GSA Reforms Fail to Pass at SGM

25 March 2018

The proposed governance changes to the Graduate Student Association’s (GSA) structure have failed after being put to a vote at their special general meeting (SGM) on 22 March. The meeting was attended by 151 graduate students, of whom 67 students voted up the constitutional reforms and 56 voted them down.

“All enrolled graduate students were entitled to have their say on the proposal, and at the meeting, the new constitution was voted down. While the majority of students in attendance voted in favour of passing the resolutions, the required 75 per cent threshold needed to pass the constitution was unfortunately not met,” read a statement from the GSA in response to the failed constitutional changes.

The GSA proposed these reforms after a governance review, paid for by a University Student Services and Amenities Fee grant of $112,702, found potential weaknesses within the organisation—such as an over-reliance on the CEO, and that the board of councillors were unskilled in governance and had a lack of capacity for long-term goals.

The changes would have meant that the current governance system present at the GSA, in which a council of 15 elected graduate students govern the association, is replaced with a two-tiered system. The new proposed structure would split the the governance and representative roles by introducing a board of professionals from outside the University to “relieve student representatives of the pressures of governance”, according to a statement released by the GSA.

Graduate student Emily Roberts, who is running on a ticket in the GSA election which supports the constitutional reforms, expressed mixed feelings about the changes.

“[The changes] could have provided the GSA student representatives significantly more time to run events and campaigns which could benefit me and provide more ways to get involved, but there was a risk that an authoritative board and a complacent council could have potentially weakened the student voice,” she said.

According to a statement from the GSA, the inaugural board was set to be comprised of four professionals and two students, with the seventh board member to be appointed after the SGM. Future board members would then be appointed via an appointments committee comprised of four persons, including a nominee by the vice-chancellor.

“Ensuring that professionals are able to use their experience to appropriately scrutinise the CEO and internal matters means that students can be more confident in the operations of the GSA and that student reps can focus on what they do best: understanding what their fellow students need and lobbying the university to make it happen,” said graduate student Hannah Billett, who is also running on a ticket in the election which supports the constitutional reforms.

“The SGM was a little frustrating because it seems like some people came in with an agenda as opposed to wanting to participate in a discussion and listen to others.”

The SGM’s proceedings included an issues list up for discussion, which indicated issues of constitution compliance, affirmative action, the appointments committee—specifically the vice-chancellor’s ability to nominate a member of the appointments committee—financial issues and an incident reported by Farrago in which a GSA council member offered students free beer to attend the SGM.

A major issue raised by graduate student and former president of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), Tyson Holloway-Clarke, was the nature of consultation. Attempts to reach out to the graduate student body were made through initial focus groups, but questions were raised about why other graduate groups and student organisations such as UMSU were not included in the discussion.

Roberts was critical of the proceedings of the night.

“The night was poorly run, it started late, considerably less time than was needed was permitted to answer questions and there wasn’t enough chairs for everyone present as well as no option for proxy voting. However, I did feel listened to and there was a decent amount of constructive dialogue and that the council displayed that they were committed to addressing students’ concerns,” she said.

After the speaking list was cut short, it was evident that there were concerns surrounding affirmative action for women and free education. A memorandum of understanding was signed before the vote, in which the GSA agreed to change the constitution to reflect the current affirmative action clause, promote free and accessible government-funded education and have a majority of students on the proposed board.

“The memorandum showed that council was willing to negotiate and work in good faith with those opposed to parts of the [proposed constitution] changes,” Billett told Farrago.

Prior to the SGM, UMSU released a statement which was critical of the GSA’s proposed changes. The statement pointed out a number of issues with the new constitution, and advised students to “consider these changes and ask your own questions”.Despite this, UMSU President Desiree Cai told Farrago, “UMSU doesn’t have a particular view on the proposed structure, however it was good to see a lot of active engagement from graduate students with the process of change and the SGM, regardless of the result.”

When asked what the future of the GSA will look like, and if the changes the to the constitution will continue to be pushed, GSA President Georgia Daly said, “The future of the constitutional changes is a matter for the new council.”

“For the time being, everything will continue as normal at GSA”.

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