The Graduate Students’ Association Becomes a Circus

Calling on Grad Students to End the GSA’s Downward Spiral

Graphic Mariana Voronovska

The Graduate Students’ Association has enormous potential to unite students around common struggles and to represent their remarkable diversity.

Unfortunately, the conduct of some members at the GSA’s general assembly last Thursday did nothing to change the perception among some students that the association is nothing but a big joke.

The GSA held by-elections at the GA to fill a number of positions, including VP Mobilization and VP Academic and Advocacy. I currently sit on the GSA’s Council of Directors as a representative for arts and science students, and I threw my hat into the ring as one of the candidates for the position of VP Mobilization.

I lost by a wide margin to engineering student Danish Sheikh, and I congratulate him and look forward to working with him. He seems like an upstanding individual and I hope he’s up to the task.

That’s not the problem. The problem is that some members chose to turn our general assembly into a circus—and not the fun kind.

First, members voted to move the elections to the very top of the agenda, before even the approval of the minutes from the last GA. Then they refused a call for a vote by secret ballot, which would have assuaged concerns that members were being bullied by their friends into voting for them.

Things really began to fall apart during the vote for VP Academic and Advocacy, when members got up to leave as elections officers were trying to count the show of hands.

When a motion was put forth for a revote, Mostapha Marzban, VP Finance for the Engineering and Computer Science Graduate Association, threatened that his large constituency would reject every motion if members dared to contest the election results.

“We will stay here until morning voting against your bullshit motions,” snapped Marzban, who happens to be married to Dina Alizadeh, one of the candidates up for election.

Staying until morning wasn’t necessary. The assembly proceeded to pass a motion moving the election of the VP Academic and Advocacy to the next GA, and then elected its senators. But when we came to the election of representatives on the Council of Directors, the majority left the room, quorum was lost, and the assembly adjourned.

We never made it to my motion calling on the GSA to denounce government austerity measures and endless cuts to education, and join 35,000 other students—including undergrads in the philosophy department—for a one-day strike on Oct. 31.

We never made it to VP Academic and Advocacy candidate Trevor Smith’s motion that would have the GSA join the growing movement seeking to block the oil pipelines, curb environmental destruction and respect Aboriginal rights.

We never made it to the GSA president’s report, the finance report, or the report on our ongoing—and problematic—accreditation campaign.

On top of that, we started receiving messages after the GA from people who felt they had been intimidated or harassed.

This is simply embarrassing for Concordia’s more than 6,500 grad students, especially for those of us who work so hard for the association on a daily basis. You could hear it in our pleas and see it in our faces on Thursday.

I believe in having a strong student association to serve as a forum for healthy debate and to defend students’ individual and communal interests. I believe in participatory democracy, collective decision-making and general assemblies.

But it’s clear we have a lot of work to do to foster such a culture among Concordia’s grad students, many of whom have come from abroad to study engineering and may only be in Montreal for a couple of years.

The GSA has a budget of over $400,000 and provides a wide range of services and activities to its members, but one of its proudest moments came in 2012 when its members—including engineering students—voted at a general assembly to join more than 100,000 other students on strike. The GSA was one of the few associations at Concordia to participate in the student movement that forced a provincial election and halted the tuition increase planned by Jean Charest’s Liberals.

The GSA’s motto, after all, is “In The Classroom and On The Streets: Defending Your Rights Since 1970.” However, since 2012, we’ve seen the GSA fall a long way.

Fortunately, there are opportunities for redemption. Our bylaws mandate us to hold at least two general assemblies per semester, which means we’ll likely have our next one in November.

Members are welcome to attend council meetings and work with us on various committees. We have a very active Facebook group and can all be reached by email or, if you’re old-fashioned, approached in person.

This is a call to action: If you’re a grad student and see any value at all in having a student association, now is the time to step up and help end the GSA’s downward spiral.

A student association is not a joke, but it will take the active involvement of all our grads—not just engineering students—to prove it.

Jonathan Summers is a graduate student in educational studies, a member of the Council of Directors of the Graduate Students’ Association, and a former staff member at The Link.