As her term comes to an end, GPSA President Katie Richardson said she checked most of the goals for her presidency off her list. She said she aimed to keep tuition low and introduce new opportunities for graduate students during the past year, but had mixed success in negotiations with administrators and state legislators. The Daily Lobo sat down with Richardson to reflect on her work as GPSA president and learn more about her plans for the future.
Daily Lobo: One of your primary goals was to keep tuition low.
Tuition increased by 3.75 percent this year compared to 5.5 percent last year. While tuition increased, it didn’t by as much as in previous years. How much of an effect do you think your actions and the actions of students had in keeping it low?
Katie Richardson: GPSA, in collaboration with ASUNM, the Parent Association and years of hard work by UNM President David Schmidly and the UNM government relations team, was able to remove the tuition tax credit, resulting in a lower tuition increase than previous years. Now, all tuition money remains on campus, instead of some portion being returned to the state’s coffers.
DL: Despite aims to keep student fees low, SFRB recommended a $16.71 increase over last year and the administration is likely to add an additional $50 fee for Athletics. Why did student fees increase so much this year?
KR: This year, SFRB received fee requests to support essential academic services on campus. Since SFRB had unprecedented and detailed communication with the administration, we were able to transfer over $2 million in costs from student fees to the Instruction & General budget instead.
The remaining recommended 3.4 percent increase in student fees will buy services that the board felt would directly impact students. Next year we can expect a 24-hour library, increased hours at Johnson Gym, a graduate assistant position at the Women’s Resource Center to prevent interpersonal violence and additional services from El Centro de La Raza and the Office of International Programs and Studies. SFRB does not feel that student fees should cover Athletics’ $2 million deficit and would have preferred to see cost containment measures implemented. The Board of Regents has final authority concerning student fees and overruled our recommendation.
DL: GPSA, in conjunction with other organizations at UNM, hoped to pass several bills this legislative session including SB 16, which would have provided a $5,000 tax credit for New Mexico businesses that hire individuals with graduate or professional degrees from New Mexico universities. The bill, however, failed. What do you feel you could have done differently?
KR: SB 16 successfully passed the Senate and was scheduled to be heard by the House the last day of the legislative session. We believe we had support from a majority of representatives and were just five bills away from being heard at noon when the session closed.
Unfortunately very few bills passed this session, but SB 16 received strong bipartisan support since it created high tech and health jobs by providing a tax credit to businesses that hire our graduate students. I believe that this bill has a strong chance of passing next year, especially since the 2013 session lasts two months instead of one.
DL: One of your goals was to create additional assistantships and support for graduate students. The provost’s academic plan includes $250,000 in additional funding for graduate students. How much of this can you attribute to work done by GPSA?
KR: GPSA is solely responsible for the inclusion of assistantships in the provost’s academic plan. Upon receipt of a GPSA resolution, drafted by Graduate Employees Together, the provost informed me that he was amending his plan to include new assistantships.
DL: How receptive is the administration to student leaders and student voice in general? You have had mixed success when it comes to confronting the administration. Is this a war or a negotiation between students and administrators and to what extent do students and the administration fight for the same things?
KR: One of GPSA’s roles is to advocate for graduate and professional students to administrators and regents. This is not a confrontation, but a conversation. GPSA understands that the regents and administrators are responsible for balancing the legitimate needs of diverse campus constituents. However, UNM is undergoing … change, and the student voice is being heard more than ever.
DL: What would you have done differently?
KR: I think that significant fee increases could have been avoided if the students and Board of Regents had communicated more often. In general, I would have worked even harder this year to ensure that maximum, clear and frequent communication occurred internal to GPSA, between GPSA and student organizations, and finally between GPSA and administrators.
DL: What are you going to be doing after your term is up?
KR: This summer I will be graduating with a PhD from the physics and astronomy department. In September, I begin a postdoctoral research position in physics at UC Irvine. I would like to return to New Mexico eventually, but I hope to continue a life of service no matter where I end up.