James Pheasey is the current President of the Students’ Union at the University of Nottingham. James’ aim for the year was democratic reform and development of the Students’ Union. This involved looking at the current structures and seeing how well they fulfil the purpose of the Union. Whilst also looking at how best to bring the Union to its members, specifically those who need it most.
In your words, what exactly is the Democratic Review 19/20?
A wholesale look at our democratic structures. Reviewing and reforming a way that enables students to control the union. Fix things that don’t currently work and adding bits that have been overlooked.
Why do you think the structure of the Student’s Union needed changing?
I’ve experienced it. I’ve been inside of it for four or five years now. As a society President, unclear where you fit into everything. As a part time officer, I tried to make change on behalf of those who voted me in there. At the moment, the structure disempowers those who want to make change. With the new model, you don’t have to be an officer to be able to make change.
According to the Students Union website, the Democratic Review “want to make sure that our democratic processes are right for you, and that we’re representing you and your needs in the best possible way”. How exactly does the Review go about doing this?
Current structure puts all operational power in the hands of seven full time officers. Societies, sports council can say what they want and the officers have the power to quash that. It’s an oppressive structure. New model, no executive committee so will be in the hands of members. For decisions that affect everyone, everyone should have a choice. With decisions for groups, they should have power over that. Current structure is a mess and not connected. Walk from one group within union to another, they are completely different. Not transparent. New model, enables everyone to communicate and understand each other.
In your opinion, what is the response you have received from the Democratic Review?
Clear response, nothing is transparent. We don’t trust decisions to be in hands of couple of people. This has gone heavily into the new model. Vast majority of consultations have been constructive feedback. Feedback has been helpful in making the new model as good as possible. If misunderstood, now our job is to make it clear. For students to use the process so, it must be clear. Worth noting, only just come out of consultation. 10-15 groups of student leaders who have seen different drafts. Now have final draft being approved (as we speak) which will be then be shared.
From a survey that the News Team at Impact conducted last Thursday an Friday involving 30 students, 82% responded that they did not understand the new model proposed with only 18% who did. Although only a small sample, what are your thoughts on this considering the referendum is so soon?
Drafts being shown were for consolation. Notice of referendum is 7 days, accompanied by a concise document. Along with diagrams. Must understand current system as well. Drafting process so far has enabled as much input as possible.
How do you propose to ensure as many people hear about the referendum as possible?
As soon as the notice of referendum given on Wednesday (5th February). The union will be announcing this. So, through social media channels/screens etc. During, for/against depending on what students want to campaign. Increase visibility with all SU machines turning on from Wednesday. Student media groups should be talking about it. Getting as many students involved as possible. We need 850 students for it to take effect. This will be a large information campaign. It will be clear what we are proposing with the changed things that people had not liked.
Please can you explain more on the upcoming referendum, will every student at the University be able to participate?
Any student who is a member of the union, virtually everyone (unless opted out). The ballot will be online. A question with yes/no option. The current bylaws say it must be yes/no. Part of new model is ‘preferendum’ as students have said they want this. I am confident the new model gives everyone more of a voice. It doesn’t detract from any students… apart from maybe the seven full time officers.
Do you have anything further to say on the matter?
I hope people vote that don’t normally vote. This model gives control to those groups who don’t feel they currently have decision-making power. For example, it gives power to liberation networks. So, please do vote!
Featured image courtesy of James Pheasey SU via Facebook.
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