The Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) held its annual general meeting this evening.
There were approximately 90 attendees at the meeting during its peak. It lasted just under two hours, and was the first general meeting the union has held since April. The length of the meeting caused several of the discussions to be cut short.
The meeting had originally been scheduled for last Tuesday (November 30), but was postponed “to facilitate the task of cross-referencing almost 6,000 postgraduate students who are eligible to vote and voting attendees to the electoral register.”
The GSU’s financial statements for the 2020/21 academic year were presented at the beginning of the meeting. The union returned a small surplus of income over expenses during the reporting period. No mention was made of the ongoing withholding of the GSU’s funding by College’s Capitation Committee.
The meeting began with a vote confirming the GSU’s proposed new board, the members of which were “selected and confirmed” as an “interim board” by the union’s executive (a group that the board is mandated to oversee) several months ago, in apparent violation of the organisation’s constitution.
The executive’s chosen board was voted on as a group, rather than candidate-by-candidate. There was not an opportunity to discuss the proposed board before voting began.
The status of the organisation’s board over the past few months has been a matter of dispute. In September, after a report from the existing board found that the executive had failed to engage with an investigation by said board into its conduct, the executive announced that it believed that the board’s term had expired in July.
The executive did not explain at the time why it had waited until September, and the conclusion of the board investigation to announce it considered the board’s authority no longer valid.
A motion mandating the GSU lobby for “full transparency in all Trinity’s investments, and for “full and immediate divestment from fossil fuels and arms” was proposed by Jeffrey Siothrún Sardina and seconded by Jamie Rohu, GSU Environmental Officer and GSU President Gisèle Scanlon. The motion passed.
In discussion before voting on the motion, Sardina said that the nature of College’s portfolio makes it “difficult to tell if these investments are done ethically or unethically”.
Another motion, binding the GSU to take a stance opposing the holding of in-person Michaelmas term assessments, was proposed by GSU President Gisèle Scanlon and seconded by Vice-president Abhisweta Bhattacharjee. It was also passed.
Scanlon described the holding of such exams in-person as “irresponsible behaviour”. László Molnárfi, chairperson of Students4Change, which has been lobbying against in-person exam, said that “undergrads and postgraduates share the same anxieties regarding in person exams” and encouraged support of the motion.
Michaelmas term assessments are due to begin this coming Monday (December 13), and neither College nor the government has announced plans to cancel in-person exams.
A proposal opposing the planned interim exhibition of the Book of Kells on College Park was also voted in. Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has adopted the same position.
Ray O’Malley, chair of Trinity’s men’s football club, spoke in favour of the motion and said that “it would be a mortal blow” to his club, among many others “if we were to lose College Park for any period of time”
Another motion, calling for GSU officers to protest the closure of the Science Gallery was proposed by David Lee, the Health Sciences faculty officer. The motion passed. TCDSU has adopted the same position.
Speaking in favour of the motion, Lee said that the institution “was the first of its kind to be established in the world” and was “the catalyst” for similar projects.
In response to a question about the financial status of the Science Gallery, Scanlon said “the fact that it’s not making money shouldn’t come into the equation” and said she believed it is an important amenity.
The union also voted on supporting reform of the Seanad to allow all Irish adults to vote in Seanad elections. Currently, only graduates of Trinity and the National University of Ireland may vote. Each university elects three senators, out of a total of 60.
The motion was proposed by Scanlon, who has said she intends to run for the Seanad in the coming byelection.
Scanlon described the current setup of the upper house as a “democratic deficit”. Several other attendees spoke in favour of the motion, which passed.
The union also voted to seek an extension to renegotiate the Student Partnership Agreement between the GSU, TCDSU, and College.
The meeting also saw motions passed to lobby for more affordable plant-based options in Trinity Catering, to seek more supports from College for pregnant students, and to call for more transparency in how Trinity deals with PhD students. The former stance mirrors one recently adopted by TCDSU.
Finally, a motion was tabled calling on the GSU to officially support Students4Change. The group has campaigned on a range of issues, including the commercialisation of College and a lack of in-person classes during the early part of this academic year. Scanlon has publicly supported the group’s protests on behalf of the union in the past.
Environmental Officer Jamie Rohu, proposing the motion, said that while he believed TCDSU was doing “great work”, “they are lacking a very strong political nuance and radical bite”.
Rohu added that he thinks “left-wing politics is badly needed in Trinity”.
Molnárfi described his group as an “independent, open-forum alliance of students” and said that, because of high fees and other barriers to third-level education, “we really are in a crisis in Ireland”.
Scanlon spoke in favour of the motion, saying she believed “there’s huge room for Students4Change to be tucked in under the wing of the GSU”. She referenced the Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance, which the GSU also supports, as an example of another group “tucked under the GSU’s wing”.
The latter group endorsed Scanlon’s opponent during her campaign for re-election as GSU president.
The motion passed.
The AGM did not include voting on the impeachment of President Gisèle Scanlon and Vice-president Abhisweta Bhattacharjee. It has now been more than six months since petitions calling for their impeachment received the required number of signatures to be voted on at a general meeting. This AGM was the first general meeting since the circulation of said petitions.
Scanlon said during her campaign for re-election that the impeachment votes could not be held until the board concluded its investigation, but this was later revealed to be false. Due to the conduct of the executive, the union’s funding from college has been suspended.