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The GSA needs to be democratic

Whilst my views do not necessarily represent those of the GSA, I believe it is important to shed light on matters of unscrupulous behaviour.

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Recently, the GSA's Academic Affairs Officer stepped down, feeling that he was unable to maintain his commitment. In most organizations, this fact would be well published and made known as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the management at the GSA appears to be afraid of the dark. While it is indeed damaging to face the possibility of a third by-election in as many months, we still need to shine a light on the issue.

Four days after the resignation was submitted a notification was sent to council by the President of the GSA. The Principle Officers decided to take a much different approach. Refusing to release a statement and preferring to keep students in the dark to reduce any reputational harm, they believed the council should appoint a new officer from amongst themselves. While I am certainly no stickler for rules myself, the constitution clearly states that an election is required.

Whilst my views do not necessarily represent those of the GSA, I believe it is important to shed light on matters of unscrupulous behaviour. The mismanagement that exists in the GSA's inner-circle and the resultant disregard for core principles is astounding.

Concerns over public image should never overrule any desire to maintain transparency. Graduate students need to know what is occurring within their representative body, and while elections are time consuming, they are also necessary to maintain the democratic process. I would undoubtedly trust any councilor with the position; they are highly motivated, caring, and hardworking individuals, but all this is beside the point. Appointing someone from amongst ourselves demolishes any sense of democracy, tarnishing our reputation.

The council was elected to represent students, and while the General Manager may believe it is in our power to appoint a Principle Officer, I wholeheartedly disagree. Council has no explicit authority to appoint someone in these circumstances. The council is the primary-decision making body in the GSA and has the power to create by-laws and regulations. However, the constitution provides a clear directive when faced with a resignation, and blatantly ignoring it sets a dangerous precedent. Appointing someone is inherently undemocratic and unaccountable. The council cannot withhold a student's right to vote or run for office, and I found it odd that the Principle Officers wanted to remove the method of democratic selection that put them in office.

Fortunately, Council met last Saturday (19th January 2013) and deliberated over the issue, deciding that following the constitution was the appropriate course of action. The resignation has however brought a number of issues to the table. Primarily, the Association needs to focus on maintaining accountability in all of its dealings. A number of changes will be required in the coming months in order to improve our efficiency and effectiveness. Structural and policy changes are definitely a necessity; the Association is after all a rather young organization. Regardless, progress has been made and I am confident that the GSA can continue to provide an environment that is conducive to academic, personal, and social growth.

Ted E Brown, GSA Chair of Council

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