One thing that all candidates running in the recent Georgetown University Student Association elections shared was a belief that whoever won would represent all Georgetown students. That is the way it should be.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the Graduate Student Organization, the student government for masters and doctoral students, does not see things in this light. Instead, for the past two years the group’s leadership has seen doctoral students as a nuisance — or an adversary — rather than as a constituency to be represented.

The GSO did little to protect Ph.D. student interests when the graduate school proposed changes in language course policies, instead agreeing to a policy that is vastly more restrictive without consulting Ph.D. students. In addition to their full course schedules, many Ph.D. students require the practice offered through foreign language courses to support their field research. The new policy is more burdensome to these students.

When the graduate school proposed a major change to the way it handles incomplete coursework, the current GSO president acquiesced without asking doctoral students how it would affect them. Some Ph.D. students accept incompletes in order to ready course papers for potential publication.

Instead of steadily pushing for restoring funding for graduate students to travel to attend conferences — a necessary part of job-seeking and networking — the organization has dragged its heels. The net effect of all of these policy changes is that it has made it more difficult for Georgetown Ph.D. students to compete with those at peer institutions.

The GSO has also fumbled on other pressing issues, such as appropriately informing all graduate students about the limitations of their healthcare plan. This is a major problem given the fact that grad students are older and unlikely to be covered by another plan.

By all accounts, the group’s executive board has put more effort and energy into planning social events than representing students. Social events have a place, but event planning should not be the primary function of GSO.

The GSO has not represented all graduate student interests. What’s worse is that this appears to be the result not merely of misplaced priorities but of outright hostility toward Ph.D. interests. Last month, at student group summit, the GSO president reportedly dismissed the idea that doctoral students have a legitimate claim to any club funding. He argued that M.A. students deserved more GSO money because “master’s programs are cash cows for Ph.D. students.”

This, of course, is false. Many Ph.D. students pay their own way, often taking on substantial debt to fund their studies. If there are cash cows around, doctoral students are not the beneficiaries of their largesse. But the accuracy of this quotation, or lack thereof, is not the real problem. It’s the fact that the GSO president apparently doesn’t believe that it’s his job to treat different student groups equally.

This is unfortunate. After all, the university turns to the GSO president and executive board to consult about decisions that affect both masters and doctoral students. If only a portion of those students are represented, then the GSO is failing to meet its responsibilities. As someone who has been both an M.A. and a Ph.D. student at Georgetown, I would have expected fair play from the GSO leadership regardless of my academic program.

At the very least, students expect to be fairly and fully represented. Furthermore, they deserve diligent, responsible, and even zealous representation.

It’s time for a change. The organization needs to rediscover what’s important, and put more effort into representing all of its constituents. Let’s hope that a new academic year and a new executive leadership brings new priorities.

Rebecca Davis Gibbons is a Doctorate student in Government at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.

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