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Four SU Referenda Launched

The Students’ Union today launched ‘The Big Ask’, the first SU referenda to take place in nine years. Four questions are being proposed to students, with voting open on the portal from now until 5pm on the 14th of February. On Monday, the ‘Big Debate’ saw the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns for each of the four questions propose their alternating positions. Emily Tripp reports.

1. Should the Students’ Union adopt the new proposal for the Executive structure?
Proposed change: Four of the current Executive Officer positions will be removed – Finance and Services, Equal Opportunities & Welfare, Environment & Social Justice and Accommodation & Community. The roles of the remaining five will be redefined as – President, Education, Activities, Athletic Union, and Welfare & Community.

Yes (Rosie Tressler)
Rosie’s opening speech centred upon the notion that the proposed executive structure would increase efficiency, creating a “tighter and more dynamic team”. The Executive Operation Audit conducted last year highlighted key failings of the current structure, although Rosie was quick to clarify that these failings were operational and not financial. This “large and unwieldy” system is a barrier to further representational opportunities of officers. Rosie argued that officers could better fulfil their roles if dedicated staff carried out their operational duties.

No (Fran Cowling)
The objection raised by Fran was directed at the merging of the roles of Equal Opportunities & Welfare Officer with the Accommodations & Communities Officer. Students face an “uncertain future” as a result of national issues, such as the tuition fee increase, as well as local problems such as in recent problematic relations with the council. Fran argued that this is therefore no time to be reducing student representatives. Without dedicated officers for minorities, key members of the student community will be voiceless. Fran stated that “there is so much more to equal opportunities” than those issues covered by the representative officers, and safeguarding the problems of the minorities will not happen if the number of officers is reduced.

Questions Raised
Questions mainly focused on how far reducing the size of the executive would undermine its ability as a representative body. Rosie maintained that it was indeed the “best way for these roles to go”, speaking from her experience as Equal Opportunities officer for the past six months. Rather than having officers devoted to certain issues, Rosie advocated embedding this role within the duties of all officers. This led to further questions on the motivations behind candidates standing for election, with candidates driven to the role out of experience, such as in housing, having to dilute their interest in order to focus on other issues, such as LGBT representation, and as a consequence be less inclined to take part. Although Rosie argued that with training officers could learn to be interested and involved in a wide range of issues, Fran insisted that training did not compensate for passion, “if they’ve never experienced it or had a drive to change then you’re going to struggle to get those people involved”.

2. Should the Students Union adopt the proposed decision making structure?
Proposed change: A student’s idea for change would be submitted online, and then filtered into one of the following three ‘ePoll’ zones: Student Development, Education, and Wellbeing and Citizenship. If a decision is not ‘populist’ but nevertheless important, it can be brought to the Assembly by an Officer as an emergency motion. Alternatively an idea could be brought in by petition for referendum. The Union Assembly would then debate the relevant issues that have been brought to the floor, and can go through to referenda.

Yes (Alex ‘Corky’ Corck-Adelman)
Corky’s opening statement was an attack on the “clique”, the “process” and the “domination of a small exclusive” group that governs the decision making structure. This perpetuation of a “lack of engagement” damages the ability for the union to fulfil its function to the best of its ability. He called for engaged representatives that want to be there, for more issues to be brought to referenda and for relevant issues to be brought to the assembly. The ePoll system, he argued, would weed out irrelevant issues brought to assembly.

No (Elizabeth ‘Egg’ Goddard)
Egg questioned the degree to which assembly members could be held accountable for their decision-making. The current system, although Egg admits is in need of reform, has a lobbying procedure whereby members act on behalf of certain interests. This is not the case under the proposed structure, and as a result “members can act however they like and not in the interest of any group of students, unaccountable to anyone”. The danger of “extremist views” by members voted in on an “elect me because I’m nice” campaign, pose a serious threat to the running of the union, Egg claimed. With the ePoll system unprecedented in any university, Egg doubted its efficiency. Instead, she proposed placing more emphasis on school reps, given students are said to place academic interests as one of their highest priorities.

Questions Raised
The main issues brought up in response to this proposal related to accountability and engagement. Corky’s arguments for the need of urgent reform were challenged by Egg, who instead offered the explanation that the notion of a “broken council” was a “self-fulfilling prophecy”, and problems could be remedied without such full-scale reform, such as in regard to engagement of school reps. The threat of “extremist” views was queried in response to Egg’s opening statement. This was clarified as a demand for a platform upon which students could speak, so that the views of individuals would not take precedent over group interests.

3. Should the Students’ Union enable students to be members of the Board of Trustees?
Proposed change: Student trustees would be added to the Board of Trustees, the body that oversees decision-making in the SU. Currently, the Board consists of four Exec Officers and four external Trustees. If the referendum passes, the four Student Trustees will be appointed by a panel and then approved by Union Assembly.

Yes (Sam le Pard)
The main reason behind introduction of student trustees lies in a desire to increase the democratic value of the union, which Simon argued could be done if there is greater involvement of students themselves in the union. The inclusion of student trustees would not only “fill the void in representation” that is caused by external trustees, but would also increase the diversity and student involvement in the union. In order for the union to be “fit for purpose” and be brought in line with all other Russell Group universities, Simon argues that it is both “appropriate and right to allow students to lead this student led organisation”.

No (Reuben Kirkham)
Reuben disputed both the principle and the technicalities of introducing student trustees to the executive structure. Student trustees would not only be “accountable to no-one but themselves”, but also would be “vulnerable” to coercion and victimisation, a problem Reuben claimed to have seen from past experience in universities that have adopted this system. Moreover, Reuben questioned how this system could work and upon what basis it had been formulated. He argued that expansion of the number of executives on the board would provide a better alternative than student trustees.

Questions Raised
Responses to questions were largely based on competing evidence as to how far student trustees have proven to be effective. The extent of these differing experiences proved problematic in reaching a conclusion as to how reliable an introduction of student trustees to the executive board would be. Reuben debated the rationale behind the “leap” from the student survey to the layout of the proposed structure, especially highlighted in response to questions raised as to his distrust of students, rather than executives, sitting on the board. The questions demonstrated that the positions were broadly split between a belief in the effectiveness of the current system, and the potential effectiveness of the new system. The potential for progressive change for Reuben was not relevant; it is an ‘either or’ when it comes to the running of the union. By contrast, Simon admitted that though the current system was working, an effective institution was not absolute and the changes made could indeed be progressive.

4. Should the Students’ Union enable the possibility of serving sabbatical officers to run for a second term?
Proposed change: Sabbatical officers are the full time officers of the Students’ Union, and currently cannot serve consecutive terms, although they can stand again after two years. The proposed system would allow the sabbatical officer to stand immediately after a term in office. If the sabbatical officer were to choose to run for re-election, this would have to be declared before nominations open in the elections.

Yes (Simon Murphy)
Simon made clear in his opening speech that the main advantage of introducing the potential for a second term is continuity. With many officers leaving “unfinished business”, the prospect of a second term would allow for “consistent positive steps” for the Students’ Union, and not leave officers feeling “frustrated” at the end of their term. Moreover, Simon noted that this was not a novel idea, with most Russell Group universities providing opportunity for incumbents to seek re-election.

No (Stuart Neyton)
Stewart raised three main concerns with the proposed structure, centred upon a fear that the system would have a “seriously detrimental impact on the fairness of executive elections”. Firstly, Stewart said that he foresaw the first term of a sabbatical officer turning into a “re-election campaign”, preventing officers from carrying out their representational functions. This led to his second objection to the proposal, which was a worry that incumbents would have an advantage come election time. He argued that “fewer people would run against an incumbent”. Stewart also addressed the issue of continuity, by offering an alternative whereby there is investment in better training and staff support. Ultimately, Stewart argued that sabbatical officers in their second term will be a further year away from their student experience, and in so being will appear as a “staff member” and not a representational officer of a part of the student body.

Questions Raised
The questions centred upon the degree to which the “incumbency advantage” affects fairness of elections. The discussion raised the issue of whether or not the incumbents could be approached by potential opponents seeking advice in their election campaigns and information on the position. Simon’s response to this potential conflict of interest was an insistence that all elected officers would respect their position. The threat of strong incumbent candidates as a deterrent to potential opponents was challenged in discussion, an instead the alternative offered that it would encourage a higher quality of candidate. This point was further taken by those who also challenged the notion of a first term used by officers as a platform for re-election. Instead, it was argued, candidates standing for a second term would be those more dedicated and focussed on the role.

Emily Tripp

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23 Comments on this post.
  • Vote No
    9 February 2012 at 00:14
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    Fewer representatives. Better representation. It is like something out of 1984..

  • Dave
    9 February 2012 at 10:47
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    It’s telling that all of the ‘Yes’ options proposed in these referenda are fronted by Exec members. Referenda were never designed to be a tool of genuinely canvassing student opinion in this union – they were always just going to end up being a rubber stamp for Executive initiatives.

    Referenda are an inadequate tool of democracy if the only people with the time or resources to pursue a yes vote are the Executive.

  • anon
    9 February 2012 at 14:54
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    Dave – Absolutely! You’re spot on. Although egg (Education Officer) is Vote No for two of the questions and leading the campaign against one. She’s gone against the rest of Exec to do that. You’re absolutely right though that this isn’t about students letting the SU know what they want, this is about the Exec campaign machine pushing through something that has been planned for a year or two.

  • Vote No
    9 February 2012 at 15:20
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  • Ben McCabe
    9 February 2012 at 15:43
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    Unfortunately, these referenda (Big Ask seems such a juvenile thing to call them) are exactly as Dave and Anon described – merely another tool to make it seem like the SU Exec are doing what the student body as a whole want, instead of their own agendas. Would be a shame to see proposal 2 go through, in my personal opinion, though I don’t think the motion that created the ‘Big Ask’ should ever have been passed in the 1st place. Will be interesting to see if the Exec decide to reveal how many people vote in these referenda. Anyone know if they’re obliged to do that?

  • anon
    9 February 2012 at 16:09
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    Ben – Yes, the results will be published, including the numbers. More interestingly is the General Meeting situation on Tuesday… whereby we need 500 students to vote to ‘confirm’ the referenda results, even if quorum of 10% of the student population was not reached. Exec are rushing around signing people up on proxy votes. All the details are here: http://www.su.nottingham.ac.uk/studentvoice/democraticreform/generalmeeting/

  • Dave
    9 February 2012 at 16:20
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    If they have any credibility they will do, Ben.
    The problem is, even if the minimum number possible for quoracy vote, the ‘establishment’ will apply the same bizarro-logic as they did last year and say “See, x students voting on this is better than less than 100 voting in Council”. This was a catastrophic failure to understand how representative democracy works. But in their eyes, a majority – no matter how tenuous – will still represent a legitimate mandate.
    Most importantly, though – Process reform is important, it enables organizations to continue to function effectively. However, process reform is also the ‘easy bit’, and it’s easy to get buried in it. Looking from the outside the SU seems to be running a significant risk of focusing on process at the expense of effecting real change. The most significant motion they passed last year was a vote on their new proposed structure, and a commitment to ‘campaign’ for gender neutral toilets (not actually put them in, mind) – in the meantime, tuition fees were put up to 9,000 quid. This year they failed to get even the University on side in their battle over the HMO legislation, and they failed to stop students being discriminated against over parking permit charges.
    I hear in the last SU council there was talking of them banning bottled bloody water in the SU bloody shop, and I wonder whether they’re only talking about that because that’s the biggest change they can possibly contribute to the world. What a shame, if that’s the case.

  • Vote Yes Logic
    9 February 2012 at 19:16
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    Council isnt working. Make extremely vague referenda that will have to go to council to have details added in and work.. Representatives lose vote. Get better representation… Minority issues can be taken straight to assembly .. minority issues (for certain minorites) can be taken to a committee which then might take issues to referendum … Students get to say more often what they think. Democratic body meets 5 times a year not 7.

  • Impact Reader
    10 February 2012 at 20:45
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    You guys are great! Long live UoNSU cliques! Vote no to everything and keep the shit union (described above) exactly how it is. Blame the exec for everything that’s wrong with the union, criticise them for asking students directly and sceptically try to predict the future actions of people that they barely know. Sometimes it seems they just can’t win.

  • SU clique member
    10 February 2012 at 21:52
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    Rattled?

  • Face Facts
    11 February 2012 at 03:58
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    There is only one person who is on a campaign committee for all four questions. Let’s try not to peddle the “these no-campaigners are against all change” myth.

  • Face Facts
    11 February 2012 at 03:59
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    (For clarity – I meant “all the vote no campaign committees”

  • Anti BNOC Brigade
    12 February 2012 at 11:18
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    Who really cares about the arguments that the self-assured BNOCs are making above? From what I’ve seen in my time at Nottingham SU elections are a popularity contest, evident in the fact that most of this year’s exec live in the same house, and are out together getting smashed most Friday nights at Ocean.

  • Danny Barry
    12 February 2012 at 12:36
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    @anti bnoc.
    Very strange comment. I don’t see anything wrong with socialising on a Friday night (as thats realistically the only night we can go out) and living with 2 of my close friends who I also happen to work with. Myself, Alex and Sam are the only exec who live together, contrary to your assertion. People like you seriously need to get a grip and stop posting scathing comments from an anonymous account when you clearly don’t know any of us well enough to pass judgement on our personalities.

  • Ben McCabe
    12 February 2012 at 13:29
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    @Anti BNOC – I have to agree with Danny on that particular point – what the Exec do outside of their jobs and who they live is irrelevant, in my opinion. And yes, having covered 2 SU elections there is definitely an undertone of a popularity contest, but I’d argue that’s the same for all elections – look at the effect of the televised interviews for the last general election, which arguably denied Cameron a majority in Parliament.

    There are obviously issues with the SU (no system is ever perfect – and the referenda are at least bringing attention to that) but can we stick to discussing that rather than going off-topic and slagging off the Exec about their private lives?

    PS – I don’t know many students who don’t go out on a Friday night, and the Exec are, after all, essentially students elected into office. Why shouldn’t they go to Ocean if they want to?

  • Reformist
    12 February 2012 at 14:15
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    I’d have to agree with the sentiments underlining Anti Bnoc’s rant. Obviously Ben you’re right- we shouldn’t pass judgement at what the Exec do outside of work hours, but elections do boil down to a campus-wode popularity contest. The people elected are not necessarily the best candidates for the job but the ones with the most mates to vote for them and the most dynamic campaign (and those with the backing of Karni of course). SamO was set to be the President last year (and he was part of Karni too). These are PAID positions. We shouldn’t be putting £17k into the hands of those who have spent the most time in Ocean/Rock City and are part of Karni. The selection process for this JOB should be like any other job- CV with the University choosing who would best suit the job. I know I, and many others are put off running for positions due to lack of influence at university, unfortunately I do not have a whole posse of mates who can wear my T-shirts at Ocean.

  • Dave
    12 February 2012 at 15:05
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    Hey Ben – my only comment on what Exec members do in their non-work hours is that it shouldn’t affect their work hours. I saw behaviour (ie hungover/still drunk/passed out) that would have seen somebody in another job sacked. Not this year, mind, so this year’s exec may be completely different. I always thought thought it was weird seeing essentially paid employees out being scandalous in Ocean, but I suppose as long as they pay for tickets like other students you can’t really complain too much.

  • Dave
    12 February 2012 at 15:30
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    Or, to put it another way – I wouldn’t get drunk in front of my boss, even if it was a Friday night.

  • Anon
    12 February 2012 at 18:28
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    @reformist “CV with the University choosing who would best suit the job” – one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read. I feel dumber for having been on this website. You just don’t get it, the single most important aspect of the SU, it’s very reason for being, is to be independent of the University.

  • Anon
    12 February 2012 at 18:31
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    Meanwhile let’s get this back to a useful discussion, rather than dwelling on people’s lack of friends / ocean banter.

    It is a vote by popular ballot, as required by the Education Act, so let’s not dwell on that.

  • Reformist
    12 February 2012 at 23:36
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    Anon there’s no reason to be rude. I was just using the university as an example, the previous SU exec then could interview and choose. Don’t get so het up about an online discussion.

  • Dave
    13 February 2012 at 10:16
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    I’d have thought that the SU’s raison d’etre would be to serve and represent students, with nominal independence being a tool to acheive that end. Maybe that’s where people have been going wrong.

  • Anti BNOC Brigade
    13 February 2012 at 19:41
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    Ben McCabe — I didn’t deny they should go to Ocean, but when students see them there together, pissed as farts, it just reinforces that clique image.

    Also, your comment on the televised debates is just ridiculous, as soon as people had their attention drawn to Clegg, they started to scrutinise his policies, and as a result, the Lib Dems actually lost 5 seats at the election…you can’t argue the British General Election is a popularity contest mate. Ridiculous.

    The reason noone will vote in this election is because most people in the uni see the exec. as a bunch of mates putting off getting a proper job for a year. It’s all one big BNOC farce if you ask me, and I hate to tell you this but my opinion is not that of the minority.

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