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Ram stood by the GSA's decision to follow the bylaws, saying they probably will be changed next year.
Paul Baker/the Gauntlet

Grad students lose vote to bylaws

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After graduate students went to the polls earlier this month to vote on next years' executive, previously forgotten or ignored bylaws came into action to question the future of two positions.

Paula MacDonald, an MBA and social work graduate student, came first in the race of three people for vice-president academic with 38 per cent of the vote, but due to a Graduate Student Association bylaw that states candidates need over 50 per cent support, her race has been voided.

While the bylaw clearly states that only a majority votes constitutes election to office, there are no rules outlining what to do if no one has won.

The Graduate Representative Council decided to wait until May when the positions are vacant to vote on who will fill them. The council is made up of 69 graduate students who are either elected or volunteering from different departments.

GRC member Joanne Costello, a social work masters student, believes the process is undemocratic.

"With the decision to go to a byelection, the GRC representatives vote on the candidates, but the student body does not participate in this vote," said Costello. "In my eyes, the decision to pursue a byelection effectively denies graduate students a right to an election."

GSA president Rithesh Ram stands by the GRC's decision despite a similar, but uncontested, race occurring last year.

"The bylaws are there for a reason," he said. "My whole stance as president of the organization is that we have to follow bylaws that are passed at council and [annual general meetings]."

He argued that the GRC was a democratic body that had the authority to represent students in this vote.

"This is what we could call somewhat of an oversight," he said. "In all previous years we've never had a problem with it because we never had four people run for a position."

Ram added that the bylaws would likely be amended next year to change election requirements, but the changes can't be applied retroactively.

This election saw 12 per cent voter turnout, more than double the year before.

While Ram said voting in council wouldn't affect future voter turnout, Costello wasn't so sure.

"If students feel that their vote didn't count in the end, then they'll be dissuaded from voting in future elections," she said.

Lindsay Penner, a Greek and Roman studies masters student, won the vice-president student life position with 41 per cent of the vote against three others. Her candidacy will also go before the GRC.

Penner said her main concern was having less time to train if elected, but added that learning quickly was part of the job.

Ram met with Costello in the past to discuss her blog and contact with the Canadian Federation of Students, a national lobby group that the GSA is currently trying to leave.

Costello is concerned with the way de-federation is pursued.

"To me, it's not being pursued in a transparent way and being argued on the basis of political views and facts," she said. "What alerted me to something being strange with the GSA in my view, was this graduate survey sent out in April of 2008 which asked us if we should go directly to Stephen Harper for funds."

She said approaching the Prime Minister directly was naive.

A petition to have a referendum question regarding de-federation on the next ballot currently has over 800 votes.

Ram said that any candidate who did not question CFS "would look bad" to the council.

The GSA has a long list of reasons to leave the CFS, including a lack of services for their $40,000 annual fee and few other western members, which the GSA feels skews their commitments to eastern schools.

MacDonald didn't know that the lobby group was going to be such a huge issue when she started campaigning.

"I don't have a specific stance regarding CFS," she said. "If the students want to de-federate, they will de-federate. That's basically out of the hands of the candidates that would be coming in."

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Comments

Dear Joanne, thank you for confirming that our basis for disassociating ourselves from the CFS is based on facts! You've read it here folks, it's all facts, because it's all true!

Please, no one ask any questions about the current GSA executives' post-meeting (alcohol) expenses in January, nor why several DGAs want to complain, but can't for fear of losing funding from the GSA...

The GSA and CFS deserve each other, in that they are both the same irredeemable kind of suck on student resources.

Graduate conference in May when many students are working or doing research elsewhere? Great idea! One-time events have a great history of sustainably building communities and enhancing collaboration.

"To me, it's not being pursued in a transparent way and being argued on the basis of political views and facts,"

This should read:

"To me, it's not being pursued in a transparent way - that is, it is not being argued on the basis of political views nor facts."

Sorry that I have more to say than, "it looks bad."

I asked Ritesh to clarify his view on the scope and mandate of student government in January and he was unable to articulate any position.

Matt, I sincerely hope you're getting sexual favors for what appears to be a situation where you're a planted mouthpiece for the GSA in GRC meetings and elsewhere.

I love how everyone around here is too much of a coward to put their name on anything. Man up and grow a pair you fuckin' cowards!

If several DGA's want to complain about meeting expenses then do it. You can't lose your funding for raising a concern. If you don't want to do it in open council, then go visit the office, have a talk with an Executive. it's not like they aren't there to hear concerns. This is something that is systematic of graduate students on campus. They all want to complain about how they are being mistreated when it comes to things on campus, but they always go back to the same excuse: "I'm gonna lose my funding". They can't take away your funding for this reason alone!

A political mouth piece for the GSA? Is this the pot calling the kettle black? Shall we discuss you taking direction from the CFS? Are you kiddin' me?!?! Did you not here me challenge the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies report at the last GRC? Do you not hear me constaintly complaining about the fact that I don't have a TA contract and that FGS is useless in enforcing such matters? Do you think a political mouth piece would be saying or doing such things?

Screw your head on straight for fuck sakes.

Matt,

You do make some good points; I have seen you raise important concerns.

I have certainly consulted the CFS for advice (I do pay them to represent me), but I do not take direction from them or anyone else.

I think dissent is a healthy part of democracy and I wonder if bullying as opposed to (or in addition to) funding is the reason why individuals associated with certain DGAs are reluctant to raise concerns.

In any case, my statement was unfair, Matt, and I apologize.

Matt> They can't take away your funding for this reason alone!

Very well put. They would also have to consider individual DGA representatives' (non-)support for CFS, as well as their previous voting records and their (non-)support in the various granting committees.

Just why would the GSA executive need to be protected from the criticisms of the TLD staff with respect to the former's liberal dispensation of free and unaccounted alcohol from behind the counter?

Dear Annonymous,

Frankly I think that you are being paranoid and naive about the funding DGA's receive. The GSA does not lord funding over your head and never will. Read the DGA handbook carefully. There is absolutely no reason that funding would be removed for any political view expressed in person to an Executive or in any GRC meeting. Funding for a DGA could/should/would only be removed for a violation of the rules in the handbook. If, for any reason, this wouldn't be the case I would hope that you (or maybe not you since you won't put your name to anything, but someone) would bring this information to the GRC, to other DGA's, because frankly I'd be pissed off about having funding removed for any reason other than what is listed in the handbook.

The GSA and GRC will not ostricize anyone in the GRC based personal or political belief. I'm actually impressed by and respect Joanne for voicing her opinion on a regular basis. I, persoanlly don't agree with much of what she has to say, but the fact that she is voicing her opinion and representing her department deserves respect. Really right now she's acting as your spokes person since you choose to remain an 'Annonymous Cow Herd'.

As for you second issue, thank you for emphasizing my point. I have no idea what issue about alcohol that you are speaking of, and its precisely the failure of raising concerns with anyone period connected to the GSA, or not, that no results are obtained. I have not heard about this issue, but now I will ask my own questions about it. If you can produce a current staff member with criticisms you let me know.

Matt,

You say that, "The GSA and GRC will not ostricize anyone in the GRC based personal or political belief."

This is untrue. I feel that the GSA executive is hostile to dissent. I know several students have commented to me that they find the climate of the GRC meetings uninviting and even upsetting.

I understand that criticism is part of being a rep and expressing views, but it is possible to create an environment where disagreement is accepted and expected. At the moment, it feels like anyone who dissents is cast as some sort of troublemaker.

I am certainly not acting as a spokesperson for ACH (great name, by the way) or any of the other representatives. On the issue of funding for DGAs, my faculty does not have a DGA so I don't have any insight into the pressures that reps might feel around that issue. I don't know what their experiences have been, so I can't speak to them.

I think if people are expressing discomfort with voicing opinions, we should all take it seriously. Isn't part of being a rep ensuring that everyone is able to participate and that there is a free flow of communication between departments, the executive and the student body?

To that end, I created a GRC list serve. I would like to be able to share links to news articles or facebook groups on SSHRC issues, etc.

The list is: grc-l@mailman.ucalgary.ca.

I hope no one gets all conspiracy theory about this - it is open to registered reps and the executive.

We need to be able to work together in spite of differences. Matt, I would be happy to work with you on TA issues. I grew up in Calgary, so I am used to working with people who hold different views than me. Having said that, because we hold different views, we may run into problems in terms of agreeing on analyses, strategies, etc.

The point is, however, that I do not automatically rule out the potential of us working fruitfully on some issues simply because we disagree on others.

We are not your personal army. If the organization's SOP is to wing it in the background (deliberately or through inaction) until the electorate complains, it is no longer a democratic organization.

Matt: I've asked and have been told in no uncertain terms (and preserved via e-mail) that increasing student engagement and transparency about the legislative activities of the GRC would be outside the scope of policy addressable as a DGA rep. I've asked hard questions of the GSA executive and DGA reps about the effects on grad students of the university's various HR reviews in the fall, receiving no responses from the GSA until I started CC:ing my correspondence to the university administration and my provincial and federal government representatives. That is not a style of governance or leadership which encourages open or active participation.

You need to ask why the GSA voted to reconstitute itself as a society this fall, and about the change in force and power of the Post-Secondary Learning Act on the GSA's actions since.

Joanne: I agree completely with your statement. If people are expressing concern and discomfort in voicing an opinion then it needs to be address. It's essentail that everyone is participate in the GRC and have serious debate over issues that are being presented. I feel sometimes that people are there putting in time and raising their hand to 'yes' simply because it gets them out of there faster.

ACH: Again you've brought forth an issue to which I know nothing. I personally fail to see how increasing student engagement would be outside of the scope of a DGA rep, considering this is exactly why the GSA began the DGA program. What exactly do you mean by legislative activities of the GRC? I have no idea about HR reviews, I had no idea that they would even be doing an HR review until it was mentioned in the last survey about student space.

As for this last paragraph, again I have no idea to what you are referring. You are clearly better informed than I when it comes to the issues you have raised in these last couple of discussions. I will endeavour to inform myself of these issues now.

Here is a link to info on Bill 43: http://gauntlet.ucalgary.ca/story/6829.

ACH, are you suggesting that the GSA is coerced under this Act or that they are complicit with it (e.g. use it as a threat to DGAs)? Could you clarify?

NFP organizations and student associations have different rights and responsibilities since they are constituted for different purposes, arising from different pieces of legislation.

It is valid to ask about the extent to which the purposes of DGAs in their current form is compatible with their their chain of existence.

I agree. The issue then is whether you find executives who are comfortable and complicit with the coercive mechanisms built into the Act or ones that manoeuvre to represent students in spite of it.

Am I correct in thinking that under the Act TAs are not allowed to seek representation outside of GSAs (e.g. with CUPE, for example)?

I just received a letter from the GSA banning me from creating a GRC mailing list, so please disregard the former comment. I will make an informal list open to all student and interested parties.

I don't have time to create it today, but it will probably be along the lines of: livinginapolicestate-L@ucalgary.ca.

Joanne, I like how you think. Consider:
"No taxation without representation" and how the taxation power arises.

I hear you.
So, there are a number of courses of action available...

You should contact me, ACH. Of course, I must warn you that you may end up on some CSIS watch list.

Yo, Joanna, awesome work. So how do I sign up onto Canadian Federation of Students and gain such great benefits such as the ability to sue student media and getting away with it?