<p>Jacob Rodrigo, the vice-president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and an electorate officer in Bill Shorten’s office, has offered graduate students free beer in exchange for helping push though controversial changes to the GSA’s constitution.</p>
Jacob Rodrigo, the vice-president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and an electorate officer in Bill Shorten’s office, has offered graduate students free beer in exchange for helping push through controversial changes to the GSA’s constitution.
Rodrigo, a third-year Juris Doctor student at the Melbourne Law School (MLS), has created a private Facebook event inviting a number of MLS students to the Prince Alfred Hotel in Parkville in order to “stack” a contentious vote taking place across the road that would remove complete student control of the GSA.
The description of the event, entitled “GSA SGM drinks: AKA help a mate out”, has been posted under Rodrigo’s Facebook pseudonym Jacob Thomas. It reads:
“The Graduate Student Association is proposing to update its constitution at a Special General meeting this Thursday. As you may know, as the Vice President of the GSA, I’ve spent a good portion of my summer helping develop these changes. I’m really keen to see them get passed: that’s where you come in.
If you’re on campus and free on Thursday afternoon/evening, join me at the PA for a beer (first one’s on me). We’ll then walk across the road to the GSA for the SGM at 5:30 pm, smash that out quickly and then enjoy some GSA-supplied food and drinks.
In other words: please be my stacks.
(N.B. You must be a current UoM graduate student to vote—and therefore, to get free beer out of me.)”
When contacted by Farrago, Rodrigo said, “It was a private event, personal friends were invited. It was just to encourage people to turn out. It’s a time-honoured tradition in student politics to give people beers to incentivise them to come out … I would definitely encourage people at the event to vote yes but I’m not only inviting people that I would expect to vote yes.”
“The thing about bringing stacks is, if you know me that’s an aspect of my dry and sardonic humour. If you’ve seen the West Wing I would characterise myself a bit like Toby Ziegler,” he said.
The scandal is the latest development in the furore surrounding divisive changes proposed by the GSA’s council, of which Rodrigo is also a member. The council has argued that the governance work that its members are obliged to undertake is too difficult, complex and time-intensive to continue with its current governance structure.
Among the most contentious of the changes are creating a board run by a majority of non-student professionals, giving the vice-chancellor of the University a say over appointments to the board, removing a clause that enshrines “free and accessible government-funded education” as one of the GSA’s purposes, and removing a 50 per cent gender quota for the elected students’ council from the constitution. While the gender quota still exists in the electoral regulations, these can be changed by the board.
On Monday, tensions boiled over after the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) released a statement raising concerns about the changes listed above.
“A core principle for UMSU is that student representative organisations should be student controlled,” said UMSU President Desiree Cai.
“This does not mean that student representatives make every decision in an organisation, but that the broad power to determine organisational strategy and policy (functions of a Board) remains in the hands of students,”
In response, GSA President Georgia Daly called the UMSU statement “largely uninformed” and accused UMSU student councillors of being “unaware of their own legal liabilities”.
Daly defended the proposed governance changes, saying that the introduction of the board will allow students’ council to focus on student representative issues.
In response to the concern that the GSA would no longer be fighting for “free and accessible education”, Daly stated, “Our commitment to fighting fee hikes and reductions in Commonwealth Supported Places for graduate students remains unwavering.” Farrago understands this to mean that while the GSA will campaign against fee hikes, free education will no longer be a commitment.
While Daly and Rodrigo have argued that the changes would create “stronger oversight and greater accountability”, Rodrigo’s attempt to buy off voters calls those aims into question and casts a pall over the GSA restructure.
It remains to be seen whether Rodrigo’s tactics will be able to garner the support of 75 per cent of the voting floor at the SGM in the 1888 Building’s Gryphon Gallery at 5:30pm this Thursday, 22 March.
For full disclosure, Cameron Doig is a potential candidate for the vacant position on UMSU’s students council as graduate representative.
Jeremy Nadel has no formal association with either UMSU or the GSA besides membership.
Correction: a previous version of this article referred to the West Wing character Toby Ziegler as Toby Weasler.