The following is a statement from '17-'18 COGS President Lauren Mitchell dated Feb 16th 2018:
"My name is Lauren Mitchell, and I’m the President of the Council of Graduate Students, the graduate student government at the University of Minnesota. I’m writing to tell you about all of the exciting things COGS has been up to this year! Many of us have been working hard to improve life for graduate students here, and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished. I’m linking several of our resolutions and position statements below, and I encourage you to read them to learn more about these issues, and to recognize the graduate students who have contributed their time and energy to making the University a better place.
First: our action in October 2016 on Graduate Student Parental Leave Policy is coming to fruition! The University is currently in the process of changing parental leave policy to include all employees, including graduate assistants. Soon all employees - regardless of gender - will be granted 6 weeks’ leave of absence related to the birth, adoption, or gestational surrogacy of a child. Congratulations and thank you to all the graduate students involved in this effort!
Here are some other actions that COGS has taken this year:
Over the past three years, COGS has majorly contributed to the student advocacy resulting in the University’s hire of new counseling staff. Whereas in 2015-2016, students routinely waited 6 weeks or more for mental health services, Boynton Mental Health Clinic has had no waitlist in all of 2017-2018. This resolution aims to ensure that the University continues making incremental investments in mental health services, by asking for an annual, public report to the Board of Regents on the status of campus mental health, and the addition of mental health measures to the University Progress Card. By keeping an eye on things over time, we can make sure things stay under control and students consistently have access to the services they need. We’ve presented this to the Student Senate Consultative Committee, the Senate Committee on Student Affairs, and the Provost’s Committee on Student Mental Health, who have all signed on or written a letter of support, and we’ve been talking about this with administrators and Regents to bring them on board. We look forward to bringing this to the University Senate for action this semester.
Graduate student parents have consistently faced problems with access to childcare, often waiting over a year to place their child in services. Changes in student service fees have affected funding for childcare centers at the Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative and the Como Student Community Cooperative, home to many grad students. In this resolution, we advocated that the University provide financial support for graduate student parents seeking childcare, collect data on the demographics and needs of student parents, and expand services and funding commensurate with those findings. We presented this resolution at the Student Senate, and are planning another resolution regarding access to childcare soon. I encourage you to attend our next General Assembly meeting for discussion on this issue!
Graduate students have expressed concerns about being required to report instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault to University officials. Many are concerned about the possibility of having to report an incident against a victim’s wishes, and have expressed a desire to be able to use their own discretion and judgment when they find out about this kind of behavior. Other concerns are that a mandatory reporting policy may discourage students from talking to victims, because they do not want their reporting obligations to be triggered. Last year, COGS held several discussion sessions on the proposed changes to the sexual misconduct policy, and passed a position statement summarizing the findings from those discussion sessions. This year, the COGS executive committee passed this resolution based on those findings, and submitted it as a comment in the policy feedback process. Nonetheless, graduate student employees are now mandatory reporters, per the policy that has gone into effect this January. COGS is also planning a resolution at our February meeting asking that the University report basic data about sexual harassment cases, such as the number of reports, investigations, and the number of cases resulting in disciplinary action.
Many graduate students expressed concerns about potential federal tax code changes that would result in the taxation of tuition waivers, which would have caused many of us to pay thousands of dollars more in income tax than we do now. COGS advocated for the University to develop a plan to protect graduate students from increased tax burdens, if these changes were to go into effect. Fortunately, this problem has been resolved!
In light of recent changes such as the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the reversal of Temporary Protected Status, and the Travel Ban, COGS joined with MSA, the undergraduate student government, to advocate for University faculty, instructors, and advisors to work with students affected by these policy changes, and help them to complete their degrees even if they are not physically able to attend campus.
The University recently proposed changes to the Student Conduct Code that would expand the range of scenarios in which student groups could be held responsible for the behavior of individuals within the group. COGS advocated against these changes, raising concerns that this could discourage students from engaging in protests and other political actions, as individual students protesting could trigger their entire organization to be held liable. In response to students’ concerns, the Board of Regents has granted an extension on these proposed changes, to allow for consultation with affected groups."