Feb 5, 2020

Divisions and Frustrations Clear at Heated Postgraduate Town Hall

The GSU leadership clashed during a town hall meeting, which was organised after proposed cuts to casual pay were reversed last week.

Cormac WatsonDeputy Editor
Cormac Watson for The University Times

Sharp divisions emerged between the most senior figures in the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) tonight, as Vice-President Gisèle Scanlon hit out at her president, Shaz Oye, after she was unable to state how much PhD students get per hour on their stipend.

The day after Trinity rowed back on controversial pay cuts for casual staff, passions ran high in a sparsely populated Maxwell Theatre, as postgraduates expressed their frustrations about conditions, asking questions about how the pay cut for casual pay had passed Finance Committee without opposition.

Scanlon and Oye clashed after the latter struggled to say how much the PhD stipend paid students per hour. In response, Scanlon asked: “Why don’t you know this?” She added: “It’s extremely important for you to know that stuff.”


Postgraduates expressed confusion about how the decision to cut casual pay of postgraduates got through Trinity’s Finance Committee without being flagged by any union representatives, and how the cut was able to pass without more discussion.

In response to questions about whether the passing of the cut was “sneaky”, Oye agreed it was and insisted that she will “never again not stay up till 4 in the morning reading Finance documents”.

She also said that she felt that the process “was not transparent and it was not in good faith”. Asked if the decision was down to incompetence or malevolence, Oye said: “I put it down to bureaucracy and a lack of real working knowledge of what people are going through on the ground.”

Despite Oye saying that they had “won the battle, but they hadn’t won the war”, the mood in the room was of defiance, rather than triumph. Postgraduates, who came out in numbers to protest the pay reduction yesterday, were annoyed by the conditions postgraduates are working in – particularly the size of stipends and funding for postgraduates paid to them for their degrees.

The idea of a strike was also floated at the meeting, along with other forms of protest like a one-day strike or a picket of the Book of Kells. Oye appeared sceptical of a Take Back Trinity-style protest, arguing: “Take Back Trinity got everyone 12 months of a freeze”, and that PhDs could not “do it alone” and that “you need the public onside”.

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union President Laura Beston did, however, indicate that there could be some form of protest before the next Finance Committee, saying: “From an SU standpoint, I do think that sometimes the small disruptive actions do work.”

“That’s not going to be decided in any way shape or form – this is just an initial discussion”, she said. “But we’re going to give you the space to meet and we’re going to listen to you and we’re going to have discussions along the next couple of weeks and decide what we’re going to do leading up to the Finance Committee.”

After requests from the crowd to organise a meeting with senior figures in the Trinity administration, Scanlon said that she would try to get them to come to the next town hall, but said that “the calmer we are and the more organised”, the more likely that “we will come away from this with a lot more”. Scanlon proposed sending a petition to the graduate studies committee to see if any of its members would come to the town hall.

Near the end of the town hall, Beston and Scanlon said that they will be organising meetings every week for both undergraduates and postgraduates, to discuss the problems that postgraduates are going through and future activism.

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