I don’t think I’ve written about the choice to run for GSA executive board here at all. As many of my more regular readers are undoubtedly aware, I do fancy myself a bit of a public intellectual and I think that civic involvement is both my right and my duty. I think I’ve found a situation that I can address from my perspective and my power, and add something to with my skills and knowledge. I want to make clear here that what I write in this blog is not the official line of our coalition, but rather my reasons for being a part of it.

One of the things that excites me most about the election is the very real possibility that we stand on the cusp of change. This is a critical time for public higher education, and it is also a critical time for the SUNY system, with Albany crumbling and funding drying up from the public sector. I don’t think I’m the only UB graduate student who’s alarmed by these developments — far from it. In fact, this isn’t an issue that is limited to people who are supposed to be “left-wing intellectuals” anymore. The public university is a critical site for scientific research, too — the kind of scientific research that needs to take place without being beholden to shareholders, for example.

Many newly-minted Ph.D.s and others with terminal degrees are being siphoned off to universities abroad. Now, I don’t think there’s a problem with finding a job in another country — I have fantasies about pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Copenhagen — but if U.S. institutions can’t keep Americans here, the American university system is going to go hollow. But more immediately than that, current graduate students are suffering because all kinds of resources are drying up. These are only some of the complaints and concerns I hear from graduate students. I also think that, if we combine our forces and present a united front, we might have a shot at getting listened to.

A lot of people seem to think that GSA is just a social organization, and I think there’s something to that. By getting to know each other and interacting face-to-face, learning about other disciplines and the cool research other grads are doing, these issues become more immediate. It’s great that GSA has offered opportunities for graduate students to interact in the past, and I’d like to see those opportunities continue and expand. But more than that, I think there’s potential in that interaction to realize the full potential of a room of cross-disciplinary representatives.

I kind of have this fantasy, where GSA Senate meetings produce actual conversation about issues that affect the graduate student body, and that those conversations enable us to tell people in power what we want and what we need. I think it would be beyond cool if we could remotely organize with leaders at the other SUNY schools, and even at CUNY schools, to talk about what we need from the state, and what we can give back to the state.

In the short-term, though, I think there is a ton of groundwork that we can lay for this kind of organization. And in some respects, we do need to act fast — as Albany fumbles over the enormous budget deficit, our jobs, educations and futures are on the chopping block. There is no reason why we can’t have a conversation about this together. I don’t believe for a second that we couldn’t come up with some suggestions that would soften the blow for both the university system, the graduate students, and the state, that doesn’t involve selling our heritage as a public institution short.

I guess I am running for GSA e-board because I am a UB believer, but not in that UB2020 kind of way. I believe that we have some systems in place that may allow us to affect change from the ground up as opposed to from the top down, it’s just a matter of mobilizing enough people. And even if that mobilization means that we spend some time arguing about what it is we actually want, at least people will start thinking about that. I don’t know that many people do. And since we don’t know what we want, we can’t start pushing the boundaries of what we can get.

We can do it, together. The future is ours, but there are a lot of things standing in our way. Our own preconceptions about power, control, and decision-making are the first, and perhaps the most important, of these things. Plus, there are others out there who share our concerns, and often share our challenges. I just want that message to get out there. We’re smart, we matter, and we don’t need to settle for disenfranchisement.

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