The Acting President of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) has admitted the organisation is in “chaos” after University officials intervened to force it to rerun its October elections, following high numbers of complaints. Documents leaked to Nouse show that the GSA was warned by outside consultants in September that its election procedures were faulty and liable to break down.
The Executive Committee announced on November 11 it would reopen voting for the sabbatical positions of President and Welfare Officer, as well as the non-sabbatical positions of Overseas Officer and Treasurer.
Both the GSA and the office of University Registrar and Secretary Sally Neocosmos received complaints after the election event, held in Wentworth Edge on October 31, unexpectedly reached capacity leaving some members unable to enter the venue to cast their vote.
A member of the GSA present at the event said: “there were probably 15 to 20 people left outside”. The numbers are thought to be large enough to have swayed the result in the tightly contested race for President, in which Rui Huang defeated Luke Martin by 132 to 118, a margin of 14 votes.
Neocosmos pressured the Executive to reopen voting in a meeting days the election results.
Necosmos said: “I received a number of complaints and after discussion with some of those involved in the elections it became clear that they were not without foundation.”
A member of the GSA Executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “I’m obviously very pleased that [Neocosmos] urged the Executive to rerun the elections. It’s pretty clear to me that if she hadn’t stepped in there weren’t enough officers who truly understood the flaws in the process and we would have been left with the result of an unfair election”.
Weaknesses in the GSA’s election procedure were specifically noted in the Governance Review commissioned last year and carried out by external consultants. The report was delivered in September, nearly two months before the elections. Nouse twice contacted the GSA for a copy of the report with no response. A copy was eventually leaked by an officer who said: “the public need to know how badly the GSA is doing”.
It states: “a review of the election procedures needs to take place to make the system more robust and transparent.” The report also advises looking into electronic voting and clarifying the role of the returning officer.
Acting President Davita Gunbay is currently the GSA’s only sabbatical officer out of three constitutional positions. Dan Carr, who was elected President last term, resigned in August before taking over his role, while Academic and Welfare Officer Nabilah Halal resigned in October after attending a £450 training day paid for by the GSA.
Gunbay, who also acted as Returning Officer in the election, admitted the organisation was “in chaos”. She claimed she received no training and little support from GSA staff in the run up to the elections and “was literally finding out about stuff I should be doing as an internal officer, stuff I should be doing as an acting President, stuff that I should be doing as a returning officer a minute, sometimes half a minute before I had to do them.”
Gunbay has refused to release the Governance Review to members until after the elections, claiming that it was important that the new Executive Committee discuss it first. She said: “If we just present it to the members then it is impossible to control the reaction that we’ll get and that might be harmful rather than positive… If we were bombarded with negative comments then we would spend a lot of time dealing with that and not be able to follow the Governance Review through. After the elections the first thing will be to have an Exec meeting and discuss the governance report.”
The report claims the GSA’s “lack of connection with the membership is unacceptable” and that the “governance structure is weak, with ambiguity regarding responsibility and decision making processes.
The report also highlights poor relations between the GSA and YUSU, stating: “The attitude amongst the majority of officers and staff of the GSA towards [YUSU] is obstructive and not one of co-operation.”