Proposed changes to College’s governing statutes would allow Board to substitute student representatives on Board for members of another recognised student body within College, according to a leaked email from Registrar Neville Cox posted by Students4Change (S4C) yesterday.
The change, which was passed by Board in November – though not yet approved by Fellows – aims to update the 2010 Consolidated Statutes, the rules by which College is governed, in light of College having suspended engagement with the Graduates Students’ Union (GSU) in September.
Rather than referring “specifically and expressly to the GSU,” according to the Registrar’s email, the proposal allows for any body recognised by Board as “promoting the general interests of students” to be replaced by another, including Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU).
In a statement yesterday, S4C, who released the documents, said: “The TCDSU rightly dissented from these changes according to the minutes of the Board meeting. We follow suit in condemning this attempt at undermining student democracy and call on the Fellows to not give their assent to the proposed changes.”
The minutes of the Board meeting held on November 16 show that the proposal was dissented to by TCDSU President Gabi Fullam and Welfare and Equality Officer Chloe Staunton.
The S4C statement added: “Student representation has faced a series of attacks in recent times, not the least with the [Higher Education Authority (HEA)] Bill 2022 which provoked criticism across the third-level sector.”
The HEA Act 2022, which was signed into law in October, drew criticism from Senators and student representatives for increasing the power of government and the HEA at the expense of colleges’ and universities’ own autonomy.
Responding to a request for comment, College said in a statement: “Far from being opposed to students’ union membership of Board, the Board last year proposed to government a supplemental charter (recognised by government in November 2022) which along with the Higher Education Act 2022, legally copperfastens the concept of students’ union representation on the Board of Trinity.”
“What this means is that Trinity has sought to take steps that will mean that it would be illegal and in violation of its charter for it not to have students’ union representation on its Board.”
While the wording of the proposed amendment may theoretically allow for flexibility within College’s own rules, the HEA Act stipulates that student members of university governing authorities must be “student union representatives”, meaning that a hypothetical substitution of student representatives would have to be members of another recognised students’ union.
It would not be legal for College to substitute students’ union officers on Board for other students or members of non-student-union capitated bodies, even if it wanted to.
Additionally, a previous provision that this would happen “in extreme circumstances” was removed, on the basis that it was “to some extent tautologous”. The updated proposal states that the action may be taken by Board “following due enquiry”.
The email notes that the general provision was the approach favoured by Fellows at a previous meeting on the issue. Despite this, Fellows have not yet approved of the proposed change, preventing it from amending the statutes.
Chairperson of S4C László Molnárfi said: “Since students tend to ruffle the feathers, and stand up to the increasing commercialization of academia, it is our power to organise which is under attack by authorities, both local and national.”
Molnárfi, who is also a School Convenor in TCDSU, added: “This is a good example which shows that when joint student-staff decision-making is posed as an answer to the question of power, senior management and the government are united in opposing democratisation”.
In September, College suspended engagement with the GSU, suspending its funding and re-allocating it to TCDSU on the understanding that it take over responsibility for postgraduate representation in College.
An email to postgraduate students at the time said: “The decision of the Capitation Committee flowed from the fact that the GSU has still not filed accounts with the Capitation Committee for the financial year ending August 2021, despite numerous requests from the Capitation Committee to do so.”
Previously, the GSU President held one seat on Board, while TCDSU held three.
As of last week, TCDSU had not received any funding reallocated from the GSU.