activity fee to pass with flying colors, since he believes that the $200,000 generated from the potential increase will be put to good use. “We want to provide more holistic resources, in so far as, more professional development, providing more money for events and guest speakers, but overall just helping the graduate student program as a whole,” said Menjivar.

He also feels as though USF is accepting more graduate students than the school can maintain, something School of Management student Raghav Mundra can also attest to, specifically at USF’s Downtown San Francisco campus where he takes his courses.

“There isn’t much that needs renovation, but the space at the facility downtown is really limited, so it limits our ability to hold events, host other students, and forces us to plan anything about 8 months before its [due to take place],” said Mundra.

Another of the committees’ propositions would seek to help both undergraduate and graduate students, by making Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trips available on a discounted plan through university partnership with BART. “It’s so expensive when you commute, four of five dollars each way,” said Menjivar, who lives in Oakland.

Officially recognized as the Bart Higher Education Fare Discount Program, the initiative seeks a 25 percent discount on BART fare for students of the University. The initiative was mainly crafted by the Vice President of Mission for GSS, Ramy Abbady, who lives in North Bay where he rides BART frequently into the city.

A vote on the BART proposal has been delayed however, until Abbady hears back from BART officials on cost specifics. “When we get the numbers from BART, according to that, there will be an increase in fees,” said Abbady. Currently the transportation fee stands at $130. If the BART resolution passes, students should expect a $30 to $60 increase based on the figure the transportation agency will request from the committee.

Akshat Patni, who also serves on the graduate student committee, spearheaded the group’s campaign that challenges a university policy that prohibits outside catering services for USF-sponsored events by departments, and funded organizations. “Bon Appétit has a contract with the University, and all the food has to go through them,” said Menjivar, who thinks it is unfair that students are forced to buy catering services from Bon Appétit, who service USF’s dining halls.

Patni specifically wants to change this policy in regards to cultural dinners and events. “The cultural food exemption [arose] from students’ discontent with Bon Appétit’s cultural food options,” said Patni. “We are trying to reach a middle ground with [Bon Appétit], so the proposal is only for cultural food exemptions, and only if the Bon Appétit people cannot make the specific food,” he continued.

Menjivar used his upcoming Latino graduation as an example of a cultural event that would be forced to cater through the school’s provider.

“How much of our budget is being taken up by Bon Appétit? And is the food that Bon Appétit is producing actually cultural? Is the food delivered on time? Is the food quality good? And from what I have been informed, it is not. And that’s a disservice, not only as a customer and a client, but as a student who has certain expectations from his educational experience,” he continued.

This would not be the first time Bon Appétit found itself on the defensive against the will of a student organization. As recently as 2013, USF’s undergraduate student senate organized and staged a peaceful boycott of the university’s dining services. “Bon Appétit has been the number one concern since I was sophomore class representative,” said Johnny Chibnall, who served as ASUSF president at the time.

Bonnie Azab Powell, Director of Communications at Bon Appétit Management Company, addressed the concerns about a Bon Appétit monopoly on campus.

“While yes, we are the only food service provider at USF — which is the standard at 95 percent of college campuses that use food-service providers — we are well aware that we have to compete with everything a world-class food destination like San Francisco has to offer,” said Powell in 2013.

Menjivar and his team also set their sights on Wells Fargo Bank, although the proposed resolution was not finished in time for the approval process. The senators would have proposed that university leadership “divest” from any partnership with the San Francisco-based financial institution, who frequently send representatives to recruit at USF’s job fairs. “They have been found to exploit the for-profit prison system and are benefactors of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” said Menjivar.

Menjivar’s statement refers to Wells Fargo’s practice of placing investments in a publicly held company that operates a network of private prisons and immigration detention centers across the country. He also highlights their participation in helping construct the Dakota Access Pipeline, which has raised concerns about the company’s process for making investments in energy projects.

With not enough time to research and create a well-crafted proposition, the committee decided to hold off on introducing the proposal, shelving it for a later proposition period that will be undertaken next fall semester by a completely new team of graduate student senators. “I won’t even be here to see the benefit of the proposals, but I think the GSS provides that platform to develop leaders, […] it let’s us embody the mission of the University,” said Menjivar.

Photo: CHARLES HAYNES/FOGHORN

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