Our Long and Winding Road

By Hunter Tart, Spring 2001

To paraphrase a memorable line from erstwhile U.S. vice-presidential candidate James Stockdale, “Who are we? Why are we here?”

This query, which has probably percolated through numerous bike helmet-clad grad student noggins, impels us to narrate how exactly the Graduate Student Council came to be.

A predecessor of the GSC, called the Graduate Student Association, brought together students from various districts to serve graduate interests and to plan social events for several decades. Stories in the Stanford Daily back in 1968 indicate that the GSA was already alive and well at that time. A copy of the GSA’s constitution from 1983 was found a few years ago in the ASSU offices; it’s structures and policies were not unlike those of today’s GSC. In its late 1980s and early ’90s, the GSA primarily organized large parties for graduate students (certainly a worthwhile undertaking!). Due to the ASSU structure of the time, like all student groups the GSA depended on undergrad and grad students collectively to approve its annual Special Fee funding requests.

The fun and games unfortunately ended rather abruptly in the 1993 ASSU elections when students (primarily undergraduates) voted down the GSA Special Fee. The Stanford Daily, which in its traditional endorsements recommended students vote down the GSA’s proposal, reported the results of the election and then printed quite a batch of letters to the editor from irked grad students. The voices of these disenfranchised grad students gradually coalesced into a coherent plea for all grads to make a statement against the ASSU and the rejection of the GSA fee by requesting refunds of all of their ASSU fees. In fall of 1993, this message clearly took hold as the rate of fee refund requests soared well above the level of previous years. This grad student uprising (of sorts) has alternately been call the “Fee Revolt” or the “Grad Student Tea Party” of 1993.

Despite a show of support from grad students, the GSA did not survive its denial of funding. For several years, graduate students were left with few groups providing interdepartmental social planning and no effective advocacy body.

In 1996-97, several physics Ph.D. students decided to fill the void by creating a new group in place of the old GSA. The Graduate Student Council became an adjunct of the ASSU, with representatives elected from various districts each spring.

The new GSC had a rather audacious start. With limited personnel and resources, it instituted a number of lasting social events, like Grad Nights at the CoHo and at FLiCKS. It also organized students to fight against costly U.S. tax code changes with the first in a series of informative e-mails sent to nearly every grad student. In the spring of 1998, after proving its efficacy, the GSC procured 20% of the ASSU’s combined General Fee money to spend on graduate programming.

The Council quickly expanded its purview by launching the largest grad student advocacy initiative in years: a push for more affordable housing. After writing a 200-page report based on an extensive survey, the GSC and an ASSU housing task force brought together over 1,500 students on May 27, 1998 for the “Campout on the Quad” housing rally. The rally and on-going GSC efforts have directly led to dramatic changes in housing policies and large-scale increases in the supply of graduate student housing. Among these results are the construction of 500 new studio apartments in EV, the introduction and expansion of a subsidized off-campus apartment program, and the provision in Stanford’s ten-year building permit for an additional 2,000 on-campus units.

In 1999, students passed a sweeping revision of the ASSU Constitution which separated the grad and undergrad populations and instated the GSC as the sole graduate representative body. As a result of this change, graduate fee money is now under the complete control of graduate representatives and grad students are able to work on causes they think are important with a minimum of ASSU bureaucratic hassles. Decades of wasted effort spent wading through the undergraduate-focused ASSU structure finally came to a close after a massive publicity campaign led to a high voter turnout and overwhelming support for this amendment from both grads and undergrads.

The Council has continued to make strides by hosting a free Thanksgiving dinner each year for hundreds of students, supporting new student groups financially, advocating for affordable health care for students’ dependents, negotiating for higher student stipends, providing tax advice and software, and working on numerous other projects.

And with continued infusions of passionate students willing to work on important issues, the GSC promises to stick around for quite a while.

Additional Information (following links are temporarily unavailable)

Historical Documents Regarding the Creation of the GSC