Present: JC (Vice-President), JS (Working Class Students’ Rep), CG (Communications Officer), LH (SU Rep), SWC (Presient-Elect), RJ (FCO), EM (President), RM (LGBT+ Rep), EJ (SU Rep), ES (Students with Disabilities Rep)
Apologies: MT (SU Rep), SM (PGM SU Rep)
Discussion on Disengagement with the SU
CG: Today I met with SU rep comm and some SU officers. We discussed the recent election results. We wanted to ask them questions about it and say how we felt. A lot of other common rooms are discussing disaffiliating from the SU. I don’t necessarily think it’s the right way forward, but I understand the argument so I want to discuss it. We’ve made a list of reasons why we’d like to take action that would be a step towards this. We haven’t been given the results, and RON was disqualified. People feel that the SU chose the candidates they wanted. I don’t feel comfortable telling people to vote in election when the SU doesn’t care about how lots of members vote. But I don’t think disaffiliating is necessarily productive. I think it would be more productive to reject them as a representative political body and see them as a resource.
EM: How does that manifest itself?
CG: I’d still go to Assembly, but vote to hold them to account.
EM: What does that mean?
CG: Hold them to account as being a resource to students and not necessarily agree with them when they state core positions. And not act on the emails when they us to do things.
EM: That doesn’t seem like much of a stance.
CG: I’d like to propose a motion to reject the SU as a representative body.
EM: I’ve not been convinced by this and I’ve spent days discussing this.
CG: I want to formally say that I don’t respect the SU.
RM: You’ve never respected the SU.
CG: I’ve promoted their campaigns and encouraged people to go to Assembly, I’ve tried to push what they do and make the most of it.
JS: I take issue with what you’re saying about the SU choosing candidates. They were the candidates that got the most votes other than RON. Someone involved in promoting RON did do a severe breach of the election rules, and an independent overseer has backed this course of action.
CG: I think they would have found a different way to eliminate RON if that hadn’t happened.
JS: How have they suggested that?
CG: The statement they’ve used about what RON campaigners think.
JS: I think that’s a semantic argument not about how they operate.
EM: I don’t think they would have just found a way to discount something, but I do think that the breach was taken to an extreme level that perhaps it shouldn’t have been.
JS: This is possibly one of the biggest breaches in election rules that they’ve ever seen, so I understand the severity.
EM: The mailing list did only reach 250 people, so the most extreme measure should have been to dock 250 RON votes. If I hadn’t known the rules, I might have put something for SM and ES in my weekly email and I don’t think they would have been discounted as candidates.
JS: A key issue here is that the rules of the election aren’t robust enough to account for the situation.
RM: They did break explicit rules.
CG: The standing orders are very hard to find and understand. It’s an easy mistake to make. Societies sometimes use mailing lists to endorse candidates.
EM: Regardless, it happened and it was a breach. HC seems to think there is precedent for similar rule breakages with less extreme sanctions.
JS: I understand that you don’t want to disaffiliate and want to use the SU resources which are vital. For me that looks like you’re cherry picking the best bits. As a JCR we’re not willing to work with them to address the issues, but we are willing to take the money and resources they provide.
CG: Rather than cherry picking, can’t we get rid of the representative side?
EM: Imagine if a JCR member said “screw the exec and gov comm, I want my levy back but still want to come to events and play in sports teams. But I reject the fact that you represent me.” We’d tell people to be in or out. I’d rather be in than out because conversations are going to happen.
RM: It’s fine to make a statement, but the JCR isn’t a body of the SU, so what would disaffiliation mean?
CG: Disaffiliation is different to disengaging. I don’t think either is any good. When the SU makes a statement, rejecting that. Saying we’re not comfortable with them saying that’s how we feel.
EM: That doesn’t translate to anything anywhere. No one will know you’re not happy.
CG: Can’t we tell the SU we’re not going to converse with them about things until they start representing students they don’t represent me.
EM: The SU won’t care. They have other things to deal with.
CG: But if they don’t care about our college then what does it matter?
RM: They won’t care and will continue the same way. It does matter if they should care.
CG: My aim is for them to take students seriously.
EM: But your bargaining chip has no weight. We should say that we’re not happy, and they can see everyone else around is, and implore them to change.
RM: I think all the candidates that were elected did say they agreed with the RON campaign.
EM: SM has a list of this that she’d like to happen immediately. If we start rejecting the SU then a lot of her very reasonable changes would be something we can’t be involved with. They’re not all the things the RON campaign have been arguing for, they’re more pragmatic and relevant. Me and her are the people who would be most impacted by the changes people are proposing.
CG: So we think it’s a good idea to not reject them but ask them to make certain changes?
EM: We’ve agreed among JCRs to make a vague statement that we’re saddened by how this has panned out.
CG: I’m really upset by the thing they posted about the democracy review. They know for a fact how much I’ve tried to be involved, and they say they spoke to all the SU reps. That’s libel. I was furious.
JS: I understand that frustration. It’s better to put out a statement than to pick at them politically. Because then we wouldn’t identify with things like the Pincident scheme. A statement needs to be one in a way that acknowledges within this serious there are 13 people that are getting a lot of flack from both sides, and there are now 5 people that have now been asked to give up jobs that they’ve earned. It doesn’t create a productive environment for them to work with students in.
SWC: I don’t think any of them are happy with the situation, but they need to find a place to live and a job, none of them expected any of this to happen when they ran. This is so much beyond the candidates. It can’t all be put on these students who want to make Durham a better place.
EM: We really need to not pressure them to step down because they had no control over the SU’s decisions.
CG: I think they should address what’s happened though.
EM: Things will become clearer, but at the moment it’s a sandstorm. We don’t know what people are saying or how serious threats are. We need to let things calm down and people say what they want to say. Yes express your feeling, but nothing should be set in stone until we know everyone’s thoughts.
RM: The election can’t really be rerun. Even if candidates were to step down, there might just be a vacancy. And the election would be very difficult to rerun.
LH: Are you guys not worried that the same issues will rear next year?
EM: This is such a big change and step forward, and I think if we motivate this energy positively and work with candidates for the things that they want to happen now, then I don’t think it will. One of the things SM wants is next year to have the SU elections run early in Epiphany so there is time for it to be rerun. This year the candidates have suffered from that not being the case. But that will only happen if we support them in making that change.
CG: So you think we should give it some time?
EM: We can all say that we’re upset and disappointed, but I think there’s a lot of mob mentality and a lot of offence given.
CG: The SU did lie about what we did, and then claimed it was a mistake after telling all the students. They still won’t let us get involved in the Democracy review and haven’t apologised or admitted they lied. It’s small in the scheme of the issue but it means a lot to me.
JS: When you do address it, please make sure you’re explicitly clear that nothing is directed at candidates. In the scheme of what we’re saying, something like that can be lost. Maybe it should be a disclaimer at the start. But make it overtly obvious.
EM: Yesterday I asked some of the RON campaigners to just put out an apology on its own to the candidates. I still would really like that on its own. Without being a preface to other things.
JS: It’s not the crux of the issue now, but candidates have asked for the RON campaign to address certain issues, and they still haven’t been addressed.
RM: They’ve apologised to some candidates and not others.
JS: A major call to action was facilitating the space for racialised debate. I don’t think that’s been acknowledged by RON yet.
RM: Some people deny that they’ve seen any slander or racial abuse.
CG: That doesn’t mean it’s not there.
CG: So the summary is we’ll give it time and see what happens. But I’d be in favour of condemning the SU’s actions.
EM: How much of a smaller step is that than disaffiliating though?
EJ: So you want Cuth’s to make a statement?
EM: Other JCRs have their last meeting of term this week or next week, but ours has happened. So we can’t bring a motion to a meeting. If there was going to be a statement, then Cuth’s SU comm could do so. Or we could issue a statement as Cuth’s JCR exec. But we won’t be able to reflect the whole JCR.
Workers’ Rights Motion
CG: SM said to support this. 90% of people on the poll say to support it, one person says vote against and one says not sure. The only good counterargument I’ve thought of is that this applies to all college bars.
EM: The SU were big advocates of this and were super for it. It then came to pres comm that KM was present at, and it transpired that every JCR president was against it, having spoken to bar stewards and bar staff. Their view was that prices going up 20p on everything when some prices have already gone up a lot, we’d prefer to have lower prices.
CG: The other SU reps said they wouldn’t vote for it, but they would if it was brought back excluding bar staff.
RM: So they think pints being 20p cheaper is a good compromise?
CG: Their argument is that people don’t work in the college bar to feed their family.
RM: Loads of people have to work to pay rent.
LH: I’ve got the wrong impression of college bar staff then. At Cuth’s it’s one shift per week. If that was really making a difference then they’d do a different job.
JS: They could hold a different job too though.
LH: This is an example of needing to speak to the people who will be affected.
RM: Maybe if we did this, people who need good employment would work in college bars.
JS: Supervisors frequently do more than one shift per week.
EM: At pres comm, there were concerns about prices rising. There was an argument that college bar staff aren’t at industry standard, and it’s a casual job. Part of it being at home is that it’s not so official. So I said maybe the University should provide an accreditation that could be taken on afterwards as a pay off. I’ve never worked in a bar, so I don’t know enough to have a strong opinion. But if it will affect bars and every single JCR president and many bar stewards against it, then particularly because it’s an issue about college operations we should stick with these people. So we should oppose it but I’d be for it if bar staff were exempt.
JS: Has anyone consulted bar staff about this?
EM: Not as far as I’m aware. We don’t hear about what consultation the SU does. All they’ve said is that it’s different to what we’re saying.
LH: There’s always going to have be a compromise, and a price hike won’t be taken well. I don’t think it’s an option that it’s a job that’s just for money in the pocket. Advertising it as a job to provide stability would be problematic.
SWC: I’m uncomfortable with not paying people the living wage because of community.
CG: I’m impartial to this motion.
EM: This is bigger than Cuth’s affording it.
SWC: This is Cuth’s’ vote, we don’t have to think about other colleges.
LH: Would that equate to a price hike in Cuth’s?
RJ: If this passes, nothing has to happen.
CG: We do need to take into account that a lot of people on the survey support it.
LH: I think students are an influential factor, and that includes all the students who like to drink in the bars.
*Vote to support the motion*
*CG will vote for this motion*
CG: SM thinks we should vote for it. There are a lot of concerns on the poll. 55% of people support it. But a lot of people don’t really know or don’t like it. The aim is to have a culture where people who don’t volunteer are a problem. The concerns are that some students can’t volunteer because of other commitments. It’s a core position, so the SU would do more to encourage people to volunteer and will declare that the status quo is that every student should do some form of community engagement program.
LH: There’s nothing wrong with encouraging volunteering, but the should is too strong.
SWC: I prefer community engagement to volunteering. I’d be wary of students’ only relationship with the community being charitable.
RM: I think because it’s a core position the wording isn’t so important.
CG: I don’t see why this is a core position.
RM: I agree, but it’s a bit weird.
LH: Is it necessary?
JS: There’s one belief statement about lobbying the University. While the best intentions are there it could be misread that we should be educating locals. Opening with language like that sets it up for a fall.
EJ: How many SU decisions affect the community?
CG: Their decisions crate a butterfly affect. University decisions have a big impact on the community. I think this motion has good bits but could be better.
*CG will abstain from voting for this motion unless something new comes up in the meeting.*
CG: If anyone has any suggestions for a better approach to this, let me know and I’ll pass it on.
Procedure for Allocating NUS Liberation Conference Delegates
CG: SM supports this. 60% of people on the survey are against this, and 15% are for it. The context is that the NUS used to have a conference for each liberation group. This year they only have one liberation conference, and all the groups are lumped together. So each group used to be able to send delegates, but now it will be up to the exec of each association to decide which delegates get sent. I was alarmed when I read this because I think it should be a cross campus ballot. I don’t see myself turning up to open meetings to elect people but I might vote online. This puts a lot of power in the hands of people on the execs of the associations, but there are a lot of people that might like to go this conference that might not know them.
RM: There’s no reason why It can’t be done by cross campus ballot. Association execs are often elected uncontested. I think it’s a bad way to choose people.
JS: The heart of this motion is that people from those minority groups should pick who represents them, but we could just recommend that only people from those groups vote.
ES: If everyone votes against it, how will people be elected for the conference?
RM: They’ve never elected delegates for this before, but I assume they’ll do it the same way the elect NUS delegates.
*Vote that CG will vote against this*
Assembly Open Places
CG: I’d like to make it so that open places are elected by a cross campus ballot. Assembly is already an echo chamber. A lot of people say that association presidents, SU reps and SU officers don’t represent them. Open places could represent these people, but how will that happen if they’re elected by Assembly?
RM: I’m an open place and I think this is fine. It’s strange that Assembly elects them.
JS: From people that have more experience with the inner workings, would running a cross campus election that early in term be viable and accessible?
CG: A good way to get people involved in things is freshers’ week. So this could be a great way to get the turnout for subsequent elections. It could be the first bit of student democracy that people can get involved with. Because open place members are elected in the first meeting, they only get to vote in 4.
RM: We’d have to see, but I agree that if the SU made it a bigger thing than it is, more people would probably engage.
*Vote that CG will support this motion*
CG: This is a motion to tell the University to sort out online services. Someone in the survey said that the SU should lead by example and fix their website first. But this was very uncontroversial.
EJ: The timetable app is awful.
CG: The SU said they’d do student consultations over summer. But now they might do them at a different time.
*Vote that CG will support this motion*
Removing Updates from Assembly
CG: SM says yes. This is another of my motions. I think that a lot of Assembly is being talked at by officers and committee chairs, when that could be put on social media so that the people who care can watch it. The Assembly could be shorter and focus more on important tissues. There has been an amendment submitted that I like. In this motion there’s nothing to hold officers to account. The amendment means that Assembly would have a time to question the officers on their updates, but the updates would be in the papers.
EM: I don’t think it’s fair to say that students that don’t care about officer reports.
RM: The updates might be boring, but they’re important. If it’s going to be written down and questioned, why do this?
CG: It saves a lot of time. I think more people would engage with the officer reports if they didn’t have to listen to them in Assembly.
RM: They do post updates on social media anyway. I struggle to follow the argument that it’s not important because it’s boring.
CG: Currently questions don’t go on for long because the updates already have. Everyone reads the papers before coming to Assembly.
JS: From general engagement perspective, if we’re doing a two pronged attack, and there are freshers who have never attended before, they might not have read the papers but want to know what’s been happening. If it immediately jumped to things they didn’t know about it might be alienating.
CG: The expectation is that these updates will be well publicised. When you go to Assembly, they often give you the papers. Especially in the first of term.
RM: It should be a situation where people can arrive not knowing anything.
EJ: They do publish things at the beginning which are highly publicised during freshers’ week, so maybe doing it again in Assembly is superfluous. When would they do the updates?
CG: 10 days in advance so it’s in time for the papers.
RM: people don’t really engage with SU social media posts.
CG: The officers would still read reports at the open fora. And they’ll be a short time before Assembly.
EM: That sounds better, so people can come half an hour earlier if they want to hear what people have done.
CG: It’s my opinion that they didn’t do enough to promote Assembly. I think officers will still be held to account. 55% of people on the survey voted for, 5% voted for procedure to hold them to account in the room, 4% weren’t sure.
RM: For people like us I think it’s easy to find it boring, but I think removing makes it less welcoming for people who are less involved. I also think it’s side-lining the officers, and especially associations if they can’t give updates in a meeting.
CG: The SU would still be publicising association updates through media channels, open fora and assembly papers. It’s easier to access social media than to come to Assembly.
LH: There is still a potential to expand social media presence more and engage students.
RM: But it could be on social media and in Assembly. Assembly is 5 times a year.
CG: Now that we have open fora, the discussions will still happen.
JS: There might not be many people in the room at Assembly, but they will generally be people with large voices. The SU can and should platform them online, but if they need a way of succinctly standing in front of Assembly to talk about it, that’s their most effective platform for it. People that don’t identify as members of the minority groups won’t engage with their social media channels.
CG: They will be able to do that at the open fora.
RM: I’m not convinced about turnout for the open fora.
CG: It was in the motion about these that voting members of Assembly should turn up to the open fora.
SWC: To me it seems like the problem is that Assembly is only 5 times a year. If it was more frequent, there might not be updates in each one.
*Vote that LH will vote against the motion*