Editorial: The GSU Executive is destroying its own union to avoid accountability

The events of the last few months constitute an embarrassing and destructive campaign to avoid scrutiny and consolidate control

The Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) has become a running joke of sorts, with many in Trinity spending the past couple of months eagerly waiting to see what goes wrong next. Last week, that joke became (depending on your perspective) either much funnier or much, much less so.

It’s perhaps important to review the chronology of events, to appreciate just how far the union has fallen. In April, the GSU held an EGM. There was significant criticism of the way this EGM was run and, in particular, the conduct of President Giséle Scanlon and Vice-President Abhisweta Bhattacharjee. Petitions were then circulated to hold votes of impeachment for both officers, which reached the requisite signatures counts, but votes were never held.

Shortly thereafter, the union’s annual elections came around. Ultimately, both officers were re-elected, though not without some questions surrounding the fairness of that election. During the campaign, Scanlon was asked why the impeachment votes had not yet been held. She said it was because the GSU Board was investigating the EGM from which the impeachment campaign stemmed, and the votes couldn’t be held until the board’s investigation was concluded. The board then effectively said this statement was untrue, but the votes were still not held.

The board went on to release the results of its report, saying that the executive had not cooperated with the investigation, despite Scanlon having used it as an excuse to avoid impeachment proceedings. The executive then accused the board of lying, saying it possessed emails that proved it had cooperated. The board said this meant nothing without releasing the text of the emails. The text of the emails has not been released, making it hard to argue but that the board was right.

The GSU, during this, lost its funding from College due to the executive’s lack of cooperation with accountability mechanisms. Last week, just before the Capitation Committee was due to revisit the funding issue, the executive suddenly claimed that the GSU Board’s term had expired and a new one had been appointed in its place. It has not been explained who the members of the “new board” are, or on what basis it was appointed.

So, that’s where we stand. And with all that in mind, it’s difficult to disagree with the GSU Board’s latest assessment of the situation – that it’s “farcical”. It is the opinion of this newspaper that these events constitute a long-running campaign by Scanlon and Bhattacharjee to avoid scrutiny, suppress democratic control of the union, and consolidate their own power.

First, they clung to the board as a way to avoid impeachment proceedings, and now they are clearly trying to replace the board because it did its job in trying to hold them to account. It’s difficult not to sound comical or hyperbolic when describing this, but this is truly the kind of behaviour one would expect from a tinpot dictator.

They now preside over a union that has been stripped of its funding and lost any legitimacy it ever had. The organisation is a shadow of its former self, postgrads have not been meaningfully represented by anyone for months now, and the blame for this lies squarely and solely with the GSU leadership.

The executive’s self-centred campaign to avoid the slightest admission of wrongdoing has prevented it from taking action on any of the myriad of problems that masters and PhD students face. Casual teaching staff are still treated awfully by the university, even while the president and vice-president spend months avoiding impeachment votes and find time to take a formal stance on one specific wasps’ nest on campus.

The GSU’s leadership must immediately cease its coup-like attempt to replace the legitimate board, it must comply fully with a rerun of the investigation it stonewalled, and it must hold a general meeting to vote on the impeachment of Scanlon and Bhattacharjee. At this meeting, there should also be a rerun of the votes from the April EGM, so the question of whether those decisions were legitimate can finally be settled. Only then can the union move on, rebuild its democratic structures, represent postgrads, and fight for their rights.

And ultimately if the GSU Executive is unwilling to be held accountable and to cease pulling the union down around it for the sake of its own ego, its members should resign. This has gone on for far too long.