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GSA pushes for fresh start

by Milos Kovacevic March 24, 2015
GSA pushes for fresh start

Graduate group hopes general assembly, elections turn things around

Concordia’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) aims to put a trying and difficult year behind as it holds both executive elections and a general assembly hoping to get back to the task of representing the schools nearly 7,500 graduate students.

The general assembly is set to take place on Thursday, March 26 and follows two previous attempts that were stonewalled by failed quorum. The last semi-successful general assembly occurred in October of last year and did not get beyond the opening byelections that drew accusations of vote rigging and intimidation.

The contentious issue over whether candidates Trevor Smith or Dina Alizadeh won the position of VP Academic & Advocacy seems to have been put aside for now. Had it been resolved this week the term would have ended in June, thus making any meaningful appointment moot.

Should the general assembly reach quorum the business on the docket will concern the original points over stances toward anti-austerity and oil pipelines, as well as bylaw changes raised over the last several months.

The bylaw modifications include doing away with annual financial reviews and replacing them with compulsory financial audits, amending the byelection process to an automatic voting by secret ballot unless unanimously decided otherwise, and appointing an additional member-at-large to the budgetary committee. These come in response to concerns over the financial transparency of the organization and the voting process. There will also be a motion calling for ratification to an increase of the fee levy for the GSA’s advocacy services.

Three main slates—United we Change, Grads for Change, and Cross-Faculty Rep—are vying for the executive alongside several independents. The campaign period lasts until Sunday, March 29. Voting is set to take place between March 30 to April 1.

Yet the GSA’s election, like its day-to-day business, is not without controversy, with concerns already being raised over team names and intentions.

“I was surprised that a slate with current directors and executives added ‘change’ to their name,” said Alex Ocheoha, who is running for president. “They have had enough time to make changes.”

Gradute student governor Firas Al Hammoud echoed the sentiment. “The election will not be fair if some voters are misled [by the similar name].”

“There were concerns earlier this year about the increases in executive compensation which had followed a downward trend in executive productivity as well as a heightened reliance on GSA staff for direction. I was surprised to see current executives asking to be re-elected,” he said.

The GSA Chief Returning Officer Jon Summers, who is responsible for maintaining the elections has replied by stating that this is a positive change for the group judging by the largest-yet candidate turnout, at some 60 campaigners. In response to the dispute about the name, a written statement from Summers said thus:

“There are two slates that have chosen similar names. However, since I have no solid evidence to suggest that members of one slate copied another, I have no grounds on which to ask either to change its name.”

“I would like us to clean up our image quite a lot,” said Smith, who’s running for GSA president on the almost-entirely Arts & Science-based Cross Faculty Representation slate.

He hopes the influx of Arts & Science members will bring more inclusion to the GSA, which has recently been dominated by the much more active members from Engineering and Computer Science—at least when it comes to elections.

Al Hammoud said another critical test of future success would be focusing on the right thing and providing positive, rather than negative, contrasts to unite the student body.

“Typically candidates falsely describe the university administration as one we are in conflict with, and campaigns are improperly directed at issues we are against instead of causes we are for,” he said.

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