Campus Reporters

Democratic Review 19/20: Interview with Lee Taylor

The Democratic Review 19/20 is underway for the University of Nottingham's Students' Union.

Lee Taylor is the Environmental and Social Justice Officer at the University of Nottingham’s Students’ Union. This role encourages the SU to make a bigger impact into environmental and societal issues, both in the student community and further afield. For example, strengthening and reforming the ESJ Network, expanding Sustainability Week and strengthening the University’s relationships with community partners. 

In your words, what exactly is the Democratic Review 19/20?

The Democratic Review is looking at every aspect of how the SU runs. The SU is supposed to be democratic and led by student leaders. The review looks at how we can do that better. The review has culminated in a new model. This new model is based on a new structure with different zones. It re-evaluates what’s important to our members, community and university. So, how we as an SU can adapt to make it work better. The current structure is good but not great. Currently tangible changes are made by part time officers who are not paid. Full time officers who do get paid work on high level projects, like the democratic review, that students don’t see and recognise. Now more accountability for the officers and focused remits for each trustee in each zone with more visibility for what they’re actually doing.

Why do you think the structure of the Student’s Union needed changing?

Part time officers are doing 60 hours a week and doing things that should have been done a long time ago. E.g. with sustainability, there was no previous direction – in either social or environmental sustainability. I shouldn’t be needed to do what I’m doing. The current remits don’t match the workload anymore. There’s little accountability in the current model. I don’t even think I could be removed from my position. Part time officers held to constituency but, my role doesn’t face scrutiny panel as we’re volunteers. So, no formal mechanism for removing me from my role. This is just a symptom of the bigger issue. Democratic structure currently is decades old. Democratic review 10 years ago only tweaked with no real change. No formal representation of many in current model e.g. Impact Magazine. Start with a blank sheet and build from outside-in, the review has seen what is actually important then built on that.

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?

With the new model, looked at every single aspect can thing of for student life. What students/members do we have here? We currently have 7 full-time roles that cover them. This is not enough, more aspects need to be considered. For example, part-time students. Currently such little representation e.g. for Refugee students, MedSoc, Sutton Boddington Guild etc. New model puts everyone/everything on equal footing. How can we group that into representation? From that, the zone model has been created. People sit in multiple zones.

Can be explained by the computer science term, ‘fuzzy set’. Something can be in the set(ish). For example, how do you define what ‘young’ is? It’s hard to define on a scale. The new zone model is essentially fuzzy sets. Something may belong to one zone or more. But, emphasis on belonging to multiple ensuring all voices are as important and listened to. 34,000 members with only 14 officer roles. So, we can’t represent them all. But, zone model that is non-hierarchical is a lot closer to being able to represent members.

In your opinion, what is the response you have received from the Democratic Review?

Not seen the consultation results, direct feedback. But, I went to sports and societies council and I’ve presented the model myself at a few places. First reaction is ‘ah that’s a lot, confusing’. But a point where it’s clicked, ‘oh I get it, that makes so much sense’.

The current model is a nonsense model, it makes no sense. This model is confusing at the start but that’s because it’s new. It makes sense if implemented well. Response at certain councils hasn’t been as positive e.g. sports council but that was with first presentation based on consultancy language and the model has been changed since. With the new presentation, it was based on feedback. Since then, has been fine with more sense and more clear how new model makes representation work. Overall, a pretty positive response.

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?

Presentation doesn’t work without someone talking. It’s designed for someone talking alongside it. Now the model has been tightened and reformed for the referendum. Previously, it was a draft model. Now have exactly what we need going forward with knowledge from consultations of what has worked. Our voice isn’t going to be there, so the officer team is now working to show what the new model is. Marketing will not pro/against will be purely explanatory from SU. I feel confident going into next stage.

Current model is nonsense, a pain working within it. Makes current job so much harder, explaining that to people through social media, physical presence confident it will go well. My worry is quoracy of the referendum. We need at least 850 students to vote. We’ve not had special referendum for the Students’ Union in quite some time. But, everyone who has an opinion on it should vote yes or no.

How do you propose to ensure as many people hear about the referendum as possible?

Shout wide and loud. Can now show standing committees what we’re proposing. Marketing a lot! A neutral campaign from Students’ Union on what the new model is, purely factual. Unsure about the yes or no campaigns. Individual officers allowed to propose own opinions, either yes or no.

I am in support of yes, my role will be a full time role in the new model. This is positive for socio-environmental matters. Also positive for associated bodies, liberation matters etc. A lot of officer promotion as well. Not 100% what marketing campaign is as full-time officer role. Can’t get as involved as I would like but I know a lot of marketing in place. Even more so than student elections. Hyper focused in one week making the referendum more noticeable.

Do you have anything further to say on the matter?

The sustainability zone, one of the newer zones created. Effectively my remit plus welfare. Sounds weird at first but, part of the issue that people have with term sustainability is associating it only with environment. But, within the UN Sustainability goals, it is so much more than that. Not just about climate change. Sustainability is a HUGE remit. The name has changed continually, now sustainability zone.

Welfare and wellbeing is sustainability for yourself. Environmental sustainability is welfare and wellbeing for the society. So, essentially the same thing on different scales. Current network has such a huge overlap with wellbeing network. It’s mad how much current overlap! With this, we can redefine what sustainability means to us as a Union. Sustainability not just to environment but, sustainability of everything. Able, with new zone and remit, to take a stance on our vision of sustainability and sustainability goals as demonstrated by our policies. This is exciting and gives a huge impact!

Mia Haffety

Featured image courtesy of James Pheasey SU via Facebook.

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