Graduate Student Senate president resigns

The graduate student senate met for their weekly meeting in the Rowe building on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2016. The senate discussed the current political climate involving visa students and the current GSS president resigned. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

With the backdrop of the recent executive actions taken by President Trump, the University of Connecticut Graduate Student Senate (GSS) President Chriss Sneed announced their resignation during the group's meeting on Wednesday.

“There are so many systems both within the university and outside the university that are attacking different members of our community and this is so disheartening,” Sneed said. “I am going to resign from my position as president, and to be clear its not the workload or the event itself.”

Sneed’s resignation comes following both a series of changes in federal policies, but also the existing implications of particular policies in play at UConn. Sneed particularly pointed out the unfortunate effect that university policies had regarding the ability of international students to act on the executive board of the GSS.

“For some reason that no one understands, we’re classified as employees,” Sneed said. “It has implications not only for graduate students but for everyone.”

Since GSS executive board members receive a stipend, their work is considered a form of employment. Subsequently, international students in the executive board will violate the terms of the F-1 visa program as the involvement time exceeds the 20 hour limit imposed by this program.

As a result of the interpretation of this rule, Graduate Student Senate Treasurer Deepthi Varghese had no choice but to resign from her role as treasurer of GSS in order to avoid jeopardizing her legal status.

“I’ve been watching her deal with it very gracefully,” Sneed said. “I wish that there was a different way this could have ended from last semester.”

The GSS had tried several work arounds, which included deferring the stipend entirely and changing the wording of the payment. However, it was determined that the only way that the issue could be resolved was by changing the bylaws of the organization.

“The technicality is that the moment we give money to an international student it becomes a payment, and will be considered as work,” Material science graduate student Bahareh Deljoo said.

The position of classifying the stipend as work was particularly criticized during the meeting due to the relatively small amount of compensation that is actually distributed.

“The amount of stipends that they actually get is nowhere near the amount that they hourly would receive if they worked that number of hours,” chemistry graduate student Gayatri Phadke said.

In a symbolic gesture, GSS Parliamentarian Donyeil Hoy made a motion for executive board members to forgo compensation in solidarity with international students, who are unable to receive such a stipend.

Besides the issue regarding the GSS itself concerns of international students legal status following the turbulence of the recent shift in the political climate was further discussed in the meeting. Particularly, a recent memo distributed by the International Center has advised students to be on the alert and to minimize traveling outside the country.

“The international center, they are very concerned with the 45th president” Sneed said. “Regardless of anyone’s visa status they have warned international students not to travel, and have mentioned cases where people have had their visas revoked.”

The discrepancy between the fees charged by UConn for visa compliance versus the costs charged by other universities was also a focal point of the session. In particular, to be visa compliant, international students who are holders of a J-1 and F-1 are required to pay an annual fee of $700.

The members in attendance at the meeting noted that although the compliance fees are used for the processing of individuals visas, the remaining cost is used to fund a number of other campus projects. The implications raised by this amounted to a targeted fee which essentially made it so that international students were paying for services that were covered in general student fees.

“As a community we should be concerned that some people are just paying tuition for the rest of us,” Sneed said.

Despite their resignation from GSS president, Sneed made it clear that they will continue to be deeply involved in the campus community.

“The executive orders being put out are creating systems of precarity for graduate students,” Sneed said. “As a university we should work to be more humane in a world that makes us less able to do that.”


Fatir Qureshi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at fatir.qureshi@uconn.edu.