The president of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) has defended her role in the controversy surrounding now-reversed pay cuts for casual staff, after she did not oppose a proposal that could have seen many postgraduate students face teaching pay reductions of almost 20 per cent.
In an interview with The University Times today, Shaz Oye said a proposal to reduce hourly pay rates for some casual staff – which drew no opposition when it passed through Trinity’s Finance Committee in November – was hidden in hundreds of pages of documents and not flagged as an issue with significant implications for students.
She also criticised Trinity for a lack of “transparency” in how it circulates committee documents – something members have frequently criticised College for in the past – and stated: “I’m human. I missed it.”
Oye, who sits as a member of Finance Committee, last night apologised for failing to spot the significance of a proposal that was first revealed by The University Times. “I want to say to all of my members who are concerned about this, I missed it – hands up, I missed it – and I apologise for that”, she said.
Today, Oye expressed “deep regret” at the “distress” caused to postgraduate students by the reduction, and added: “As I said yesterday, and I absolutely reiterate that, yes, hands up. On the 18th of November, at that Finance Committee meeting, I missed it. I missed it.”
Almost 80 postgraduate students this morning protested the proposal ahead of a meeting of Finance Committee. This afternoon, the College announced it had reversed the pay reductions for casual staff pending further discussion.
If Oye was apologetic over not spotting the proposal, however, she was also heavily critical of the structures governing Trinity’s committees, and hit out at College for a lack of transparency after it passed the proposal through Finance as an item for noting, rather than flagging it as a topic for discussion.
“The way in which it was listed for noting and approval suggests, and suggested then, that it was not an item of such import to the postgraduate community”, she said. “Clearly, it needed robust discussion, and indeed more discussion.”
Because the proposal came to Finance as an item for noting, members would have had to inform the College in advance if they wanted to discuss it. Otherwise, the committee’s regulations stipulate, “the Chairperson will propose that they be noted and, where appropriate, that action proposed or reported be approved as presented”.
Oye said that “the item that drew attention to it, the small item, that was literally two lines, and then you would have had to have gone trawling through the thing to find the memorandum. And obviously, nobody did”.
But she said that “this morning, I set out to fix that mistake, that oversight – I did fix it. It is temporary: it needs a permanent fix. And so we have opened that door now, and that is the next big thing”.
Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union President Laura Beston, who also sits on Finance Committee, was ill on November 18th and not in attendance at the meeting.
Oye added that “if there are items or matters in those that impact the undergrad or the postgrad community, then I think this needs to be flagged to us in some way on the document. Because if you get a document days before a meeting, and it’s got between 300 and 400 pages to go through, and you’re going to meeting after meeting after meeting, you hardly have time to breathe and you’re staying up until 4 in the morning crawling through documents checking every line”.
“That is not – I don’t care what anybody says – but that’s just not viable”, she said. “It’s not reasonable to expect anybody to be able to do that.”
She also argued that other members of the committee had also failed to spot the significance of a memorandum that saw many postgraduates suffer pay cuts of between 10 and 20 per cent. She said that “there’s no getting around that everybody who was at this morning’s Finance Meeting, and who was also present on the 18th of November”, had also missed the document.
But she admitted that students “are right to be angry. And they’re going to be angry at me, and they are absolutely right to be angry with me. Of course they are”.
The documents, she said, are sometimes circulated just “days before meetings. And whereas different people in College may have the administrative backup to go through all of that stuff, neither the GSU nor the SU does. So we’re automatically at a disadvantage”.
“So I would say: yes, I missed it. I am human. I am president of the GSU and I’m also a human being, and I missed it. And what it’s my job to do now is to reverse it, to put it to bed once and for all.”