Mar 24, 2011

Anger over GSU Provost vote

Ronan Costello

Members of the GSU executive feel that their process for selecting a preferred Provostial candidate has been misrepresented as undemocratic by an article in the latest issue of Trinity News. Two members of the executive committee, last year’s President and Vice-President of the organisation, are openly campaigning for Patrick Prendergast.
The article in Trinity News led with the sentence: “The Graduate Students’ Union is being accused by post graduate students of ignoring their preferences for the Provostial election.” GSU President Dearbhail Lawless has said that this is untrue and that she had received no complaints about the GSU’s selection policy prior to the article’s publication. However, a poster on the TCD forum had raised the issue at length over a week beforehand.

Since the article’s publication, Lawless says she has received one e-mail of complaint.

While it’s true that the GSU’s four votes are not mandated to follow the result of the SU Provostial poll, postgraduate students were entitled to vote in that poll. When speaking to The University Times, Lawless was keen to point out that the GSU is an entirely separate body to the SU and operates in a way that, she says, best gauges the interest of the postgraduate community. “There are over 5,000 postgrads in Trinity. They are very smart and if they have a problem they know they can always put it to me in an e-mail or by phone,” said Lawless. “I would question where Trinity News got their information and who went to them to complain because we certainly hadn’t had one word of complaint, and I had sent out three emails about these elections.” Instead of polling its constituents, the GSU will gather an impression of the most favoured candidate by conducting individual faculty caucuses, circulating emails with information on the different candidates and asking for feedback, as well as conducting a hustings, which took place yesterday evening in the Synge theatre. All twelve members of the GSU executive are required to attend the hustings and are invited to ask questions of the candidates during the ensuing caucuses. Lawless has also asked each member of the executive to prepare a report on each candidate based on the feedback they have gotten from postgraduate students around the college.

“The GSU executive will then have a meeting where all the feedback will be discussed and a vote will be taken. The candidate who wins the vote will receive all four votes of the GSU. I will personally ensure that this mandate is enforced,” said Lawless. Trinity News made no mention of this meeting, nor did it hint at the fact that the GSU votes as a block and not on the personal preference of the four voters – the President, Vice-President and two Faculty Representatives.
Former GSU President and current member of GSU executive Ronan Hodson said the GSU operated this way because “postgrads don’t interact with the GSU in the same way as undergrads interact with the SU. We don’t get big turnouts, we rely on a small group of people to get feedback from our constituents. We have a perfect representative balance between faculties on executive.”

“We have a different system because postgrads just don’t turn up,” Hodson explained.

Hodson has openly campaigned for former Vice-Provost Patrick Prendergast, as has fellow member of GSU executive and former Vice-President, Alexandra Murphy. When asked if he had discussed the GSU vote with Prendergast, Hodson said “We gave him some advice … we are not being paid. Other candidates were paying people to work on their behalf, Colm Kearney being one of them. There is nothing like that going on here.”

Hodson went on to say that at least three other members of GSU executive were openly campaigning for other candidates. Hodson preferred not to name either the campaigners or the candidates they were supporting. When asked, Lawless remained similarly tight-lipped.

Rob Kearns, former SU Education Officer and Chair of CSC, who is campaigning for Colm Kearney, has rejected the assertion that there are three people on executive campaigning for any other candidates. Kearns says that this assertion is based on assumptions and rumour. If Kearns is correct then Patrick Prendergast is the only candidate with explicit representation on GSU executive, with two of the twelve representatives canvassing on his behalf.

GSU President Dearbhail Lawless rejected the claim that such blatant campaigning from members of GSU executive would unduly influence the final vote.

Aoife Crowley, Editor of Trinity News, says that the GSU had not contacted her about the article and that any disgruntlement felt by the GSU committee members was never communicated to her.

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