Grad students lose vote to bylaws

After graduate students went to the polls earlier this month to vote on next years’ executive, previously forgotten or ignored bylaws came into action to question the future of two positions.

Paula MacDonald, an MBA and social work graduate student, came first in the race of three people for vice-president academic with 38 per cent of the vote, but due to a Graduate Student Association bylaw that states candidates need over 50 per cent support, her race has been voided.

While the bylaw clearly states that only a majority votes constitutes election to office, there are no rules outlining what to do if no one has won.

The Graduate Representative Council decided to wait until May when the positions are vacant to vote on who will fill them. The council is made up of 69 graduate students who are either elected or volunteering from different departments.

GRC member Joanne Costello, a social work masters student, believes the process is undemocratic.

“With the decision to go to a byelection, the GRC representatives vote on the candidates, but the student body does not participate in this vote,” said Costello. “In my eyes, the decision to pursue a byelection effectively denies graduate students a right to an election.”

GSA president Rithesh Ram stands by the GRC’s decision despite a similar, but uncontested, race occurring last year.

“The bylaws are there for a reason,” he said. “My whole stance as president of the organization is that we have to follow bylaws that are passed at council and [annual general meetings].”

He argued that the GRC was a democratic body that had the authority to represent students in this vote.

“This is what we could call somewhat of an oversight,” he said. “In all previous years we’ve never had a problem with it because we never had four people run for a position.”

Ram added that the bylaws would likely be amended next year to change election requirements, but the changes can’t be applied retroactively.

This election saw 12 per cent voter turnout, more than double the year before.

While Ram said voting in council wouldn’t affect future voter turnout, Costello wasn’t so sure.

“If students feel that their vote didn’t count in the end, then they’ll be dissuaded from voting in future elections,” she said.

Lindsay Penner, a Greek and Roman studies masters student, won the vice-president student life position with 41 per cent of the vote against three others. Her candidacy will also go before the GRC.

Penner said her main concern was having less time to train if elected, but added that learning quickly was part of the job.

Ram met with Costello in the past to discuss her blog and contact with the Canadian Federation of Students, a national lobby group that the GSA is currently trying to leave.

Costello is concerned with the way de-federation is pursued.

“To me, it’s not being pursued in a transparent way and being argued on the basis of political views and facts,” she said. “What alerted me to something being strange with the GSA in my view, was this graduate survey sent out in April of 2008 which asked us if we should go directly to Stephen Harper for funds.”

She said approaching the Prime Minister directly was naive.

A petition to have a referendum question regarding de-federation on the next ballot currently has over 800 votes.

Ram said that any candidate who did not question CFS “would look bad” to the council.

The GSA has a long list of reasons to leave the CFS, including a lack of services for their $40,000 annual fee and few other western members, which the GSA feels skews their commitments to eastern schools.

MacDonald didn’t know that the lobby group was going to be such a huge issue when she started campaigning.

“I don’t have a specific stance regarding CFS,” she said. “If the students want to de-federate, they will de-federate. That’s basically out of the hands of the candidates that would be coming in.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.