Despite contention from societies and liberation campaigns LUSU’s non-sabbatical review passed with just one amendment at Union Council last week.
The review, proposed by LUSU President Michael Payne, creates an entirely new team of non-sabbatical officers. It follows the 2008 sabbatical review, also proposed by Payne, which created the current system of President and Vice-Presidents.
Whilst before the Union had 26 non-sabbatical officers, the review means a slight decrease in numbers to 24 but more focussed remits for officers, to be known as Part Time Union Officers from now on. Titles as well as remits have been given a complete overhaul by the review, in the hope that a better representation of the student body would be created.
“There is increasing perceived and actual irrelevance of non-sabbatical officers,” Payne told the Council. “There’s a series of roles that don’t have a place in the students’ union in 2009.”
Even before the meeting it was clear that not everyone would approve. The most contentious issues were the reduction in societies’ representation from two officers to one and the removal of some Equality, Welfare and Diversity (EWD) officers. However, the review as a whole was felt to be a very positive step by the majority of Council, as seen by the decision to make only one amendment, the creation of a Student Campaigns Officer to replace the current Block of Six.
Whereas in 2008 the Sabbatical Review was voted on by the student body at a General Meeting, the non-sabbatical review, which involved a change to a by-law of the LUSU Constitution rather than the constitution itself, could be passed by Union Council alone. However, over thirty representatives of societies and liberation campaigns filled the observers’ rows to see if the changes would pass.
As the author of the proposal Payne began the debate with a presentation to Council of what the review would entail and the rationale behind it. The review, the product of twenty months of work and observation on Payne’s behalf, drew on his five years’ experience in Lancaster, four of which he spent as a Union officer.
Payne cited a series of statistics backing up the perceived irrelevance of non-sabbaticals as he saw it. He drew Council’s attention to a significant decreasing trends in attendance of Union Council meetings and proposals of items and motions by non-sabbatical officers.
“This body hasn’t done what it should have been doing, which is disappointing to someone like me,” he said. “I’m trying to bring [it] back to life.”
Payne stated that it was imperative to move away from “highbrow shenanigans” that put people off relaying views to Council.
“We’ve got to open our doors,” he declared. “We have to stop the political jargon, stop the highbrown shenanigans and stop the off-putting comments that we make.”
Difficulty understanding in layman’s terms the agendas, motions and officer titles that make up pivotal bodies such as Union Council is the biggest obstacle to student involvement, Payne feels. If those running LUSU are inaccessible it can breed indifference among the students they apparently represent.
It is for this reason that Payne proposed the complete overhaul of titles and remits. Titles that are opaque and descendant of the trade union system that initially spawned student unions are to be removed and replaced with accessible, self-explanatory officer labels.
“We should never get hung up with titles and cosmetics but they go a long way towards suggesting to students what your role actually is,” Payne said. “The current situation is a mess. It has no strategic view and doesn’t reflect our structure.”
In defence of the roles he had removed, especially in the area of EWD, Payne argued that for too long the Union’s answer to problems had been to create an officer to deal with them and called instead for greater student engagement and involvement.
“[Creating officers] is not the answer,” he told Council. “It’s not one officer that solves the problem, it is a movement across campus that includes as many students as you possibly can.”
Following Payne’s presentation the debate was opened to the floor. Almost immediately amendments were proposed and discussions became heated.
The first two amendments, to replace the Societies Exec Officer with two Societies Council Reps and create two Welfare Campaigns Officers instead of one, were voted down following considerable discussion. A further amendment, proposed by current non-sabbatical Women’s Officer Sam Johnson, to restrict the post of Liberation Campaigns Officer to women only, was also thrown out. After the failure of the first two amendments to pass, many of the observers left the meeting.
In addition to the proposed amendments, the argument was raised during proceedings by Gemma Evans, a current Block of Six officer, that the review wasn’t complete enough to be passed.
Evans suggested that Council should delay their judgement until the issues raised by the representatives of societies and EWD could be addressed fully within an amended review. Through administrative errors petitions brought to Council by union officers were not official and therefore could not be viewed or acted upon. To this end, Evans felt it was clear that representation of the student body needed to be incorporated.
“Until we’ve had that consultation period and we’ve actually sat down and worked out a solution we shouldn’t be in a position where we can keep ignoring what people are saying,” she argued.
Edwin Burrows, Chair of the Societies Council, shared this view. Having brought a petition that wasn’t on the agenda and therefore did not stand, Burrows told Council that “there are enough people who want to have a say in what this non-sabb review structure is, so why are we not letting them?”
Bowland JCR President Tom Skarbek-Wazynski countered Evans, saying that “the chair has said we will visit the petitions if they’re resubmitted to the next council, so they will be listened to,” voicing many officers’ views.
Evans still urged Council to “vote this down, not because it’s a bad thing but because we need more consultation for it.”
Payne replied that for twenty months he had welcomed opinions on the matter and “under a handful of union members have contacted me.”
Alongside the failed amendments, there were amendments Council deemed to pass.
The majority were “purely logistic” and included changing sports officers’ elections to suit the Carter Shield season and a moniker change for the LGBT officer to include the usage of “queer” in his or her title.
Only one major amendment was passed. As the proposed review removed all Block of Six officers – officers without specific remit who can reflect any issue important to the student body – a similar position was proposed. Helen Thompson, Vice-President of Cartmel JCR, suggested a Student Campaign Officer be added to the list of part-time officers, acting as an officer without portfolio akin to the Block of Six.
Thompson emphasised that uniquely the role was “about facilitating students, not being a leader” thanks to having no portfolio or agenda. She also claimed that they would be in a position to “resolve a lot of problems, helping Ed and Welfare, helping Societies, helping anyone.”
Tom Mackrory, Academic Affairs Officer, balanced his negative view of the idea, admitting that “it could end up being fantastic.” His doubts, however, were voiced strongly and he declared that “you do run the danger of someone running for it perhaps for CV purposes” due to the vague remit.
Both Mackrory and Payne opposed the idea on the grounds that students should be encouraged to involve themselves rather than requiring a campaign leader to do it for them. “It’s the role of any student on this campus to have a say on the issues they want to have a say on,” said Payne.
Although opposed on several fronts, when it came to the vote there was significant support for the new officer and the amendment was passed.
Due to constrains of time this was the last amendment to be proposed. A vote was taken and the non-sabbatical review was voted through overwhelmingly.
After the meeting, Payne told SCAN that “We should be proud that we’ve made a positive step forwards in opening our doors to all students.”
Touching on the concerns raised by societies that their representatives have decreased, he said “I don’t think they should see it as ‘this is the end of the line.’
“If at the end of next term when these officers have been elected there is a clear demonstration they’re engaging in the task at hand and we can mutually write a job description then I’m more than willing for them to have extra representation on Union Council.”