Editorial: Lack of Transparency and Abuse of Power Foster Toxicity in the GSA

Sexual Harassment Allegations Shine a Light On Association’s Larger Flaws

Graphic Carl Bindman

Sexual misconduct is prevalent within our institution.

And no, this time we aren’t talking about Concordia’s English Department.

Two women are accusing the president of the Graduate Student Association, Srinivas Bathini, of sexual harassment. Both women have been employees of the GSA, and subsequently of Bathini.

With comments like, “Let’s forget you are [my employee], and that I’m the President Srinivas,” these allegations demonstrate a clear abuse of power, all made worse by the union’s consistent lack of transparency.

Despite having rules that demand that minutes from council meetings be uploaded to the GSA’s website within seven days, the association appears reluctant to do so. Minutes from an October meeting—the latest to be available on their website—were only uploaded in January. This prevents graduate students, who pay $57.28 to the association annually, from being able to follow what their representatives are doing and how their money is being spent if they are unable to attend the meetings in person.

And even if they were to attend, the association’s executives present their reports in closed session, barring anyone who is not on council from listening in, despite the fact that the reports are later uploaded to the website. There is no reason for these discussions to be held behind closed doors. This problematic and nonsensical behaviour can only foster a greater sense of distrust among the GSA’s members.

All of this, of course, comes after a September meeting during which council voted in favour of becoming more transparent, through media outreach and replicating the Concordia Student Union’s media model. While it may seem like a good start, follow-up discussions have been postponed at all their following meetings. The Link has also yet to be contacted with an invitation to attend their council meetings.

As a consequence to this seemingly systematic method of withholding information, there are no public records of a call for Bathini’s resignation in response to the sexual harassment allegations that was voted down at a December council meeting. The GSA’s members have not been given the opportunity to gather the facts and form their own thoughts on the behaviour of their elected representatives—a fact that is furthered by the executive’s refusal to comment on the allegations when asked.

We understand that when a case is undergoing an investigation or going to arbitration as this one is, it is common for the accused to refuse to comment on the case. But it is equally common for them to come forward with a statement of their own, so as to acknowledge that the situation exists. In not commenting, Bathini and other GSA executives are letting their members down.

In late 2016 when former CSU Finance Coordinator Adrian Longinotti was asked to resign for alleged “queerphobic and misogynistic” behaviour, the CSU did not sweep the issue under the rug. Both the union and Longinotti issued statements, explaining the situation that led to his resignation. They were open with their members.

But another difference between the CSU and the GSA is that the former has policies and systems in place to mitigate this type of behaviour in the first place, with a safer spaces policy and mandatory consent training for all executives and councillors. No such thing exists at the GSA. As a result, one of the only courses of action to be taken is to do as these two women have and approach the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the union which represents the GSA’s employees.

As an association that represents more than 8,000 students, we expect more and we expect better from the GSA. If transparency is what their members want, the GSA’s elected representatives have a duty to put in the work needed to make that happen. And as it stands right now, there’s a lot of work to do.