Graduate Student Council addresses free speech bills

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) passed a bill that allows it to amend its own bylaws at its Tuesday meeting. It addressed resolutions on fossil fuels and confusion on free speech policies in White Plaza.

Many GSC councilors challenged the Fossil Fuel Bill which seeks to create transparency on research funded by companies tied to fossil fuel industries.

Councilor June Choi, a third-year Ph.D Student in earth system science, said “There has to be a line for the companies that the University chooses to engage with, especially when it comes to funded research partnerships.”

“The University should uphold core values of research, integrity, academic responsibility and calling for a commitment to having a binding process for establishing criteria,” Choi said.

Some councilors expressed concern about excessively harsh boundaries. Perry Nielsen Jr. M.A. ’24, Cabinet Director for Graduate Affairs, said, “I believe in rehabilitation and not pure punishment. So, I believe in having a way that these companies could demonstrate that they’re no longer going to be disenfranchising the University, that they’re going to make sure that any sort of industry affiliated programs will be clean.”

Councilor Chris West Jr. added that a nuanced review on the intentions behind donations was important. “Companies establish funded partnerships with academic institutions to enhance their credibility. If we want to accept these companies’ money and allow them to hire our students, we should make sure that they’re using those students to the best of their abilities and trying to actually do good in the world,” West said.

Councilors also delved into concerns around communication between Vaden Health Services and students. “Vaden should improve their communication with students and make sure they’re sending them to the right services,” Nielsen said. To mitigate concerns, GSC plans to host monthly seminars to provide “a brief overview of Vaden,” Nielsen said.

Councilors debated efforts to change the language around White Plaza’s portrayal as a free speech area. As the Stanford Free Expression website has not seen updates since 2017, some councilors said regulations and monitoring of policy is challenging. 

“White Plaza is specifically an area for outside individuals to express their free speech on Stanford’s campus. As a student, you have different rights to express on this campus than someone who is not a student,” Nielsen said. Members proposed solutions to student concerns, especially for those involved in protesting and encampment in the White Plaza. One proposed surveys about student spaces not tied to a reservation fee. 

According to Stanford’s freedom of expression policies, the University “firmly supports the rights of all members of the University community to express their views or to protest against actions and opinions with which they disagree.”

“Free expression is all good until you are disrupting. Your rights are somewhat restricted because you are disrupting the policy on campus disruptions,” Nielsen said.

Counselors passed a joint bill to overhaul the graduate student council bylaws, which would allow the “the GSC [to] amend its bylaws to clarify and update them to meet current needs.” According to the resolution, there are bylaws that represent definitions to inherit from the ASSU Constitution, some of which are no longer used.

Elizabeth Park, GSC co-chair and third-year Ph.D. student in chemistry said that the purpose of this joint bill was to “clarify the language, remove anything redundant with the Constitution and also make things gender level.” The bill was passed with 9 in favor and 1 opposed. 

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