Duke University Union, the largest student programming body on campus, may lose about $70,000 from their operating budget.

The Graduate and Professional Student Council, the umbrella student government for Duke’s nine postgraduate schools, will soon be voting on a proposal that would cut GPSC's contribution to DUU nearly in half. Currently, each graduate student pays around $17 of their $35.50 student activities fee to DUU, which amounts to approximately $144,000 per year in total. Under the new arrangement, negotiated by GPSC President Rashmi Joglekar—a Ph.D. student at the Nicholas School—2,000 graduate students would pay the $17 fee, plus $21 for Last Day of Classes concert passes, for a $76,000 contribution in total. Activities fees for the remaining students would go entirely to GPSC.

“This has been an ongoing conversation with the [GPSC] General Assembly for several years now,” Joglekar said. “I think that we really wanted to make sure we’re getting exactly what we’re paying for, so we’re getting the resources that we’re putting the money towards.”

The GPSC bylaws include a provision that the presidents of GPSC and DUU have to meet annually to discuss graduate students’ payments. In the past, Joglekar said, there have not been any changes made to the payment structure. Last year, however, GPSC proposed a reduction in its contribution to DUU, so the two parties have since been working closely to iron out an agreement.

Graduate students are underrepresented at DUU functions, though DUU does invite them to all their events, Joglekar said. Graduate students, who live off campus, are reluctant to spend their evenings back on campus.

Joglekar also emphasized the importance of a budget increase for GPSC, which currently receives only $18 of the student activities fee. If the proposal goes through, there would be more money for the Emergency Travel Fund, community food pantry and student groups.

She recognized that DUU’s budget would be tighter with graduate students’ decreased contributions, but added that there was no need to worry.

“If the General Assembly votes for this reduction, we’ll be increasing our budget by 50 percent and they’ll be decreasing their budget by five percent, so I don’t think that they will have a financial crisis, and they’ve actually confirmed that too,” she said.

When asked about the validity of Joglekar’s statement, DUU President Lesley Chen-Young, a senior, did not confirm nor deny, noting that the operating budget was not public.

DUU’s perspective

Chen-Young and junior Kevin Bhimani, chief financial officer of DUU, did paint a less rosy picture of their financial situation.

In an email, Chen-Young expressed her concern about how the loss in the budget would harm DUU’s programming. She wrote that she pushed for the funding structure to stay the same during negotiations because of DUU’s central role in the lives of both undergraduates and graduate students. She and Bhimani both mentioned the negative impact a budget decrease would have on programs, but did not provide details on specific programs that could be on the chopping block. 

Neither Chen-Young nor Bhimani was looking for alternative fundraising options at this time, though Bhimani wrote in an email that he “will be working over the next few months by starting our budgeting process earlier than usual and working with others in DUU to put the organization in the best position possible moving forward.”

Moving forward

Not all graduate students support cutting contributions to DUU, Chen-Young wrote, but she anticipated that the General Assembly will approve the proposal. Now, her plan is to attract more graduate students to DUU.

“We know that graduate students that are engaged with DUU really enjoy their experience, so our biggest priorities are marketing and messaging," she wrote. "We hope to have better success in confirming that graduate students are welcome at DUU events, which is not usually the case for programming boards at other colleges and universities."

Chen-Young added that DUU is also going to add a vice president of graduate affairs to its executive board.

If DUU has success bringing graduate students back into the fold, the terms certainly could be renegotiated, Joglekar said. Nevertheless, she also anticipated that the General Assembly will vote in favor of the agreement next Tuesday, so any changes would have to be made in future annual negotiations between DUU and GPSC.