An open letter to UCLU from four former UCLU Hall Representatives.
Something has gone horribly wrong with the current round of UCLU Autumn Elections. Anybody who has looked at the candidate line-up for the Halls Representative elections will have noticed that for 17 vacant positions there has only been one nomination. When the elections are over, 16 UCL halls – over 4,000 students – will be without a union representative. This is an embarrassing all-time low for the union and an extremely worrying development from the point of view of campus democracy, student representation and union accountability. We therefore call on the Sabbatical Officers responsible for promoting and running elections to take concrete and effective measures to re-open nominations for Halls Representatives.
Whenever there is a poor result in participation there is a tendency among UCL managers and UCLU bureaucrats alike to lay the blame on us, the students, for being too lazy. We strongly refute this claim and maintain that the explanation for this nose-dive in participation lies squarely on the desk of our Sabbatical Officers.
But the truth is students do care about our local community and our halls. In past years there have been several halls reps elected and even more candidates in the Autumn Elections. Moreover, every year, more students volunteer as elected reps on halls committees. The argument that we are “too lazy to engage” or that “some years students just don’t take part” doesn’t hold up when compared to the actual numbers who volunteer every year, if given the opportunity. The problem here is not an unwillingness to represent our halls.
This failure to encourage new students to take part is purely down to one variable: a disastrous lack of promotion by UCLU. An outside observer could be forgiven for thinking the elections were being kept secret. Between 28 September and 10 October (when nominations closed) a bare minimum of effort was put into informing freshers about nominations. The Education and Campaigns Officer – charged with running Autumn Elections – posted no more than two tweets about nominations. The Sustainability Engagement and Operations Officer – the Sabb responsible for union democracy – tweeted only once, and mentioned nominations in one blog post (two days before they closed).
The all-student emails mentioned Halls Rep nominations only once since the start of term, seemingly only as an afterthought. Until today, looking at the Union website, it was impossible to tell that elections are ongoing and there was not a single news item posted declaring Halls Rep nominations open for students. Finally, the union Facebook page mentioned nominations only once in two weeks (again, only two days before they closed).
Proper engagement with freshers requires a lot more than tweets but these examples demonstrate that not even the simplest forms of communication with the student body were used by the Sabbs to inform new students about elections. There is so much more that could have been done at virtually no cost to the Union. Sadly, this is only one part of a wider trend of disregard for union democracy – the inquorate general assembly and the lack of promotion for it being yet another example.
Halls Reps are volunteers but deal with a huge amount of important day-to-day issues that students face. Last year union reps in halls made sure that students weren’t fined arbitrarily by management, that there were social committees organising events and parties, that UCL was successfully held to account over service failures and much, much more.
But, for students in halls to channel our commitment into our community, we need to be informed that these opportunities exist. Having a union rep at a hall makes a real difference for hundreds of students. We do not want this option to be deprived thousands of new UCL students and it is not fair to say that students had a chance to stand in elections that they were barely informed about. It takes more to reach most freshers than a vague email, some flyers and two tweets. Democracy requires effort. But it is worth it in the long run.
We demand a simple solution: that nominations be re-opened for the Halls Rep elections and that the nomination and voting period be extended to coincide with the STaR elections, or as long as necessary to run a sufficient promotion campaign. There also has to be nominations opened for reps at the former Institute of Education Halls, which now fall under the UCLU remit. This is a simple option that would allow students in hall a genuine chance to work for their local communities and save our grassroots democracy from withering embarrassingly as a result of poor management.
George Barker, UCLU Halls Rep for Ramsay Hall 2014/15
David Dahlborn, UCLU Halls Rep for Langton Close 2013/14
Prapa Ganguly, UCLU Halls Rep for Hawkridge House 2014/15
Henry de Malmanche, UCLU Halls Rep for New Hall 2014/15