Graduate students voted this week in a referendum on the future of the Graduate Students' Association's membership in the Canadian Federation of Students.
"We have been meeting with grad students and putting up posters around campus as part of our referendum campaign," said GSA president Veronique Dorais. "We are following the bylaws of the CFS, and have even invited them to participate."
This follows a long campaign by the GSA, including a 2009 vote that was nullified when CFS bylaws for defederation referendums were not properly followed.
"We have had issues for a long time," said Dorais. "We feel that they have been ineffective for grad students."
The complaints raised by Dorais include not receiving messages about annual general meetings and National Graduate Caucuses, having non-student staff on the board of directors and problematic litigiousness -- the CFS has even taken member associations to court.
"We also feel that they have policies that do not make sense. For example, are taxing scholarships to increase their funding," added Dorais.
The process leading up to the referendum has been difficult for the GSA. While they had a petition notarized, including having ensured that all the students signing the petition were graduate students at the U of C, the CFS did not immediately respond to the petition.
"When they did respond, we were told by the CFS that there were some issues," said Dorais. "So, we had the Dean of Graduate Studies verify the petition and we had to wait a long time again. After that, we were told to pay outstanding fees, which we did by sending them a check."
However, the CFS retroactively applied the bylaws to the GSA, according to Dorais, who were told that only two member associations could hold referendums in any given year.
"We feel that we were misinformed by the CFS, and that there was a lack of communication," said Dorais. "They say that we failed to follow the bylaws when we did not even receive any responses about the referendum."
The GSA decided to go ahead with the referendum anyway after their current legal representation told them they were within their right to hold the referendum, as long as they followed the proper CFS bylaws.
"The CFS told us that they would not validate the referendum, and threatened legal action," said Dorais. "We are ready for a lawsuit, and it will be at no cost to students as we have insurance."
The Alberta College of Art and Design Students' Association, who will also be holding a defederation referendum next week, has not had the same issues in their dealings with the CFS. Instead, the ACADSA decided to hold a referendum for other reasons.
"We chose to hold the referendum mainly due to a review of the expenses in our budget," said ACADSA vice-president of communications Graham Krenz. "We also had students who wanted to promote democracy and give our membership awareness of what student groups they belong to."
ACADSA has had few challenges in setting up their referendum.
"We sent in the petition, and our notification was pretty quick," said Krenz. "Everything has been going well."
The cost of CFS membership is also a concern, as it is $40,000 per year, something Dorais feels would be better used for scholarships. However, Dorais did not rule out the possibly of joining with the U of C Students' Union on lobbying efforts.
"We've had good relations with the SU lately, so it is possible that we might lobby together on behalf of all students at the U of C," said Dorais.
Results were certified on Mar. 23 when a 15.6 per cent voter turnout voted 740-166 in favour of discontinuing membership in CFS.
Despite attempts to contact the CFS, representatives were unavailable for comment.