The Graduate Student Council (GSC) unanimously confirmed Bikal Sharma ’24 as student government vice president and Zachary Gaber ’22 as a member of the Constitutional Council during its Wednesday meeting. The GSC also signed on to a letter urging the U.S. Senate to recognize the right of graduate assistants to unionize at private universities.
Following a tumultuous ASSU election in which one of the two slates was disqualified after its vice presidential candidate dropped out of the race, the vice president of the winning campaign stepped down from her post less than one month after she took office. After five months of candidate-searching, Sharma will fill the vacancy and join ASSU President Christian Giadolor on the Executive Committee.
During the meeting, GSC councilors asked both Sharma and Gaber about their knowledge of student government structures and their goals in their respective positions.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble in recent years with the ASSU being able to fulfill its mission as an actual advocacy body for students,” Sharma said. He noted that the decentralization of Stanford’s governing structure, paired with the wide diversity of work done within the ASSU, can lead to an environment in which advocacy can be mired in bureaucracy. “Executive committee is a place where we can all come together and say, ‘Hey, these are the initiatives that we’re really trying to get done right now.’”
Last year, Sharma served on frosh council, where he said he gained an understanding of student government at Stanford. Sharma said that as vice president, he plans to help bridge the gap between advocates and decision-makers by cultivating strong relationships with members of a wide range of student constituencies.
“If I have one main goal for this year, it is to expand representation so we can include all students here at Stanford,” Sharma said. “What would make our body a lot more functional is just having everyone speak, so we can be one, united voice.”
GSC councilor and second-year aeronautics and astronautics Ph.D. student Jason Anderson pressed Sharma on whether he will support the GSC in advocating for retirement and healthcare benefits for graduate students. Sharma said that, while he does not know as much about graduate student issues as Giadolor does, the initiative sounded like a cause worth supporting.
Gaber will serve as a member of the Constitutional Council, a judicial branch of the ASSU charged with adjudicating cases in which the constitutionality of an action is called into question. When asked by councilors about an example case on which he would issue an opinion, Gaber referred to the council’s considering rank-choice voting for ASSU elections.
“I think that’s one of the interesting cases, because technology is something that wasn’t really thought about when the ASSU constitution was first written,” Gaber said. “So I think it’s really important for me to go beyond the Constitution’s words, you have to see in the context of today, how that technology applies and whether it really has an impact.”
The council also signed on to a letter that urges Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) to support legislation in favor of codifying the right of private universities to unionize.
Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board overturned a Trump-era ruling that barred student workers at private universities from unionizing.
But GSC co-chair Sanna Ali said that by putting the policy into law, the government can ensure that the right of student workers to organize does not depend on the presidential administration. Ali spoke to the importance of unionization in supporting advocacy efforts at graduate schools across the nation.
“We’ve talked a lot about how the UCs have their own Graduate Student Union, and how that allows them to get a lot of their needs met,” Ali said. “That’s something that could really benefit all graduate students, even those who are not workers, and even undergraduates who do work. Having that leverage is something that we think is important.”