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Monday, April 22, 2024

When we first heard about the idea of a Graduate Student Bill of Rights from Gator Party members earlier this semester, we pricked up our ears. They weren't sure at the time what exactly would be included, but they explained that its purpose would be to protect graduate students from being exploited by their departments and to curb the discrimination some students, especially international and female ones, said they have experienced.

It sounded like a good idea.

Well, at Tuesday's Student Senate meeting, the Graduate Student Bill of Rights was presented and it passed. It will be added to the Graduate Student Handbook if approved by a long line of groups and people, with the provost at the end of that line.

But we aren't as interested in the idea as we originally were. In fact, we've read through it and think it's - brace yourself - dumb.

Why is it dumb? Because much of it duplicates what is already in the Student Body constitution, which covers all UF students, not just undergraduates. For example, the bill of rights says graduate students should not have to deal with discrimination. While this is completely true and we're not disputing that at all, our Student Body constitution already states that.

The fifth section of the bill of rights, which leads off with "Graduate students have a right to guidance from the university, their departments and individual faculty members," lists several rights already granted to students.

"Graduate students should receive regular feedback and guidance … through a mutually agreeable schedule of conferences"? Check. They're called office hours. "The right to confidentiality in their communication with professors, staff, and administrators"? Check. As for stating that "graduate students should be given a fair opportunity to remedy deficiencies in their academic performance," well, that sounds kind of like special treatment.

One of the final sections of the bill of rights says "graduate students have a right to share in the governance of the university." Once again, this right is already afforded to them. They have seats on the Student Senate. They have councils. They are even on student-faculty committees, including the Committee on a Civil, Safe and Open Environment. What more do they need?

This bill of rights is trying to separate graduate students from undergraduates. If we have a Graduate Student Bill of Rights, next thing you know we'll need an Undergraduate Student Bill of Rights.

And if one of the points of the bill of rights is violated, who will graduate students go to for enforcement, and what kind of punishment will violators be subjected to? Yes, the Student Senate resolution supporting the bill of rights said the bill of rights should give "the force and affect of official University policy," but there are no proposals of how to enforce it or what any punishments should be.

The bill of rights also says the university should provide "reasonably available" office, study or lab space - but a phrase like "reasonably available" is widely open to interpretation, rendering it almost meaningless.

We understand that graduate students are incomparable to undergrads in many ways. But many of the "rights" are already in place. Why must they be said twice?

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