Graduate students unable to vote for first day of student trustee elections

Trustee candidate Max Roemer plans to file suit


(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

By Kathrine Esten and Rebecca Duke Wiesenberg

For the first day of the University of Massachusetts Student Trustee election on Feb. 20, graduate students were unable to vote through the Campus Pulse.

In previous years, all undergraduate and graduate students at the University were able to vote for a student trustee, a representative of the student body on the Board of Trustees. However, at the start of the election cycle, only “4+1” graduate students were able to participate in the election.

There are approximately 7,000 graduate students eligible to vote in the election. Graduate students make up just under one fourth of the student population at the University, according to a UMass admissions report.

In response to the graduate students’ inability to vote, student trustee candidate Max Roemer called for the suspension of all trustee campaigns, saying, “It’s not fair at all to graduate students for anyone to be campaigning [while] ignoring one fourth of our campus population.”

“It demonstrates how often graduate students are forgotten on this campus and how much they need to be heard to change that and how much this needs to be redone in the right channels,” Roemer said, “so that they can be heard, so that they can voice their opinions, so that some of these issues can be resolved.”

Roemer referenced issues concerning graduate students that are not addressed at the undergraduate level, but instead at the level of the Board of Trustees.

“Many graduate students are international students here on F1 status visas, which prevents them from working off of campus,” Roemer said. “Their stipends are usually around $16,000.

“It’s almost impossible to live off $16,000, especially in Amherst, which is getting increasingly more expensive. And they just can’t vote.”

Roemer is currently in the process of filing a suit with the Student Government Association Judiciary to invalidate and redo the election.

“Even if I win, I’ll still file that suit, because it’s really not fair,” Roemer said.

Samuel Hill, a senator in the Graduate Student Senate and an architecture graduate student, commented that the election affects all students, including graduate students.

While he said that he expected and hoped “that the election will be extended to make up for time lost,” Hill does not believe there is any need to redo the election.

“A second election would likely suffer from even worse turn-out than student [elections] already typically receive,” Hill added. “I do not believe this is a change in the process, merely a mistake that I expect will be sorted out.”

Rob Kearns, a student trustee candidate, emphasized his support for graduate student suffrage in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, referring to the missed day of voting as “an administrative issue.”

“I believe every undergraduate and graduate student should be able to vote, and people’s ability to vote is above my candidacy,” Kearns wrote. “I think that we should look into possibly invalidating the election, but [I] would like to see all the options.”

“Ultimately, the decision is up to the elections commission,” Kearns added.

Each UMass campus elects a student trustee that is either an undergraduate or graduate student at the University. The trustee serves on a 22-member Board of Trustees, the legislative body dealing mainly with general policies governing the University.

Evan Kuras, a senator in the Graduate Student Senate and an environmental conservation graduate student, said that he was previously unaware of the impact of the Student Trustee Election or that graduate students were eligible to run for the position.

“A lot of these elections, especially for a position like this…I think graduate students have a hard time feeling buy-in,” Kuras said, adding that graduate students are often “not sure” who candidates are or how the office affects them.

Noting that graduate students tend to align with departments rather than on a broader university level, Kuras said elections often feel “like a blind vote” because candidates fail to reach out to graduate students.

“We certainly have information barriers,” Kuras added. “We don’t know what we’re capable of.”

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @KathrineEsten.

Rebecca Duke Wiesenberg can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @busybusybeckybe.