Issue 4 (Vol 13)
Note: This article has been edited for incorrect factual assertions, and differs from our print edition
This Thursday, the Graduate Student Association (GSA) proposes to reconstitute itself entirely. Last week, the President and Vice President promoted this change. The GSA Council proposes to replace its Constitution, arguing this is necessary to give the existing Council “more time” to campaign and “fight” the University, rather than dealing with administrative issues.
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In fact, the new GSA structure undermines effective student representation.
The New Constitution breaks two basic rules of effective student representation:
1. Student control of student affairs – students should have ultimate control of student representation.
2. Independence – to effectively fight the university, the GSA must be independent from the university. Instead, it has a direct say in the new GSA’s Governance. The new Constitution will gut the GSA’s independence.
These changes will be pushed through at a meeting next Thursday 22 March, with a quorum of only ten people.
The new constitution deletes guaranteed representation for women. Currently, the Council must consist of 50% identifying women. The New Constitution doesn’t mention women at all.
The New Constitution deletes the objective of fighting for Government-funded education. One of the GSA’s current objectives is promoting “free and accessible government-funded education”.
Fighting for accessible education is one of the most basic objectives of student organisations. The present Council states that they’re only deleting the objective to “clean up” the document, making it more “sharp and focused”. But the perception created is that this simply isn’t a basic objective of the GSA any more. The New Constitution contains five substantive objectives. Any GSA Councillor who’s across five objects, but gets confused by seven, ain’t cut out for the job.
The board structure removes student control from student representation. The entire running of the GSA is vested in a Board, the majority of whom cannot be graduate students. There are three Council (student) directors, but a minimum of four non-student (“Appointed”) directors, whose term is double that of student directors.
The Council – presently in charge of the GSA – is merely a delegated Committee of the Board. Board decisions are made by majority, so students lose effective control.
The Council argues that compliance duties are distracting elected Councillors from genuinely representing grad students, who are unaware of their legal obligations to the GSA. Most student organisations hire people to advise, run day-to-day operations, help implement policy, and so on. There is a formal separation of representation, operations, and oversight.
But this separation doesn’t mean students aren’t fit to perform these functions, and doesn’t justify formally excluding them from control over student organisations. Effective democratic representation demands that students perform these functions, or control the persons that do.
The constitution prohibits graduate students from having effective control of their own organisation’s governance. What’s more, non-student Directors are paid at rates “reasonable” for charitable organisations, commercialising their role and giving Directors a stake in their own re-appointment.
The new Council has the power to represent grad students to the University. But the Board can veto the Council’s decisions on a number of grounds:
The University has as much say in appointing Appointed Directors as elected representatives do. The Appointments Committee appoints Directors of the Board. It has only four members:
Why is the University represented? No effective union gives the people it’s fighting a seat at the table in working out who runs it.
These are NOT insignificant changes. They will structurally hamper the GSA’s ability to advocate for its members.
Student issues deserve fierce and fearless advocacy. The author encourages you to go to the meeting on the 22 March 2018, and not support these changes in their current form.