The Graduate Student Association Council first met on 22 April 1969. For many years thereafter the principal activity of the GSA was running Valhalla. In 1984 Rice acquired a motel on the corner of University and Main Street and converted it into residential space for graduate students and others—including undergraduates who had been kicked off campus for non-academic offenses and international students learning English as a second language.
In the early 1990s graduate students petitioned for redress of a number of grievances, including the inadequacy of the Graduate House. A committee chaired by Professor Linda Driskill recommended a number of changes, including the appointment, on a trial basis, of a Master for the Graduate House. At the urging of Dean Ronald Stebbings, President George Rupp appointed Professor Robert L. Patten to a three-year term. During that time, Patten helped residents at Graduate House to institute self-governance and to create GH as the “College” of all graduate students, regardless of whether they resided there or not. Social services, such as counseling, employment fairs, and parties for all graduate students were provided through GH, managed by Don de Gruttola, and later, by Marion Hicks. The Master of GH joined the Committee of Masters, and at the conclusion of his term, a search for a new Master was conducted using the protocols and procedures followed by the undergraduate colleges. A candidate was proposed, but President Gillis and Vice President Camacho decided that the position of Master should be re-evaluated instead. Patten became the faculty adviser to the GSA, but no further efforts were made to build on the model of a Graduate College.
However, during this period the GSA extensively revised its constitution, developed awards for teaching and service, designed a banner and new doctoral gowns, initiated a program for addressing pedagogical issues for graduate teachers, instituted a beefed-up orientation week, and began playing a more active role in University affairs. By the late 1990s the GSA president, along with the SA president, was customarily invited to address new faculty and to carry graduate student concerns to the Trustees.
Meanwhile, the positions of Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, filled by Professor Jordan Konisky, and Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs, filled by Professor Susan Lurie, were created. These offices took over many of the administrative responsibilities for initiatives the GSA or the Master of GH had started, and worked closely and effectively with the GSA to further graduate student interests—particularly with regard to stipends, health insurance, and housing. A new Graduate Apartments was built, and by 2000 further housing, suitable for married as well as single students, was acquired by the University.
The GSA established a loan fund by the early 1990s; administered by a student, it makes small loans, on a month-to-month basis, to students. Other loan funds for more sizeable and long-term borrowing were developed by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies (ORGS). The GSA also devised and published the first annual “Yellow Pages,” a helpful assemblage of information about resources within the University and without for new and continuing graduate students. The “Yellow Pages” is now revised annually, published during the summer, distributed to all new students, and often sent out in recruitment packets.
A succession of able and committed GSA officers and departmental representatives have in the 21st century built on the achievements of previous decades. The GSA sponsors major social events, of which the highlights are the fall and spring picnics and Hallowe’en. Valhalla remains the principal place for graduate students to gather, but plans are advancing to provide other venues for students who wish to study, hold meetings, recruit, or just “hang out.” Successive administrations have become increasingly responsive to graduate student concerns. And as Rice strengthens its graduate offerings and research programs, graduate students will play an enlarged role in university affairs. That role already extends to alumni affairs: a recently formed Graduate Alumni Committee advises the Association of Rice Alumni about graduate issues and will provide a vehicle for funding enhancements to graduate life.
Robert L. Patten
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