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GPSC Representatives Attend D.C. Legislative Action Days

In February, GPSC sent two representatives to the semi-annual National Association of Graduate and Professional Students (NAGPS) Legislative Action Days in Washington, D.C. Josh Mahlios, 5th year PhD in Immunology, and I attended as the only representatives from North Carolina. Over two days, students from all over the country gathered to meet with their congressional representatives and address the issues they face as graduate and professional students. We met with staff representatives from both Senator Kay Hagan and Richard Burr’s office and with staffers from Congressmen David Price and George K. Butterfield’s office. Lastly, we met with our local Congressman David Price himself. Our legislative platform focused on five key issues graduate and professional students are facing: Open Access, Retaining America’s Intellectual Capital, Funding Graduate Education, Graduate and Professional Student Loans and Protecting Our Students.

The issue of Open Access focuses on making federally funded research available to the public after an appropriate length of time. Each year the three largest Universities in the triangle spend nearly $25 million on journal access. Over three years ago, one of the largest federal funding agencies, the National Institute of Health, began mandating research articles based on their funding be put into a database within one year. We urged support of legislation that would put similar requirements in place for other large federal funding agencies thereby enabling wider circulation of results and efficient means of searching the articles via a database.

The high percentage of international Graduate and Professional Students at Duke University made the topic of retaining America’s Intellectual Capital a priority for us during our meetings with legislators. We encouraged support of legislation that increased the number of H-1B visas for advanced degree applicants. We stressed the benefit to our society by retaining those highly educated individuals who generate technology and economic growth. Many graduate and professional students would like to stay in America after graduation but are limited by the expensive, lengthy and limited process of acquiring an H-1B visa.

Funding graduate education is an investment for the future. We urged our representatives to consider the benefits to our local economy by increasing federal funding of science, technology, engineering and math as those fields have been responsible for more than half of America’s economic growth over the last 50 years. We also stressed the importance of supporting the humanities, particularly expressing concern over the consolidation of the Javits program with the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need program.

As the costs of graduate education rise, students leave with increasing burdens of student loans. Nearly 70% of graduate and professional students graduate with student loan debt and there has been a steady rise in default rates as a result. We supported income based repayment and federal public service loan forgiveness programs. We also asked for support of the Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2011.

Lastly, we discussed the issue of campus safety, particularly, the low compliance of the Clery Act for disclosure of campus crimes. Legislation, the Campus SaVE Act, has been introduced that clarifies the types of crimes that should be reported and helps to enforce compliance. We urged our representatives to consider this and similar legislation in an effort to ensure that all our schools and students are safe.

Given the understandable time constraints of our meetings we were not able to discuss all the topics in depth in each of our meetings. Instead we focused on the two first issues of open access and H-1B visas. We left material documenting the issues and our stance on all these issues with each representative. We hope to be able to continue the dialog with our representatives in the future. I personally would also encourage interested students, faculty and staff to reach out themselves to our representatives. I was impressed with how interested they were in our opinion and am eager to work with them toward our goals.

—Felicia Hawthorne, 2011-12 GPSC President