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Protest Endorsements, Initiative Overload, LLM Inclusion?: A Review of the Fall 2020 GISA General Assembly

On the evening of October 14th, the Fall 2020 GISA General Assembly took place in Auditorium 2, and via Webinar.

By Anna Liz Thomas and Silvia Ecclesia

On the evening of October 14th, the Fall 2020 GISA General Assembly took place in Auditorium 2, and via Webinar. The General Assembly is open to the entire IHEID student body, faculty, and administration. This semester the agenda included opening speeches from GISA’s president Alexa-Rae Burk, the Institute’s Directrice Mme. Salles-Djelic, the vice-presidents for master’s and PhD’s and the Committee presidents. 

There was voting on five issues: budget allocation, changes to the statutes and by-laws that concern social movements and Graduation Committee (GradCom), and changes to the statutes of the Environmental Committee (EC) and the Professional Development Committee (PDC). Twenty-one people were present in the auditorium and eight more were following the event online. 

Burk opened the session by congratulating the new board members on their recent election. She emphasized her desire to have a “more horizontal democracy” on the board, so that GISA can work with more fluidity and interdisciplinarity. They are coordinating in small groups to make GISA’s statutes more representative of the student body’s needs, and to address pressing issues such as the hybrid teaching system, tuition and rent waivers, gathering spaces on campus, and transparency with the administration. She concluded her remarks by reminding students that they can use vacant classrooms to study, that they must upload their badge every week, and that student parents can ask for theses extensions. If you’d like to get in contact with GISA about any of these issues, you can send them an email at or attend their office hours

Afterward, Directrice Salles spoke briefly. The Directrice highlighted the high costs associated with COVID-19, including the technology and training that was required to set up the hybrid system of education. The Institute is operating at a CHF 2 million deficit, but the Directrice hopes to balance the budget by 2021, with the Executive Education programme and the launch of the new student residence.   

The Directrice also discussed her plans for IHEID. For her, the main challenge is to increase the synergy between the different parts of the Institute and reintegrate alumni and funders in order to take next steps with this initiative. As part of the “Collective Project” Salles has initiated consultations to discuss how the initiative should redefine some governance and organization processes within the Institute. On the 22nd of October the Project intends to launch a technology aimed at gathering feedback from different groups at the institute. The Directrice spoke about several other projects, including  the Sustainability Policy Project, which is aimed at reducing the Institute’s carbon footprint and “re-vegetalizing” the Institute. She also wishes to collaborate with the canton of Geneva and local institutions like HEAD better anchor the Institute within its local context.

Burk then took the microphone again on behalf of the former Vice-President for PhDs, Bram Barnes. Barnes is involved in the creation of a housing association and wanted to congratulate his successor, Amber Jitts, and incited PhD students to engage more in GISA activities. 

Massimiliano Macini, Vice-president for Masters, encouraged students to read GISA’s working plan as well as his notes from the meeting with class representatives available online. 

Afterward, Committee presidents took the stage. Shubhangi (PDC president), Zaninka (EC president), and Elizabeth (outgoing Welfare Committee president) all celebrated the successful projects of their Committees and updated on current activities. 

The estimated budget (pending admin approval) was then introduced by GISA Treasurer Luise Garleff. There were surpluses due to the limited number of events that could be organized due to COVID. In light of GradCom’s limited capacity to fundraise during COVID, they highlighted the need to maintain the availability of flex funds that may be distributed to GradCom. The estimated budget was passed with 26 in favour, 2 against and 1 abstention.

The second item that required voting was amendments of GISA Statutes and By-laws concerning social movements. Previously, GISA could endorse social campaigns if 5% of students brought them in front of the Board which then took a 24-hours vote. This process was too slow for protests. The main change is that GISA will now distinguish three kinds of social movements (protests, campaigns, solidarity statements) and make faster endorsements for protests. The Board proposed that GISA can decide to support a protest and then afterward be open to students’ concerns about it. For the other two categories the process will remain the same. The amendment passed with 20 votes in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstaining. 

The next amendment to be voted on was the bylaws of GradCom. The main changes addressed how to regulate surplus funds raised by GradCom, and changes were made so that surplus funds beyond estimated budget amounts could be handed over to the GISA Board, which can then reallocate the funds to other student initiatives. The other change to be voted on was the shift from GradCom having ‘exclusive’ rights to organize main festive events, to the Committee having ‘priority’ rights to organize such events. The amendments were passed with 23 votes in favour, 2 against, and 1 abstaining.

The main changes to the statutes of the EC was the introduction of two posts: that of the Communications Director and the Events Coordinator. The amendments were passed unanimously. Similarly, the PDC introduced some changes to its statutes with respect to restructuring and formalizing positions, and it changed the election term from fall semester to spring semester. The amendments were passed with 26 in favour and 2 abstaining.

After voting, Burk raised a pressing issue with the Assembly: the unprecedented amount of new initiative requests the Board has received this semester. Burk highlighted that the budget is limited. She also noted that GISA’s Event Coordinator and Treasurer are the only two Board members managing initiatives and their workload is becoming unbearable– at present, 38 initiatives are active. GISA doesn’t want to restrict first-year students, but the Board also encourages them to try out existing initiatives before starting a new one. Burk proposed to have a General Assembly specifically for the initiatives. Other proposals came from the Board and audience, but the initiative issue has to be discussed further at a later date. 

As the floor opened for raising other concerns, newly elected Welfare Committee President Monideepa Mukherjee brought up a concern that had been raised by the Institute’s LLM students. As it stands, students within the LLM Programme, a yearlong executive education programme, do not fall within the GISA mandate. Mukherjee noted that this results in their exclusion from not just voting and elections in GISA, but also from activities and events organized by the initiatives at the Institute. The GISA Board discussed how this concern could be redressed and the potential inclusion of LLM participation in initiative activities. It was pointed out that including LLM students in GISA’s mandate will require some changes in GISA’s statutes. 

With this final and pressing point, the General Assembly came to a close. A traditional general assembly would have concluded with snacks and drinks. Unfortunately, COVID dictated otherwise, and the crowd dispersed without fanfare.

Photo by Rick Barrett on Unsplash.

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