GSA voting to join “effective” lobby group

By Ruth Davenport

Graduate students at the University of Calgary are making powerful friends that undergraduate representatives aren’t so happy about.

The University of Calgary Graduate Students’ Association will soon vote on whether or not to join the graduate arm of the CFS, the National Graduate Council.

"The NGC is a national student lobby group that lobbies on behalf of graduate students to the federal government," said GSA president Viola Cassis. "The main reason we’d like to join the NGC is that they’re based in Ottawa and they’re an effective organization for lobbying for the things that [speciÞcally] impact graduate students."

The NGC provides government lobbying campaigns, and sits on advisory boards and political advocacy groups to help grad students, explained CFS national chair Michael Conlon. The NGC has its own executive and represents over 50,000 graduate students across Canada.

"We do research on research policy in Canada and funding for the granting councils," said Conlon.

Currently, the undergraduate student body at the U of C–represented by the Students’ Union–is a member of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a smaller lobby organization. While the SU has no official position on the GSA vote, some members are opposed to a CFS presence on campus.

SU External Commissioner Oliver Bladek expressed concern over the effectiveness of the NGC lobby efforts as compared to those of CASA.

"CASA has set policies which have been implemented by the government," he pointed out. "[The government] has actually listened to us, come to our policy conferences and discussed the issues with us. The way the CFS is structured doesn’t allow the graduate students to effect the change in the policy in order to talk to the government."

Conlon dismissed these concerns and warned against any efforts the SU may make to discourage graduate students from voting in favour of the NGC.

"The referendum has absolutely nothing to do with undergraduate students on the campus," he declared. "On the whole, whenever a students’ union has become strident and obnoxious and tried to interfere with a graduate student referendum, it hasn’t gone very well. We’ll respond to any charges made against the federation and petition graduate students on the basis that we’re asking graduate students whether they want to join the federation."

Cassis pointed to a lack of graduate-speciÞc issues addressed by CASA.

"It would really be unfair to join an organization like CASA as graduate students because we have no right to pull the agenda of CASA towards graduate issues," she explained. "It would be a disservice to our graduate students because we’re needing lobbying in areas that are speciÞc to graduate students, getting more research funding from the granting agencies, and we can’t expect that an organization like CASA can fulÞll those needs for us."

The cost of joining NGC would be around six dollars per year per graduate student, for which each grad student would receive an international student identity card.

"We’ve been researching the issue for a year," stated Cassis. "Our grad rep council made the decision unanimously to go to referendum on the NGC. It’s to our best interest to be a part of a national organization and part of one that’s effective."

Bladek also expressed concern over the division that CFS membership may cause between the undergraduate and graduate students.

"When off-campus groups book tables in our building, we ensure that they don’t bother students," he declared. "If the CFS decides to pester students in MacEwan Hall, we’ll apply the laws of the land. I will personally make sure that undergraduate students are not harmed by the CFS coming to campus to prove a point."

The referendum will take place at the end of March in conjunction with the GSA general elections.

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