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Fairness of GSA Elections in doubt

Jun 19 2007 21:19
Alex Guite
Doubt has been cast on the fairness of the election for the GSA Chair after only 10 people voted.
Ten votes cast between them

The fairness of the Graduate Students Association election is in doubt this evening, with calls for it to be rerun. At the close of voting yesterday, only 10 people, less than 0.3 percent of postgraduates, had turned out to vote in the election of the first Graduate Students Association Chair.

In light of the extremely low turnout, the Returning Officer and DPGS, Shama Rahman, has taken the decision to withhold the results. In the meantime she has called for an Emergency Executive to meet ?as soon as possible? to order a rerun of the election. The decision was made with the rest of the sabbatical team, with the exception of DPFS Jon Matthews who is a candidate in the election.

Explaining her decision to ask for a rerun, Miss Rahman said that it is not possible to describe an election in which so few people had voted as a fair election. She hopes that a rerun will happen at the end of this week, offering the opportunity to try ?more methods to publicise the elections?. Unusually for an ICU election, no emails targeting people who had not voted were sent out during the election and presumably this would be part of the different publicity methods used in a rerun.

Indeed, this has been a fairly invisible election, with only one general email sent to postgraduates about the process. Moreover, neither of the two candidates for GSA Chair, George Bazoua and Mr Matthews, appear to have done any active campaigning which undoubtedly contributed to the low turnout. Mr Bazoua did not submit a manifesto and has not answered emails from the Returning Officer, indicating that it is possible that he is unaware he stood.

Aiden Roche who was a candidate for GSA Chair withdrew from the election shortly before the close of voting.

The GSA Chair is a new position which replaces the troubled DPGS role. It will be a volunteer position, although a small wage will be paid over the summer and a new staff member will offer support. With a seat on Council and Executive, it is envisaged that its status will be roughly equal to that of a Faculty Union President.

Concerns have already been raised about the legitimacy of the elections, with problems during the nomination process. The number of seconders required to stand was lowered from 11 to just one after it emerged that undergraduates were able to second candidates and even stand for election.

Editor's Note: Shortly after this article was submitted Live! was told that one of the candidates in the election had been informed of the result by the returning officer. Consequently the election has effectively concluded, with no opportunity to extend voting. The constitution appears to make no provision for an election to be re-run because it received too few votes (only referenda have a quota for votes cast), only in the case of unfair practices as described in the elections regulations, point 87. More details when we have them.

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Discussion about “Fairness of GSA Elections in doubt”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Jun 19 2007 21:58

Give me an 'F'!

Jun 19 2007 22:15

just too funny.

i wouldn't be too quick to blame shama, though. i guess pgs just don't care about the union (excluding pgs on live!, of course).

Jun 20 2007 08:43

Ten votes, three of which were no doubt cast by the candidates themselves, is hardly a madate for pgs leadership. And why should pgs vote for something in which they have no real stakeholding? The GSA Chair looks remarkably like the old Postgraduate Chair that was abolished in 2000 for being isolated and ineffective. If you want pgs to participate, you have to give them something they can participate in. An institution over which they have genuine sovereignty, their own facilities, and a decent budget. i.e. a faculty level postgraduate students union. The danger is, of course, that it may be too successful, and the pgs may eventually take over the entire union.

Jun 20 2007 10:41

Oh dear. It's another Union Election Farce, it must be Imperial...

Jun 20 2007 13:22

If the Postgraduate community wants those things then they have to work for it and show a willingness to get involved. If only there had been a GSA Jad, that guy knows how to build a Faculty Union

Jun 20 2007 13:52

The RSCU, though relatively dormant, was already well established and waiting for someone like Jad to come along and run it. Until a postgraduate union is established in principle at least, no-one is going to come forward to run it.

7. Seb   
Jun 20 2007 14:14

Who's going to establish it then Jon? If there are no candidates willing to come forward and build an institution, then it's clearly not viable at this point in time.

You are also inaccurate regarding the RCSU. It was dead as a dornail, not dormant. In 2001-2 it self destructed, failing to manage (and i some cases actively undermine) it's Depsocs leading to several collapsing, it's own clubs voting largely to shut it down or jump ship.

It's re-emergence is entirely due to grassroots efforts operating on shoe-string budget, zero facilities and a lot of hard graft from people that care. First in the former RCS departmental societies (notably Physoc and Mathsoc in physical sciences), then a good year of Physical Sciences FU, and then the re-emerging of the RCSU.

Jad has done a fantastic job, but you shouldn't at all see the emergence of the RCSU as just a rebranding of a merged of PSFSU and LSFSU. It's a process of renewal that has been going on for over four years.

You can't fix a problem that has it roots, bluntly, in a lack of interest by throwing money at it. The only workable solution is bottom up, not top down.

In any case, the GSA ought to be able to get in comparable external funding as finance soc in sponsorship.

Jun 20 2007 15:23

@ james and jon...the rcsu has dont FA this year! sure they ran some events, but they had all already been thought of in previous yrs (queens tower bs, science challenge, freshers ball, rag stuff, parties, buddy schemes). not saying he did a bad job, he did a great job. but he did NOT "build" a faculty union. shows how much one of the exec members knows!

Jun 20 2007 15:24

Although RCSU may have been inactive, its infrastructure was well established. To establish a faculty level union from scratch would in practice require the active support of the sabbs, the council and probably college.

However, as I found consistently during the PostSoc years while trying to persuade the union to establish a postgraduate union, there is no simply will within the union to do it.

Considering the amount of money that has been wasted on the inappropriate GSA structure and the poorly performing DPGSs, it would be a relatively cheap option, and certainly one with more potential.

It?s a pity one of the DPGSs didn?t take the opportunity to set up a PGSU while they had the opportunity. An inspired sabb, hack or council hero would probably have the best chance of getting enough support to set up a faculty level PGSU.

Jun 20 2007 15:59

As far as how much this exec member knows, I am also a scientist and know that before this year the RCS did not exist in spirit in any way. Last year there was no coherent feeling amoungst the student body of belonging to a faculty (as you find hugely in Guilds and the Medics), and now there is something for the scientists to truely belong to.

This is harder to do than run a few events, and takes a lot more work. There is still no community feeling amoungst the postgrads. Fingers crossed one day there will be, but it can never happen overnight, even if we gave them the whole of Tanaka as their common room and a million pounds

Jun 20 2007 16:11

If you want to develop a sense of belonging among pgs, you first have to provide an appropriate institution for them to belong to.

Jun 20 2007 18:04

Jon Matthews is still here? Isn't it about time he actually did a real job?

Jun 20 2007 18:08

From what I've heard and what is above, the complaint about the fairness of the election was lodged by the returning officer and so Shama is complaining about her own conduct. Shama also ran the count and told an observer and the winning candidate that he had won thus accepting that there were no complaints unanswered. This means that the complaint had to have been lodged AFTER the count and so can only be assumed to be based on the fact that Shama didn't like the outcome and so is trying to overturn it. Could it be that she just doesn't like the idea of Jon Matthews winning?

Jun 20 2007 18:08

Jon - I do not understand your argument:

When you say you want "An institution over which they [PGs] have genuine sovereignty, their own facilities, and a decent budget" (and cal it a PGSU) it sounds like you want a completely separate union for postgrads, with a separate subvention from college, a separate building etc.

the arguments against creating a separate PGSU along these lines are more or less the same as those opposing the formation of an AU. , with which everyone is familiar.

If, on teh other hand, you are arguning for something along the lines of the CGCU, RCSU and ICSMSU, whose budgets are set by the Union, whose facilities are nominally under Union control and who report into union council and exec, then that is PRECISELY the position the GSA is in +/- its DPGS titular head.

If it is this second case, it seems a shame that you never bogthered to realise quite what had been given to you and that over the past two years you haven't bothered to do anything other than moan.

Simon Matthews

DPCS 2005-6

GSA Review Author

Jun 20 2007 18:37

I saw the count happen, there were only ten votes, two of them from current sabbitical officers. Don't rememeber seeing George's name on the list, did anyone tell him he was running?

Of course there are still the other positions to be filled mabye everyone should be focusing on filling those with people who give a sh!t rather than trying to get rid of the only candidate that seemed to want to run...?

Jun 20 2007 19:30

Simon, I have consistently argued for a faculty level postgraduate union with similar status to CGSU and RCSU, i.e. your second case.

GSA is an entirely different type of organisation to a faculty level union such as CGSU and RCSU.

For as start, the CGSU and RCSU unions have their own publicly accessible common rooms in which students can casually enter and relax. Where is GSA?s common room? Don?t say the DPGS?s private office, inaccessibly located deep within the union labyrinth (often with the door closed I gather). Most pgs have no idea where it is, or that it even exists.

Compare that to the visible and inviting CGSU and RCSU common rooms, accessibly located in Mech Eng and off the walkway respectively. GSA is a faceless, virtual organisation, impossible to locate. CGSU and RCSU are real, visible and accessible - with actual premises, public space and approachable volunteer staff.

Then there is the question of governance. GSA is a virtual organisation run (owned) jointly by college and ICU, with a nominal and somewhat isolated ex-student head. The typical pg plays no active part in its governance and effectively has no say in it.

That is entirely different situation to governance by a team of enthusiastic volunteers students. Approachable, active and networked students, working to achieve organisational goals set largely by themselves.

GSA is failing because it is based on an entirely inappropriate organisational model. Its main problem is that it has no community, because it cannot support a community in its current form. That is a vital ingredient that it lacks, and that?s why nobody bothered voting.

I?m not just moaning Simon, I am offering a constructive alternative and its high time the union gave it a chance. Give the pgs an association they can actually participate in.

Jun 21 2007 08:40

Jon: so, to summarise, you're saying that the problems with the GSA are that it doesn't have its own common room and that people aren't getting involved.

i agree that the lack of involvement is an issue, but that's not a consequence of the governance structure, but a result of the actions of the 2 dpgs. re. a common room; for years the RCSU/PSU didn't have a common room while it was doing its phoenix impression, and that turned out to be very succesful.

on governance, the College has as much involvement in the GSA as they do in the FUs. in terms of structure, the system proposed for the GSA in the review last year was based on FUs (with some adjustments to the gsa exec), and constitutionally the GSA is an FU in all but name.

i would suggest that everything is there for the GSA, its problem is that no-one has built a community yet. It would be a pity to think that PGs weren't interested solely because they haven't been given their own common room.

Jun 21 2007 10:26

Hang on a minute, Jon Matthews wins so they try to throw the result out? What the hell is going on in Beit Towers?

Jun 21 2007 10:34

I think that personally I'd be wanting to re-run an election if only 10 people voted. The only election in the whole of the union that has a smaller turn out than that is the Media Group, which has 5 clubs.

Jun 21 2007 10:34

I think that personally I'd be wanting to re-run an election if only 10 people voted. The only election in the whole of the union that has a smaller turn out than that is the Media Group, which has 5 clubs.

Jun 21 2007 11:35


If GSA is really a faculty union, then why is its manifestation on the ground so very different?

GSA is a top-down bureaucracy, imposed on the postgraduate body, implemented principally to satisfy the QAA?s requirement for postgraduate representation, and partly to work with the graduate schools. It is non-inclusive and has no public space.

RSCU and CGCU are bottom-up clubs (no pun intended), former constituent college unions, developed by the students themselves, FOR the students themselves. They are essentially owned by the students. They are inclusive and have public space (for example in the form of common rooms, accessible offices, newspapers and presence among the students). Their mutual recognition and competition is a catalyst for their continual improvement.

GSA is an entirely different animal to RSCU and CGCU. If GSA is really supposed to look and feel like an FU in practice, then it needs a serious makeover. I suggest that some of the problems are:

its name (if its truly a union, why not call it one),

  • its inaccessibility (if the problem is ?only? the common room, why not give it one),
  • its non-inclusively (its a bureaucracy, not a club),
  • its governance (give the pgs true sovereignty over it, and let them decide its form).

While the DPGSs could no doubt have done better, I don?t agree that it?s all their fault. The real problem with the GSA, in my opinion, is that it is a limited bureaucracy designed to put a tick in the QAA tick box, thereby serving the interests of ICU, College and the graduate schools, before the pgs themselves.

22. hmmm   
Jun 21 2007 11:43

It may have been possible to re-run the election knowing that only 10 people had voted as it was known that there were only ten votes cast before the count was done to find out who won, on the grounds that such abismal turnout could be seen as the returning officer failing in her duties to run a fair election (possibly).

Despite knowing this the returning officer decided to go ahead with the count and no complaints were made or objections were raised until the results were announced.

Jun 21 2007 13:15

Jon: from what I can make out of what you're saying, it sounds like the issues are with the people involved and how they are behaving, not with the structures and systems in place to support them. The exception being the common room, something which both dpgs have spent a long time trying to find.

maybe better luck next year.

Jun 21 2007 13:44

No Simon, I'm saying its the basic premise and structure of GSA which is fundamentally flawed.

I would be happy to sit down and go through the issues in detail with anyone who is seriously interested in trying to improve GSA.

Jun 21 2007 14:37

Jon: go and have a word with Shama then, you'll probably find her in her office.

Jun 21 2007 14:45

I already did that a few months ago.

27. Seb   
Jun 21 2007 15:00

Jon, no, it wasn't. As of 2003, the sum total of the infrastructure the RCSU had was Biochem-soc, Mathsoc and Physoc.

I know this because I was responsible for them for a while as their CSC chair. I even went to great efforts to try and sort out recruitment of a Chemsoc and a Biosoc, which again, didn't work.

And for the functional depsocs, the only infrastructure a Depsoc has is enthusiastic volunteers.

Indeed, for most of the period where the foundations for the new RCSU were being laid, there wasn't even a single institution. The were a Physical Science FSU that was run quite attrocisiouly for two years, that had no clubs, even it's depsocs, under it, a Life Science FSU that was slightly more succesful in the year that I was sinking effort into it. It took good people to take over what was realy a paper organisation, and that led to the RCSU re-founding.

All you need to set these things up is willingness from the bottom. You simply can't start them from the top down. I tried when running the DSC, it really doesn't work.

You talk about the common room. Well, actually, the CGCU don't have a common room, they have an office. The RCSU didn't have an office, once formed, they had to lobby college to get one. College won't hand out premium space in the hope that people will move into it by osmosis.

As for relaxation, PG's have way more scope for that than UG's, asside from all the areas open to UG students, half the coffee rooms etc. around college are PG/Staff only.

Frankly, from my experience, I think the *worst* thing you can do for a nascent organisation is give it an office. It encourages the officers to sit in their offices rather than go out and find the people they need to work with.

What an organisation needs to be succesful is a presence at the grass-roots, not the knowledge that there is an office somewhere with a logo on teh door. Infrastructure comes when you have the people to support it, you can't do it backwards.

As for the beauracracy, well, you need to have a constitution. If it is "wrong", then why not simply change it?

28. An0n   
Jun 21 2007 15:01

Shama.... in her office?

Have the Aero department succeded with their porcine aviation programe then?

As to the results..... 10 votes IS farcical, though what would one expect from an election that was pretty farcical to begin with, even for Imperial.

Personally for the sake of decorum Shama should have declared herself as having a conflict of interests at the start of all of this, being No Confidenced by one of the candidates can hardly put you in a positive frame of mind with regards to their candidature, and most Union insiders will tell you that their relationship hasnt exactly been that amicable since.

Farcial events like this are probably why most PGs dont give a rats ass about the Union & GSA..... why take time away from your busy Masters or PhD to bother if the organisation that is supposed to support you is such a fricking shambles.

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