Commentary | Building a new future for AGSEM

Employed grad students hold GA

On September 27, the Association for Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), McGill’s largest union, will hold its second General Assembly (GA) of 2012. All indicators suggest it will be better than the first.

AGSEM’s March 30 GA was a bitter and acrimonious affair. Among other issues, a “special general assembly” was held prior to the annual GA without any notice to the members, in violation of Articles 21, 23, and 25 of the AGSEM constitution; the assembly was chaired by a non-member of AGSEM rather than the AGSEM president, as required by Articles 38 and 54; the chair of the assembly prohibited the auditor of ASGEM’s financial statements from making the required report to the assembly, a report which was pertinent to the constitutional changes, in violation of Article 21; the chair refused to allow members to see the financial statements or the budget prior to the vote on constitutional changes which involved new spending; and the chair refused to allow members to propose changes to the motion to modify the constitution, even though that right is guaranteed by Articles 61 and 69. In short, a bizarre mixture of good-faith efforts to ensure meeting efficiency and irrational paranoia about members exercising their rights destroyed the integrity of the assembly and left AGSEM markedly divided.

Since then, the leadership of AGSEM, many of whom were newly elected, have worked closely with members who have raised concerns about the March assembly. In difficult and stressful circumstances, and under the cloud of a potential legal challenge, AGSEM’s leaders have sought to redress the wrongs of the March GA. AGSEM’s upcoming GA is the culmination of these efforts.

At the new assembly, AGSEM’s Coordinating Committee, in a motion regarding the March GA, will acknowledge the possibility that “procedural errors took place during these assemblies” and that “members have criticized the manner in which these assemblies took place.” AGSEM members will have the opportunity to “to discuss the General Assembly of 30 March, so as to ensure that the union may go forward on a basis of unity.” By acknowledging members’ concerns and providing a forum for discussion of concerns, AGSEM’s leaders are affirming the democratic, member-driven culture essential to AGSEM’s success and taking responsibility for the faults of the March assembly. Such an approach is critical to ensure a strong and united union. Perhaps more significantly, the Coordinating Committee will be asking members to resolve, “without admission with respect to the claims of any party, that the resolutions adopted during the assemblies of 30 March 2012 be ratified and considered valid from the date of 30 March 2012.” This motion is an implicit acknowledgement of the invalidity of the March assembly due to violations of members’ rights and its passage is essential to restore AGSEM’s operation to unquestionably legal status.

There are many other positive motions coming forward at AGSEM’s September assembly. There are proposals to modify the constitution to address many of the concerns raised by the March assembly, such as ensuring proper notice is given before meetings, clarifying the quorum of a meeting, clarifying financial practices, empowering members to utilize the petition process to impeach elected officers, and certifying that members indeed do have the right to propose and amend motions at GAs.

These challenging and time-consuming efforts to address concerns and empower members would not have been possible without the tireless work, under trying circumstances, of AGSEM’s leaders on the Coordinating and Constitution Committees, including but not limited to Daniel Simeone, Sunci Avlijas, Ross Stitt, Justin Marleau, Cora-Lee Conway, and Tariq Nizami, all of whom demonstrated real leadership over the past few months.

I left AGSEM’s March 30 GA distraught and deeply worried about the future of my union. I approach AGSEM’s September 27 GA with renewed confidence that my union and its leaders are strong and principled.

Jonathan Mooney is the President of the Post Graduate Students’ Society can be reached at jonathan.mooney@mail.mcgill.ca.

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