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Scrutiny Panel: SU Officers Questioned

The first University of Nottingham Students’ Union (UoNSU) scrutiny panel of the year took place on Thursday 9th October 2014. The purpose of the panel, which is made up of cross-campus elected students, is to ask the full time SU Executive Officers and the part time SU Environment & Social Justice Officer to reveal their progress with the work they pledged to do in their manifesto and to hold them to account for what they have done.

SU Sports Officer, Kiri Madhani, spoke about the academic impact of the proposed shorter Varsity programme. She highlighted that the dates are not yet confirmed and recognised that the series could interfere with exams and coursework deadlines, something she is taking into consideration.

“Unfortunately, though students wanted both flexible payments and a flat rate [for gym membership], the SU could only deliver on the flat rate”

She was also questioned about gym membership, and revealed that although many students are still dissatisfied, 6801 gym memberships have been bought this year, more than double what had been bought by this time last year. She admitted that though Tom Hicks’ (SU Sports Officer 2013-14) survey revealed that students wanted both flexible payments and a flat rate, the SU “could only deliver on the flat rate”.

SU Activities Officer, Joe Caunce, was questioned closely about his proposal for the SU to fund the director of Karnival. Panel members asked whether this was in the interests of students, and Joe explained that the idea is “to make the Karni director a non-elitist position”.

“At the moment the Karni job is massively elitist”

Joe continued that supporting the Karnival director, who is currently reliant on personal finance to take a year out of their studies to direct the charity, will dissuade the organisation from relying on their own pot of money.

Joe also confirmed that though “Karni are the ones that got the massive whiplash” after Student Adventures collapsed and the Karni Kilimanjaro trek was cancelled, every student will be able to get their money back.

“Everyone [who planned to go on the Kilimanjaro trek] will have their money back”

In addition, Joe revealed that the finale party was not at capacity and hasn’t been for the last five years. He added that the SU may look away from the Capital FM arena as the venue is too big for the number of students that attend.

SU President Harry Copson started by stating that there are a few complications in his idea to put money onto a student card, as the university puts more money into their existing internal systems (for more information on Project Transform, click here) and so “there might be an interim solution” during his tenancy as President.

“We try as much as possible to give all student groups relative freedom in their roles – if this has gone too far with Week One reps then it needs to be looked at clearly”

Harry was questioned mostly about Week One. He revealed that for the first year, the off campus nights out did not sell out, while the on campus events did, and decided that Week One was more accessible this year than ever before.

Asked about the inappropriate Week One chants revealed by Impact, Harry said that there are “already a lot of preventive measures… We try as much as possible to give all student groups relative freedom in their roles – if this has gone too far with Week One reps then it needs to be looked at clearly”

“We are aware that this incident [the chanting] is not isolated. There is evidence, I mean anecdotes that this kind of thing happens in all halls and in previous years. I’m not going to lie, this isn’t a simple issue. I’m not willing to put forward a quick fix solution”

Harry acknowledged that the SU was notified of the chants on the Wednesday of Week One, but admitted that by then, “the damage has already been done”. An ongoing thorough investigation was confirmed by Harry, who said: “We need to make sure there is concrete evidence that the reps were involved. We are aware that this incident is not isolated. There is evidence, I mean anecdotes that this kind of thing happens in all halls and in previous years. I’m not going to lie, this isn’t a simple issue. I’m not willing to put forward a quick fix solution”.

“As an officer group, we do feel supported by the Full Time Officers and SU staff, especially as one of our FTOs was a PTO last year”

SU Environment and Social Justice Officer, Emily Holmes, said she wants “to engage students more with environmental issues”. Asked about whether, as a Part-Time Officer (PTO), she felt fully supported in her role, she replied: “As an officer group, we do feel supported by the Full Time Officers and SU staff, especially as one of our FTOs was a PTO last year”. To read Impact’s investigation into PTO support, click here.

Anas A O Elhag, SU Postgraduate Officer, was asked whether any of his committees had met, and he revealed that the Equality and Standards committee had met. He said that the method of submission for postgraduate students was being reviewed, changing from hard copies to electronic copies.

SU Education Officer, Adam BK, revealed that though he wants to implement a university policy to stop all teaching on Wednesday afternoons, this is unlikely to happen as the university reached a decision just last year to only issue guidance to schools and not implement policy. He said he was still looking into it, and doing everything he could to ensure that students are not missing out because of sporting activities.

“I want to invest in things that improve the experience of students – that’s the bread and butter as education officer”

Adam said it was “heartbreaking” that the official UoN timetable app had been taken down, and he was “disheartened” that he will not be able to make this manifesto point a reality during his tenure. He asked the panel if he could change his manifesto, and promised to focus on chasing the university’s Project Transfrom to ensure that education improves because of it.

SU Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer Chloe Averill was challenged by the panel, who remarked: “one of the major points from students is that officers don’t complete their manifesto points”. She admitted that her manifesto promise to create a safety bus was no longer financially feasible, so she wished to change her manifesto and focus on the SU’s Safer Taxi Scheme.

Responding to questions about the Week One chants, Chloe said she went to the Week One Exec straight away when she heard about the issue on the Wednesday of Freshers Week. She said: “we did all that we could and there was nothing more that could be done”. Chloe admitted that she could have done more in the situation, saying she “didn’t really know what to do”. She continued: “I was careful about saying things though because I did not want to fan the flames”.

“This is the first time that we have had all of this media attention and we didn’t really know what to do. I could have done more in this situation”

SU Community Officer, Mike Olatokun, was the last to be questioned by the panel. He spoke of installing technology “in and around the Portland area so that people can sign up to vote on the spot”.

Asked whether there would be any increase in funding for the hopper bus this year, Mike replied: “this is not something that you can achieve in a couple of months. This is not something that is going to be achieved by talking to one director, this is something that is going to require a more holistic approach”. Also questioned about the living wage, Mike was reluctant to promise that it would be in place by the end of the year. “My head says yes but my heart says no”, he said.

Finally questioned about the existence of lad culture at this university, Mike responded: “We need a bit of time to tackle these culturally ingrained issues… I could have gone and spoken to the [Week One] reps directly [when the chants became apparent]”.

Beth Rowland

Image: University of Nottingham

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