EDITORIAL: We need to talk about UCLU

EDITORIAL: We need to talk about UCLU

On Tuesday 9th December, UCLU’s holding a General Assembly. It may even be the first general assembly in living (current undergrad student) memory to actually not be called off due to no one turning up. Pi can’t wait to see what a genuine General Assembly actually looks like. Imagine: it won’t just be us, the Tab, and Michael Chessum. We’ll get to meet real people!

The assembly is to discuss two proposals to radically change the sabbatical officer roles, which is pretty great since the Union is broken. And broke, but that’s only part of the absolute mess.

Perhaps unsurprisingly – with double the number of sabbatical officers (10) of most universities (5 or 6) who are also paid among the highest Students’ Union sabb salaries in the UK (£25,000), the sabb team is bizarrely inefficiently-organised. Some are even on record saying their job shouldn’t exist. Okay.

That’s not the fault of the individuals: most/all of the sabbs seem to work really quite hard. It’s the ridiculous, patch-work structure of the Union. Hence there are now two motions.

One, supported by the presidents of over 26 clubs and societies (full disclosure: President of Pi being one), is a symbol of the frustration that comes from a lack of support. The 10 full-time officers are seen to be out of touch, only interested in their pet projects and not seeing the value in societies.

union campaigning 2014 spring elections

Image credit: George Washbourn

The other, from the more actively political side of the Union, is proposing cutting/merging the questionable officer positions, and elevating all four liberation officers (Women’s, BME, LGBT+ and Disability) to full-time positions. You can read about why they’re doing this on a UCLU blog written by current BMESO, Hajera Begum.

Both motions have good points, both have bad points. One has been painstakingly worked over for months by the sabbatical team, one seems to be the result of an email from DCO Hannah Sketchley at 6.30pm on a Friday asking students to ponder the existential and then bash out the function of sabbatical officers within two working days.

So! Here we are: with two motions that most students weren’t consulted on due not to the apathy of students, but simply because the process has been disastrously handled. Two working days? That’s the afterthought of an afterthought. Why weren’t students asked for their views, both sooner and to help shape the sabbs’ plan?

But there’s a chance to save this yet. Another motion is being proposed (full disclosure: President of Pi has a hand in this one too. He just loves motions. And also talking in the third-person.) that will give students a say. The idea is to call off making a decision just yet.

Instead, it’s to bring all the interest groups together – clubs and societies, sabbs, liberation campaigns, academic representatives, halls officers, and, crucially, real live students – and work out a plan that benefits as close to everyone as is possible when everyone’s one of those troublesome, apathetic students we’re told so much about. The plan actually hopes to bring in four of these, chosen at random from those who haven’t voted before, to make sure their concerns are raised. And because it needs a bit of whimsy and unpredictability in it.

uclu union logo

Image credit: George Washbourn

The two original motions perfectly highlight UCLU’s problem: it’s split in two. On one side, you have the clubs and societies; on the other, the political part of the Union. For the most part, these two sides ignore each other. But why? The most successful campaigns – Pride in UCLU Sport, Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment – come from engaging with societies, and the students in them. Isn’t that the easiest and best way to reach students? Likewise, clubs and societies need support and resources from the sabbs not only to carry on their activities, but to expand.

The campaigns UCLU runs are relevant: better accommodation, fighting against oppression, fighting the fees and cuts that make university in London and elsewhere so difficult. The Union’s clubs and societies are why many of us turn up to campus. And UCLU the bars, cafes and other services that make the London experience that little bit more affordable.

Imagine how lovely and cosy and quaint it’d all be if we all worked together.

So, Pi says ‘Yes’ to debate. We want to engage the student body, and make sure everyone feels they have a say – basically, we think students should be treated like adults. We want to make sure clubs and societies (including ourselves) are supported in their growth. We want to ensure liberation campaigns keep up their momentum and keep breaking boundaries. We want a Union that works.

Make sure to read the motion on how we should all calm down, have a cup of tea, and work out our differences while staying friends.

You can read the two proposals on sabbatical officer structures on the UCLU website here. Or, if that’s too much effort, read them here (motion from majority of sabbatical officers) and here (motion of 26 clubs and societies)

The General Assembly will be held at 18:00 on Tuesday 9th December, in the Darwin Lecture Theatre. Make sure to be there! Education and Campaigns Officer, Lukmaan Kolia, has written a brilliantly odd blog on why you should go.

Featured image credit: George Washbourn


  1. Avatar
    November 28, 2014 / 10:47 pm

    Great article.

    A brilliant example of the activist side of the union ignoring the efforts and needs of clubs and societies:

    When Septimus Knox of Men’s Rugby starting the Pride in UCL Sport initiative, he went to the LGBT+ network to ask for advice and help with setting it up. They refused.

    When it was clear that Pride in UCL Sport had become a big success, the LGBT+ officer demanded at a council meeting that the initiative be placed in their hands as it fell within their mandate.

    Ineffectual, out of touch, and permanently searching for the next opportunity to fill their CVs – that is our Union at the moment.


    • Avatar
      November 29, 2014 / 10:48 am

      As the LGBT+ officer 2013-2015, this comment is factually inaccurate. I have never refused to work with Septimus Knox, Men’s Rugby, or Pride in UCLU Sport.

      I’ve just had a look through my officer inbox (mercifully untouched by bellogate) and found the entire email chain. Septimus originally approached the then-WIO in September 2013, who then forwarded the email to me. By the time we had had chance to have a look at and reply to his ideas, the idea had changed into running a campaign in February 2014, as part of History Month, around homophobia in sport. We were asked if we had any ideas for speakers and for resources on trans people in sport, which I replied to with information about the IOC guidelines and offered help – a direct quote being ‘We’re very interested in as a committee to help you out wherever you can.’ A far cry from the allegation here.

      That was where it ended up; I never received a reply from Septimus, and the next thing I heard about the campaign was the Facebook page and the Pride in UCLU Sport t-shirts. So no, we weren’t directly involved, but not for lack of offering help.

      I have also never demanded that Pride in UCLU Sport be placed within my hands. Indeed, as I am not involved in any UCLU sports, this would be a pretty daft thing to demand. I certainly haven’t demanded this at any Council meetings, which would be a peculiar forum for that demand in the extreme; if I had wanted that, the logical thing to do would have been to approach the people running the campaign…? Most of which didn’t have a seat on Council.

      I have no desire to fill my CV with LGBT+ activism. If you’re particularly bothered, I can show you it; my plans are to work in spatial data analysis, an industry where LGBT+ activism experience is not terrifically relevant. I can assure you that employment discrimination means I would rather keep my sexuality to myself when looking for jobs.

      If you have concerns, please email me: uclu-lgbt.officer@ucl.ac.uk. Please in future keep your statements to the factually accurate.

  2. Avatar
    November 28, 2014 / 11:44 pm

    I love how both you and the Education officer blog you linked to, both get the day of the week wrong for the meeting. Ahh the standards of our Student media and sabbs.

  3. Avatar
    November 29, 2014 / 12:12 am

    “It may even be the first general assembly in living (current undergrad student) memory to actually not be called off.”

    Lol, I’m still betting on not enough showing up for quorum.

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