Graduate Student General Assembly Cut Short After Students Storm Out

Election Talk Leads to Scuffle

  • “I do not think the council of directors has the right to make such a far-reaching decision on our behalf,” said graduate student Charles Igwe. “We did not have a chance or opportunity to counteract it. It doesn’t make sense.” Photo Brian Lapuz

Arguments blew up and many stormed out after graduate students were told at their general assembly yesterday that online voting will be used for the Graduate Student Association’s upcoming elections.

“I do not think the council of directors has the right to make such a far-reaching decision on our behalf,” said graduate student Charles Igwe. “We did not have a chance or opportunity to counteract it. It doesn’t make sense.”

Online voting for their elections, which will be held April 11 to April 12, was voted on and adopted by the GSA at a previous council meeting on March 23.

It will be open to all graduate students through their MyConcordia online portal. So far, none of the referendum questions that will appear on the ballot have been made public through the GSA’s site or Facebook page.

Former GSA President Alex Ocheoha put a motion forward to opt for paper ballots instead. He argued that the possible risk of voter fraud was not sufficiently considered, and worried the integrity of the ballots could be endangered with online voting. He also highlighted that when it was adopted at the GSA’s previous council meeting, candidates running in the election were in the room throughout the discussion and the vote.

Soliman Abu-Samra, president of the GSA, said that all graduate students are free to come to their council meetings and said they could have voiced their concerns about online voting at their latest meeting if they wanted to.

“You already agreed that the elections would be handled through online voting. If you wanted to change it, you could have came earlier to the council meeting to change it,” said Abu-Samra.

Even if dissenting graduate students had been there, they would not have been able to vote on the decision. Only the GSA’s council of directors are able to vote at their council meetings.

Abu-Samra also explained that it was now too late to go back on the decision, since they had already organized with the Dean of Students the exact dates for the election. Since classes end on April 13, rescheduling of the elections would not be feasible at this point.

Ocheoha’s motion was never put to a vote. Discussion on the motion continued at length. Many showed frustration that the decision went through council rather than a general assembly—the highest decision making body for the GSA.

The chair of the general assembly, Jillian Vasko, insisted that discussion on the topic had to end so the room could move to a vote. People started yelling as the debate continued. About 20 students stormed out. At one point, a physical altercation almost broke out between two students. Rafi Mohammad Azad, the GSA’s VP of Mobilization, stood between the two to break them up.

Soon afterwards, students noticed the boxes of pizza that were at the front of the room. Students wanted to take something to eat and then leave.

Azad said that if students wanted to eat pizza, they had to stay for the rest of the meeting. This led to increased frustration, and nearly everybody stormed out of the room. With that, quorum, the number of students needed for a meeting to be valid, was lost and the meeting ended.

Because of this, little of the agenda was discussed. This left the president’s report, financial updates, proposed by-law changes, and discussion of their fee-levies unaddressed.

ENCS by-law elections

Prior to the discussion on online voting, votes we’re cast to elect three students to the GSA’s council of directors, to represent for the faculty of engineering and computer science. They will stay in their role for only a short time, as the GSA’s council of directors will be redecided again after their elections end on April 12. The results will be counted and made public some time after the general assembly.

GSA VP Internal Masha Khoshab picked up the microphone to motivate against a candidate because the GSA had already had five members of “your nationality before.”

Running was Charles Anyairo, Shruti Mukherjee, Mohammad Taufiquzzaman, Jaskaran Singh, and Syed Shahrukh Hasan Zaidi.

A lot of attention was focused on Mukerjee, as she was asked the most questions from the crowd. Many from the crowd wanted to know exactly how she was going to bring real “change” to the GSA.

Mukerjee emphasized that she will be able to bring change to GSA because she would add diversity to the council of directors.

At one point GSA VP Internal Masha Khoshab picked up the microphone to say Mukerjee was poor choice because their council of directors had already had five members of “your nationality before.”

Soon after, Igwe started to argue it was unfair that all those running we’re not all getting a uniform set and number of questions asked to them.

“This is starting to look like a personal battle,” Igwe said.

Limited Access

At first, it appeared that The Link would not be allowed into the general assembly, since the GSA’s bylaws state that only graduate students are allowed to attend. The reporter was an undergraduate student.

In the past, non-graduate students were welcomed at the GSA’s general assemblies. On Feb. 17, members from the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec were expected to give a presentation at a general assembly for the GSA to join their association. AVEQ is a provincial federation of student unions representing several associations, including the Concordia Student Union. Quorum was never met at that general assembly, so they were invited again for April 7.

The chair explained AVEQ’s presence was an exception, because their right to attend yesterday’s general assembly was first vetted at a council meeting.

AVEQ hopes the GSA will join them, and it’ll be put to referendum during their elections.

The chair later revoked the decision to not let the media attend. She said it was not logical to let non-graduate students from AVEQ in the meeting while at the same time barring an undergraduate reporter.

The GSA will present a referendum question to join AVEQ to its membership as discussed during a council meeting on March 23. The exact referendum question to be on the ballot has yet to be public.

Posters against that campaign have started going up around the Hall building. The main argument being that if GSA joins AVEQ, the increase in fee-levy will be $7 per year for graduate students. General Coordinator of AVEQ, Christopher Gyorffy, confirmed the fee-levy would equal out to $7 per year, since AVEQ would collect $3.50 per semester from each graduate student.

This article may be updated as more information comes in.

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