Graduate Students' Association President Viola Cassis did not break any GSA bylaws by having a letter of support in a CFS pamphlet, according to a ruling by the judicial board of the GSA. The bylaw violation complaint lodged by graduate student Ray Novak is invalid.
The board ruled four to one that no bylaw violation occurred.
"I'm glad the board saw that there was no bylaw violation," said Cassis of the decision. "From the very beginning, the GSA, myself and the executive have acted in such a way as to present the issues to the students and I've always acted under the presumption that our grad students decide. They think critically about all the information that's presented to them and they make the decisions."
Grad student Ray Novak's complaint centered around a letter written by Cassis that appeared in a Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) "Yes" brochure, which was distributed to all graduate students during the recent referendum on membership in the CFS. Novak argued that the GSA bylaw, which reads "The Executive and the GRC shall not, as bodies, advocate in any way or endorse any position on a question submitted to Referendum," was violated by Cassis' letter.
However, the judicial board report stated that, "We do not find that the letter constitutes any explicit endorsement by the GSA Executive as a body."
Novak expressed disappointment over the board's decision.
"If this isn't a bylaw violation, then what is?" he asked. "We have a letter titled 'A message from your graduate student association,' written by the graduate president, and endorsing the CFS--and the judicial board would have us believe this does not violate the rule that the GSA must not take a side?"
The judicial board report did express the opinion that Cassis' actions were ill-advised.
"We feel that Ms. Cassis used poor judgement and acted irresponsibly in having her letter published in the CFS brochure," reads the judicial board report. "This action lacked foresight [as] the letter could potentially be perceived as supporting one referendum position over another. We are disappointed that Ms. Cassis did not choose to avoid such a possible conflict of interest."
Cassis was unapologetic for writing and publishing the letter.
"I stand behind writing the letter," she declared. "I'm the president of the organization. I speak out as the president on a number of issues and I do that in the confidence that our members think critically about what I say in the same way they think critically about what anybody says. I think that it's important for members to know the perspective of each executive member, and my perspective was that I wanted [GSA members] to consider the issue and most importantly to vote."
The judicial board did indicate that the GSA referendum bylaws were highly ambiguous and in need of clearer definition and scope.
"I was happy to see the board single out the almost total absence of rules governing graduate referenda," said Novak. "In my mind, this on its own is enough to justify a re-vote. As elected student leaders trusted with making decisions on behalf of graduate students, [the GSA] should heed the words of the judicial committee, fix the rules and run the referendum again next school year."