The Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) has voted against a motion to divest from Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) on a second vote.
The motion was voted on twice after an initial decision that the motion was deemed to have passed sparked concerns among members.
In the second round of voting, 180 total votes were cast. 115 votes, or 65%, were against divestment from the TCDSU, whereas 65 votes, or 35%, voted in favour of the motion.
The initial vote was deemed closed after 309 votes had been cast during 90 seconds of voting.
At the moment the ballot was declared to have closed, there were two votes in the difference between both sides, with more people voting to oppose the motion. However, because the link to vote did not close, more votes continued to come through.
GSU Vice President Abhisweta Bhattacharjee, who was chairing the meeting, said that both sides had received 50% of votes and that she would cast a deciding vote.
Bhattacharjee stated that with her own vote cast in favour of divestment, the motion had passed.
The GSU requires a 51% majority vote in order for a motion to pass.
The motion to divest from TCDSU would have meant that the GSU would no longer no affiliate itself with TCDSU, whose membership comprises all undergraduate and postgraduate students.
TCDSU has affirmed that it would continue to represent postgraduate students even if the GSU passed the divestment motion.
An Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) scheduled for April 1 was pushed back a fortnight and took place tonight, April 14, instead.
The motion stated that because the “Graduate Students’ Union of Trinity College Dublin was created in order to represent the interests and wellbeing of all members of the Trinity Postgraduate community”, the current undergraduate students who head the SU are “unable to properly advocate on behalf of Postgraduate students as they lack the lived experience of Postgraduate students”.
The motion proposed that College Statutes state that “there is a right for students to representation by a union, but not a specific union”.
GSU School of Chemistry representative Mark Berney, who proposed the divestment, said during the EGM that although “there’s been a little bit of negativity about the proposed divestment”, he felt that “it can be a positive thing”.
According to Berney, divestment would be about “ensuring the independence of the GSU, and clarifying the relationship between the two organisations”.
He stated that at the moment, it appears that the GSU is “subordinate” to the TCDSU, and divestment would “strengthen the organisation going forward” and provide “clarity on who represents us”. Berney continued that even if the GSU divested from the SU, the GSU would strive for collaboration between the organisations.
Speaking in opposition of the motion, Serena Foo, Research Officer, stated that this would be “detrimental for GSU” as she claimed they “have not been able to prove that they can stand on their own two feet”.
She added that “if the GSU divests from the SU, they will lose 70 thousand from capitations”, and as officers are currently funded by TCDSU, it’s “going to be quite an issue”.
Berney responded by saying that the proposers of divestment had “done their homework” and, contrary to Foo’s belief that divestment would result in a loss of funds, “the divestment could in fact make it easier to attract more funding”.
“Postgraduates have more experience, and that’s to be expected,” he continued, referring to beliefs that the undergraduate representatives of the SU are unable to advocate on behalf of postgraduates.
At the request of GSU President Gisèle Scanlon, Trinity Associate Professor of Law Eoin O’Dell said that the College Statutes “do not say that there is an SU and a GSU and they don’t prescribe the relationship between them”.
Instead, the only official documents which refer to the organisations and their relationship are the school calendars.
A previous motion on changes to the GSU constitution was also re-run after the recount of votes following the motion on divestment, and resulted in the motion passing for the second time.
Two other motions that concerned changes to the union’s constitution were not run a second time.
The EGM concluded abruptly after the rerun votes.
The meeting’s agenda outlined that results of the union’s student survey discussed would be presented, along with the next steps from that survey.
Originally outlined in the agenda also was an opportunity for members of GSU to discuss any other business relating to the union, alongside anything “ancillary to the issues raised, considered, and discussed within the meeting”. This did not take place.
GSU members raised major concerns throughout tonight’s meeting over the voting process, with some saying they were unable to cast a vote.
The link to the voting platform allowed for an individual to cast more than one vote and there was no verification process to check whether voters were GSU members.
Speaking to Trinity News, one postgraduate student said: “I am a postgraduate in the AHSS and a member of the GSU for some time. I’ve seen some shambolic meetings over the last few years but this was ridiculous.”
“Even when amendments were proposed, we were given no opportunity to properly scrutinise them; this meant many members resorted to holding up signs on camera or changing their names to register dissatisfaction,” the postgraduate said.
The student described the voting process as a “shambles”.
“Firstly, there was no means of registration, meaning anybody who had access to the link could not only attend the meeting but also vote. Voting was held on a third-party website, which simply did not look secure; I tested this out by opening the link of multiple devices, and managed to vote several times. This surely invalidates all of the polls that were held,” they said.
On the TCDSU divestment motion, the student said that “what I saw here demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the democracy of this institution”.
“At the end of the vote, no further business was discussed, and there was no opportunity for members to raise further issues. The meeting was clearly void, and myself and several others informed the chair via email (and through signs and Zoom names) that we had found irregularities in the voting process, but these were ignored. I am shocked and appalled by what I witnessed this evening, to such an extent that I am now questioning whether the GSU should even exist in its present form.”