Graduate Student Council members approved the organization’s yearly budget and discussed smartphone applications and the potential for a graduate student 401(k) retirement plan at their first meeting of the semester Wednesday.
Representatives unanimously voted to approve the 2016 proposed Council budget, which lists a total income of $96,300 that the body receives from student fees. The bulk of the budget will go towards grants and student group funding.
As a contingent of graduate students continues to call for unionization, the Council largely focused on discussing whether Harvard should offer a similar 401(k) retirement plan—available to staff and faculty—to graduate students.
Under a 401(k) plan, graduate students would begin saving for retirement while completing their degrees. Council president Darcy Frear and Vice President John Gee said they intend to broach the topic with Graduate School of Arts and Sciences administrators.
Frear said a graduate student emailed her about retirement plans, writing "that they’re spending so much time in grad school that they’re wasting that time for investing money earlier on,” according to Frear.
Responding to a question about whether the status of graduate students would affect a potential 401(k), Gee said “the reason that there isn’t this option is almost certainly that Harvard graduate students don’t have the status of employees.”
Samuel J. Parler, the Council representative for the Music Department, questioned whether all graduate students would be eligible for a 401(k) plan.
“In my department, for example, during the first two years of the Ph.D. program we’re just doing coursework, so we don’t teach at all and we’re not paid for teaching,” Parler said. “I think that maybe would affect 401(k) status, if we can even do that during the first two years.”
Graduate student also discussed creating an application similar to Omni, which consolidates dining hall food options, a shuttle tracker, and other information for undergraduates. Frear said she plans to create a new committee to oversee the development of a similar app.
“I think it’s pretty open-ended,” Linguistics Department representative Elaine F. Stranahan said. “This is our chance to say as grad students: ‘here’s what a cool app for us would look like.’”
Graduate student representatives largely avoided the topic of recent unionization efforts at the meeting; last November, the body voted to support students involved in the movement. Most recently, graduate students have continued to publicize unionization, even as administrators opposed the effort.
—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.