The Student Government held a shortened meeting Wednesday before attending a kickball competition; the meeting’s topics included an update from President Emma Zellmer about a meeting with President Edward Inch about the university’s budget deficit and a senator report reiterating efforts to raise graduate assistant pay.
Zellmer and Vice President Idman Ibrahim had a meeting with Inch Tuesday to discuss the administration’s plans for the university’s growth over the next five years. According to Zellmer, Inch said Minnesota State’s enrollment has dropped 10% in the last decade, contributing to a $3 million budget deficit.
Inch also said the deficit is among the lowest among state universities in Minnesota.
According to her, “We’ve been in a deficit for years. We are not nearly in as bad of a deficit as the other state universities, we have the smallest deficit. It basically just means that our enrollment went down this year. Mankato is in the best situation out of all of them. So that just means tightening of budgets.”
Zellmer said one way the university will tighten budgets is to combine some colleges, although Inch has said he is avoiding layoffs. According to her, Inch wants to grow MSU’s transfer student enrollment by 20%, and improve first year to second year retention from 75% to 80%.
President Inch will have a Zoom open forum for students 2 p.m. Thursday where they can ask questions or raise concerns about these budget issues.
Zellmer said the budget deficit will not impact student activities, as they are funded by student fees, not tuition.
“The $2-3 million will hopefully have little impact on students,” Zellmer said.
The budget deficit has, however, had an impact on graduate assistants’ lack of pay increase. Graduate Studies College Senator Douglas Roberts has been vocal about the frustrations graduate assistants feel towards their wages; which are $10,000 per fiscal year for a full time graduate assistant.
Roberts said the university acknowledges this pay rate is an issue, but will not take action due to a lack of funds.
“It is a concern because it is not only a matter of survival for these folks, it is a matter of retention. As other universities have been increasing their benefits, in some cases including health insurance, and in some of these institutions even having higher rates of pay, we become more and more of a university that is less appealing for graduate students overall,” Roberts said. “Even though, I will admit, it is commendable on the number of graduate assistantships that this university offers compared to others. However, it doesn’t do much good when you cannot survive on the assistantship alone.”
The Student Senate passed Roberts’ resolution in April that called the University to increase the stipend from $10,000 to $18,000.
Roberts said there are conversations of unionizing among their fellow graduate assistants.
“It’s definitely been something that’s talked about,” Roberts said.
The senator said unionizing would protect the rights of all graduate students, particularly graduate assistants, which include teaching, research and program assistants. Roberts said forming a graduate assistant union would ensure “they are all protected in one band, instead of little, mini bands.”
“Unionization is on the table. It’s something we’ve been talking about and (an organizing campaign is) something that we’ve been thinking about potentially launching, maybe this year or into next year if we don’t see change soon,” the senator said.
Header photo: At the latest Student Goverment meeting, the senate addressed President Inch’s budget deficit and a report discussing graduate assistant pay. Enrollment at MSU has dropped 10% in the last decade. (Asutosh Silwal/The Reporter)
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