Postgraduate students have not received any communication as to how to participate in Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) elections or referenda so far this year, despite being eligible to vote.
All Trinity postgrads are automatically members of both TCDSU and the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU). TCDSU does not have access to postgraduate mailing lists, however. Under the memorandum of association (MOA) between the two unions, it was therefore previously the responsibility of the GSU to forward communications from TCDSU to postgrads.
The GSU held a vote on potentially disaffiliating from TCDSU in April of this year, but it was ultimately rejected. Despite the two organisations remaining connected, the MOA outlining the precise details of that relationship lapsed in late 2019, and no new formal agreement has been signed.
Speaking to Trinity News, TCDSU Communications and Marketing Officer Aoife Cronin said that despite the lack of a formal MOA, TCDSU continues to forward all its emails to the GSU’s executive officers “with the expectation that they will be forwarded to postgraduate students”.
Cronin also said she had contacted those officers in the run up to the recent TCDSU referenda “specifically asking that they forward our emails containing [referendum] information”.
No postgrads consulted for this article said they had received any TCDSU-related information from the GSU so far this academic year.
GSU President Gisèle Scanlon said that the GSU “has only dealt with GSU voting information” since the MOA lapsed, as the agreement facilitated “the sharing of information in this formal way” between the two unions.
Scanlon did not make reference to TCDSU requests that information be forwarded outside the purview of any MOA.
Philly Holmes, Communications Officer for TCDSU during the 2020/21 academic year, told Trinity News: “I tried on uncountable occasions to get [the GSU] to forward even a sliver of our communications to the postgrad mailing list.”
He continued: “All of last year, and I imagine this year, trying to reach the GSU was pretty much impossible and any time we raised this issue at any level we were accused of stepping on toes”.
Holmes said that he had also raised the issue with College, but had not been able to achieve more than a short-term agreement, spanning a few weeks, during TCDSU sabbatical elections.
“The GSU previously had a responsibility on paper to circulate all TCDSU communications,” he concluded, “but that MOA has long since crumbled so despite TCDSU having an obligation to circulate all material to postgrads, both the GSU and the College on multiple levels actively prevented TCDSU from doing so.”
Marysia Pachowicz, master’s student in applied psychology, said they were “appalled” by what they described as “the complete failure of the GSU to fulfill their responsibilities to us as postgraduate students”.
“When I tried to reach out and find this information [about voting in TCDSU elections], I’ve been ignored. As a trans person, I feel particularly let down that I couldn’t vote in something that affects students like me directly.”
“The vote of the postgrad student body could easily have swayed that result.”
Pachowicz said that they “don’t have any faith in [the GSU]” and that this view was shared by the other postgrads they had spoken to.
Simon Benson, who is pursuing a PhD in zoology, concurred: “I’m angry that the postgraduate community has once again been forgotten about. I’m angry that our voices literally get ignored by the wider college community, and I’m angry that the GSU is not only allowing this to happen, but seemingly also contributing to the issue.”
Benson said that TCDSU “seemed helpful, but their hands were largely tied”. He said he’d asked multiple times about the issue in a GSU WhatsApp group, only to be told to email the union’s president. When he did, he didn’t receive a response.
“It’s very frustrating, because in my communication to the GSU I highlighted how important it was to get a good turnout for these very important referenda,” he added. “I had other postgrads looking to me for information about how to vote, which I couldn’t provide to them.”
Petitions calling for the impeachment of both the president and vice-president of the GSU received enough signatures to trigger voting on the matter six months ago. The officers in question have yet to schedule a vote on their own impeachment, and successfully ran for re-election in the intervening period. The officers have on at least one occasion given reasons for not holding the impeachment votes that later turned out to be false.
Since the election, the GSU has also had its funding from College suspended due to the failure of those officers to engage with an investigation by the GSU’s oversight body into their conduct.