The Students’ Union at UWE is planning to introduce a referendum this Monday alongside the presidential elections.
According to Will Hoskin, Representation Officer at The Students’ Union, there are “around 181 changes” to constitutional documents covered by the referendum.
This has led to criticism from some students, who accuse the Students’ Union of trying to get students to ‘rubber stamp’ the constitutional changes, which include changes to terminology, as well as wider changes to committees and disciplinary procedures, such as a removal of a trustee position.
In communications seen by HUB Magazine, it’s been revealed that only one student attended in three sessions set up to inform students of the changes.
The proposed changes can be seen in a blog post uploaded on to The Students’ Union website on the 24th February – one week before the vote, despite the fact the changes have been planned since before September.
Other changes include a change to the Disciplinary Procedure for Presidents that codifies that in cases of Gross Misconduct, complaints hearings will be conducted by the CEO and an appropriate President, as opposed to before, where the standard complaints procedure was followed where two elected officers and an SU manager without “a conflict of interest or previous involvement with the offence” would take charge.
When asked about the potential for bias or cases of conflict of interest or previous involvement where a complaint involves a President and the CEO, Will Hoskin replied “If you pick a jury of twelve peers, there’s always a chance that somebody goes ‘I don’t like you’”.
In an independent Governance Review conducted by NCVO seen by HUB Magazine criticized the Board’s (made up of the five elected Presidents and some trustees) effectiveness, saying that they “appear light touch in their senior staff scrutiny role” and that there was “little evidence of deep scrutiny of [the CEO’s reports and activity updates]” with “few substantive questions recorded”, with one unnamed staff member stating “we need to make sure it is the board leading and not just agreeing to everything the CEO proposed”.
When I put the potential for these risks to be carried over in to a complaints hearing, Hoskin replied “I know it’s gonna sound weird, because it’s not in the new byelaws, that is generally what we look at anyway […] I know, it should be in there”, “I agree, actually, looking at that, that does make sense to say that you could actually potentially have that [reference to conflicts of interest] in as well.”
Information about the referendum can be found on the SU’s website here. A minimum of 1000 students must vote in the referendum and at least 2/3 majority of the votes must be in favour (YES) of the changes for them to go ahead.
In a statement to HUB Magazine, former VP Education and current LGBT+ Officer Ayrden Pocock said “The proposed democratic reforms that the SU wish to ratify through a referendum during the leadership race next week, which is problematic in itself due to having no prior exposure or proper explanation to the student body, do not address the issues around poor service provision and the relationship between the SU and UWE, do not deal with the democratic deficit in the Organisation, and actually take more power away from students by centralising more power within its internal bureaucracy.”
Featured photo by Maya Bond-Webster