Graduate Students’ Union President Gisèle Scanlon has ordered the union’s board to step down, which the chair of the board has said is unconstitutional.
In an email to GSU Board members – seen by The University Times – Scanlon said: “I wish to convey my sincerest thanks for all of your hand work, dedication during your term as a member of the GSU Board.”
“As you are most likely aware, the term limit for a position within the GSU Board is three years and as the current Board was constituted by my predecessor Shane Collins on July 5th 2018, your term in office has now regrettably concluded.”
“I speak for myself, Abhisweta and indeed all members of the GSU in thanking you for your tireless effort and attention.”
According to the old GSU constitution, Board members are not allowed to hold the same position for more than two terms.
However, the constitution does not indicate that the president has the power to dismiss Board members independently.
GSU Board members are appointed by the Nominating Committee.
The Capitation Committee was due to meet today to decide whether it would continue to withhold funding from the GSU, but the meeting was suspended due to Scanlon’s email.
According to the new GSU constitution – which was enacted in April but the legitimacy of the vote remains uncertain –, the Board must comprise “members of the postgraduate community with appropriate experience”.
The board’s Chair John Walsh told The University Times that Scanlon’s move was unconstitutional and her conduct amounted to “a comedy of errors”.
Walsh, who was speaking in a personal capacity as the board has not had time to consider the development yet, said the board was operating off the old constitution.
“Members of the Board are eligible for re-appointment to a second three year term and cannot simply be removed by fiat from the President – appointments to the Board have to be approved by a General Meeting”, he said.
“This unilateral action raises fundamental questions about the governance of the GSU, as it is a transparent attempt to stand down the current Board following a report which pointed out a lack of engagement and co-operation from the current leadership of the GSU.”
“This is simply a farce, in which the GSU President sets out to remove an oversight body because we attempted to carry out oversight of the GSU.”
“The report of the Board remains before the Capitation Committee”, Walsh said.
Scanlon did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Last month, the chair of the GSU board called on the union to release emails to the Capitation Committee regarding the board’s investigation into the GSU’s contentious April EGM.
Scanlon, Vice President Abhisweta Bhattacharjee and Oversight Officer David Donohue have said that the board’s conclusion – that the president and vice president did not sufficiently engage in the process – was “misleading, inaccurate, misrepresentative and unfounded”.
An email sent to the Capitation Committee which was signed by Scanlon, Bhattacharjee and Donohoe, seen by The University Times, said that “there has been ongoing and full engagement from the GSU team”.
In an email statement to The University Times on August 4th, Walsh said: “The Board stands over the fairness and accuracy of its report. The release of a list of emails is meaningless without knowing the content of these emails and if these emails are being used to call into the question [sic] the Board’s report, the content of these emails should be made available by the GSU to the Capitation Committee.
“Claims of vindication based on a list of emails lack credibility”, Walsh said.
Scanlon, Bhattacharjee and Donohue said in their email: “The GSU and the Board have had a total of 25 emails in 7 weeks which translates into 3 emails per week (see attached summary of email timestamps); this illustrates that there has been ongoing and full engagement from the GSU team”, they added.
“Therefore, the GSU finds the GSU Board members’ decision disappointing in that it is misleading, inaccurate, misrepresentative and unfounded. The GSU Board’s deliberation does not reflect the interests and spirit of a Union that is constituted to represent 5,000+ postgraduate students at Trinity College Dublin. Please see the link attached of engagements with timestamps.”
The contents of the emails were not included in the email to the Capitation Committee.
The board received two complaints about the events of the EGM – a meeting that provoked outrage among members of the GSU.
Following the meeting, petitions to impeach Scanlon and Bhattacharjee – who were both re-elected to their positions in June – were circulated among postgraduates. The petition to impeach Scanlon reached the requisite 60 signatures.
The GSU Board’s summary of conclusions said that “the Board communicated with the GSU Vice President in her capacity as Secretary to the Executive (on 1 May 2021) and the GSU President (on 17 May, 2 June and 23 June) to seek their response to issues raised in these submissions”.
“No such submission was received by the Board by the designated and extended deadline (Friday 25 June) following interaction over a period of seven weeks.”
The Capitation Committee, which provides funding to the GSU, subsequently said it would withhold funding from the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) until the union deals with the complaints about the EGM.