History of the GPSS

The history of the GPSS at Iowa State University spans more than half a century. In 1968-69, concerns over the taxation of graduate student assistantships and a Government of the Student Body (GSB; now Student Government) proposal to levy a student activity fee on the graduate student body galvanized a group of students in the Department of Chemistry to form the Graduate Student Steering Committee (GSSC). The GSSC was created in a time of youthful enthusiasm and national political turmoil, and was treated with guarded cautiousness by the university. Upset by the lack of representation at the university, the GSSC endeavored to meet with the Graduate College and the administration to address the concerns of graduate students at ISU. On April 8, 1969, the GSSC met to discuss the formation of a group that would preserve and protect the rights and interests of graduate students. After attending a graduate student senate meeting at the University of Iowa, the GSSC determined that an organizational meeting for all graduate students would be in order. Dr. J. Boyd Page, Dean of the Graduate College, suggested that the Graduate College should play a role in the formation of any graduate student organization, including the notification of all graduate students of the potential organization, the administration and verification of elections, and the appointment of a temporary organization chair; however, the GSSC strongly opposed the direct involvement of the Graduate College. At the GSSC-sponsored organizational meeting, 90% of graduate students in attendance were in favor of the formation of a graduate student organization.


Creation of a graduate student senate

Despite concerns that the formation of a graduate student organization could lead the unionization of the graduate student body, Dean Page acknowledged that the GSSC had acted in good faith and within approved university channels, and agreed that the Graduate College would recognize a graduate student senate if a constitution were ratified by the Senate, and at least half of the 62 extant university academic departments were represented in the Senate. The first constitutional convention was held on December 8, 1969, and the constitution was ratified by the Senate on March 9, 1970. On May 13, 1970, the Graduate College first recognized the Graduate Student Senate at Iowa State University, and on May 22, Dean Page notified the graduate faculty that the Senate had formed and was “strongly endorsed” by the Graduate College.


Initially, the Graduate Student Senate focused the availability of graduate student assistantships, the cost of student fees, and the printing costs of theses and dissertations. Additionally, the GSS developed orientation material for new graduate students to provide information about the university and Ames. The first GSS social was held in September 1970. When it first formed, the intent of the GSS was to advocate for graduate students within the university by focusing on policy; this approach is reflected in the first GSS budget, which was approximately $30 (worth around $200 in 2018), and was designed to cover operating costs. In the 1970s, the focus of the GSS broadened beyond policy advocacy, and the GSS worked to increase its revenue to fund programs for graduate students.


Declaring independence from the GSB

When the GSS formed, the GSB was the solely acknowledged student government at Iowa State, both by the university administration and by the Iowa Board of Regents (BoR). Throughout the 1970s, the GSS struggled to become the recognized governing body for the graduate population, meeting resistance along the way. Because graduate students are part of the student body as a whole, ISU and the BoR believed that GSB adequately represented graduate student needs, and as graduate students held seats on the GSB, the BoR and university felt it was unnecessary to formally recognize the GSS as a governing organization. Tensions between the GSS and GSB rose significantly in the late 1970s after the BoR redefined the student activity fee to affect graduate students beginning in the fall of 1979. The dispute reached its zenith in 1977-78, finally culminating in the GSS declaring independence from the GSB on December 4, 1978.


Despite the GSS calling for a portion of the student activity fees being allocated to the GSS, the university administration unequivocally declared that they believed the full student activity fee should be given to the GSB for disbursal.The administration suggested, however, that the GSS have permanent representation on the GSB finance committee and to allow GSS to submit a budget proposal to GSB under the current allocation system. A GSB-GSS ad hoc committee was formed to negotiate these topics further, cementing the position of a the GSS member on the GSB finance committee and ensuring some allocations for GSS project; perhaps most importantly, the hostilities between the GSS and GSB lessened.


Through the 1980s and 1990s, the GSS received approximately 30-35% of the student activity fees paid by graduate and professional students, far less than they felt they deserved. This funding was used primarily for professional advancement grants (PAGs) and allocations for graduate student organizations; graduate student organizations were ineligible for GSB allocations because they were not open to all students at Iowa State.


Inclusion of veterinary students

Because the GSS was created by a group of graduate students under the recognition of the Graduate College, professional students enrolled in the College of Veterinary Medicine were not included in the GSS, despite paying student activity fees. However, in 1994, the GSS authorized the disbursement of funds to the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA), as SCAVMA was considered a pre-professional program and was therefore not eligible for GSB funding. In 2000, the GSS granted representation to the professional students in the College of Veterinary Medicine (October 30th), and in 2003, the GSS passed a bill to officially change the name of the organization to the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) (April 28th).