Referendum in UCL called as sabbatical structure is ‘kind of’ decided

Referendum in UCL called as sabbatical structure is ‘kind of’ decided

Holly Philipps explains how, next year, UCLU will come to have 7 sabbatical officers – probably

UCL’s usual attitude towards any democratic proceedings has returned, and it is all rather disappointing. With the adjournment of the well-attended General Assembly last year, the second General Assembly held on Tuesday 20 January was called in order to finish the conversation. The Assembly was held primarily to discuss the structure of UCLU’s sabbatical officers although a number of other proposals and motions were put forward as well.

However, only around 140 union members turned actually turned up, failing to meet the quoracy of 175 needed for the meeting to take place. The poor show from UCL students, now including students from the Insitute of Education (IoE), was a great disappointment to all those involved.

Hannah Sketchley, UCLU’s Democracy and Communications Officer, was “disappointed that the momentum before Christmas didn’t continue”. Many hinted that the shambles of the last General Assembly contributed to the complete lack of interest from the student body this time around.

Due to the failure to meet quoracy, an Emergency Union Council meeting was held to vote on the motions and amendments. This meant that the nine motions and proposals directly affecting UCL students were voted on by a handful of representatives, rather than the student body as a whole. Even more students left the lecture theatre, leaving the already measly turn out to debate the proposals.

Emergency Union Council meeting

After a short debate about changing the schedule led to the first three motions being left to the side for the meantime, item six on the agenda was proposed by Pi’s very own President, Ben Monteith: ‘Dialogue, not Division’. This proposed motion asked for yet another adjournment. It supported the interim sabb structure proposed by AEO Sabeeh Imran Rasool to enable discussions to develop and find a permanent solution to the Sabbatical Officers issue.

The motion claimed that the current proceedings had been far from democratic having only given students two working days to come up with their own proposals. Arguments against this view were put forward, with a number of the audience pointing out that a special committee to make decisions behind closed doors was less democratic than the existing procedure. Finally, a vote was taken. Seven for, 10 against and one abstaining. It is necessary for a motion to have 50% of votes in favour for it to be passed, so, the motion did not pass.

David Dahlborn then took to the stage to propose item seven, the motion: ‘UCL, Cut Down the Rent’. In a room full of student representatives the message that he wanted union backing on a campaign to lower UCL rent was, unsurprisingly, rather well received. The motion passed with 13 for, none against and four abstaining.

Then we got onto the bit we had all been waiting for: the four proposals for Amendments to the Governing Documents, or the proposals for the sabbatical officers structure, for those of you who aren’t so savvy on the technical lingo. These proposals need 75% majority in order to be able to change the by-laws.

Proposal Five, proposed on the night by Thines Ganeshamoorthy (who is the currently part-time Disabled Students’ Officer) argued for adding two full time sabbatical officers – LGBT+ and Disabled Students’ – bringing the total number of full time sabb officers to nine, one less than at present. The inclusion of these two officers would dramatically increase the representation of under-represented groups in UCL, it was claimed.

This first proposal seems to be have been taken as the time to voice any and all opinions on the union structure. One IoE student voiced concerns over the 8,500 IoE students only having a part-time student officer representing them in this proposal. The question of how the union will manage to sustain nine sabbatical officers when it ran £400,000 over the planned deficit last year was also asked, with a number of speakers emotionally shouting figures to the audience.

The discussion continued. And continued. The Union Chair, Mohamad Fahed repeatedly asked members to not repeat themselves – and I doubt I was the only one who saw the irony in this.

Eventually a vote is called. 12 vote for, six vote against with no one abstaining. At a majority of 66%, the motion only just doesn’t pass.

The meeting moves on to Proposal 6: Governance Review Interim, proposed by Sabeeh Imran Rasool, but agreed on as a compromise motion by the other sabbatical officers. The proposal argued for 7.5 sabbatical officers. It would merge the Democracy and Communications Officer with the Ethics, Envioronment and Operations Officer to create a new role called the ‘Sustainability, Engagement and Operations Officer’ – which doesn’t sound confusing at all – as well as removing the External Affairs and Campaigns Officer and the Medical, Pharmaceutical and Health Students’ Officer. The 0.5 comes from a paid part time IoE students’ officer.

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Sabeeh convincing the crowd

Still, no one was happy. Dahlborn objected that this proposal did not include enough student representation and accused the proposers of scaremongering people into believing UCLU’s financial status could not sustain any other proposal. Members then start questioning whether cutting sabbatical officers is really the best way to solve financial problems. No one really seems to have any other ideas though…

It was stressed that this was the only proposal that was agreed by all the sabbatical officers as a compromise between opposing views.

A vote was taken… and it passed! 10 vote yes, two vote no and six abstain, meaning the proposal reached the 75% needed (only considers yes and no votes).

We finally arrived at Proposal Seven: Proposed Governance structure of IOESU-UCLU, post-merger. The IoE students finally made their case for a full time sabbatical officer. Suguna Nair, President of IoE’s Student Union proposed that there is a full time IoE student officer for one year to guide the merger and ensure that the 8,500 IoE students are fully represented. Nair says that the position will by funded by the IoE, and reinforces the importance of a representative for their student body.

No one offers any arguments against this proposal, so a vote to vote is taken, and passed. The results of the real vote, however, were not as expected.

The proposal did not pass. Nine vote for, six vote against and one abstains. The result provokes some anger and is called undemocratic – no one came out to speak against the motion, even though they planned to vote against it.

Have no fear, though: the IoE students may not go completely under represented.

After a motion for UCL to stand in solidarity against police violence with Warwick University Union is passed unanimously, another Emergency Council Meeting begins.

Yes, another.

This meeting called for a referendum to determine whether or not there should be a full time sabbatical officer to represent IoE students for the year. All UCL Students, including IoE, will be able to have their say. Nair calls this the most democratic solution.

A vote passes the motion. 11 for, one against and five abstaining. The referendum schedule is then proposed and approved 14 to nothing. Details on the referendum will be announced soon.

And its over. The long series of meetings, proposals and adjournments has finally made some progress. However, with the referendum to take place regarding the IoE officer, the drama surrounding the sabbatical structure is still to be concluded. Here’s to democracy.

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