Student Union’s AGM descends into Farce

Posted on May 13, 2010 by

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Students members of the Southampton University Student’s Union (SUSU) were disappointed today by a chaotic Annual General Meeting, which denied many students the chance to represent their Motions and have their voice heard in the one meeting they can freely speak.

The AGM, which began 45 minutes late after 12pm due to too few members being present (the quorom being 250), began with the normal reporting of the accounts and annual reports from Sabbatical Officers.  A total of 11 Motions were then meant to then be discussed and voted on before the 3pm cut off time, however only 6 motions were in fact voted on by the time this ‘guillotine time’ was reached.

Due to AGM rules the first Motions discussed were relating to the structure of the Union, but it quickly became apparent that many of these were in fact effectively overspill from a previous meeting of the Union Council meeting, as many were simply challenges by individual members of the Union Council against what the Council had already passed.  Debate between Union Council members was especially strained over the creation of new VP Sabbatical Posts, which had already been passed by UC but were extensively challenged by other UC members, resulting in back and forth arguments between them.  At one point when one Exec. officer was losing the debate on creating a VP position for Postgrads and International Students she called Quoroum, halting the whole meeting as many in the audience had left by this stage.  This was eventually overruled, but the issues of low turnout makes the legal basis of the resolutions of the AGM shaky, and potentially invalid.

Another contentious issue was the repeal of the ban on Athletic Union sports clubs from being able to hold AGMs in venues servin alcohol and being able to drink alcohol during AGMs.  The meeting was packed with vocal AU members specifically there for this issue, of which many argued that freshers would not come to their AGMs if they were held in ‘intimidating’ lecture theatres.  However, as pointed out by members of regular societies and the VP Welfare and Socs, all other societies seem to manage this simple task and often go out on socials immediately after, as well as referring to the deeper issues of a drunk AGM probably being more intimidating than a lecture theatre, and that drink doesn’t quite help for wise decisions.  The suggestion that if a member of an AU club objected to an alcoholic venue then the club would move it was also criticised, as many might be too intimidated to challenge peer pressure in this way.  In the end though the motion was passed to great cheers and shouts by the rowdy AU members, many of whom immediately made to leave.  It seems that the Union’s policy of cracking down on the extensive drinking culture in sports has come screeching to a halt, and that we can look forward to AU AGMs returning to a booze-soaked Clowns with traditional drinking games in tow.  Some proposers of other motions also expressed concern that the AU members would vote down their Motions linked to progressive campaigns, as at least one email from an AU clubs inviting members to attend about the drinking motion also suggested that at least one Motion was ‘not an issue for the Union to get involved with’.  Not all AU members supported the motion though, with one telling The Blowhole that he couldn’t see their problem as their society managed a non-alcoholic AGM, and suggested that the whole issue was overblown.

Finally, by the time it came for the Motions proposed by regular Union members, which included motions in support of opposing Course and Hall Wardens Cuts, supporting the Transition University Initiative, encouraging the Uni to support funding Essential Medecines abroad and in support of National Political Reform, the 3pm ‘guillotine time’ was reached and the AGM cancelled.  Many of the proposers of these motions were understandably irritated and infuriated by this, as they had waited 3 hours along with their supporters for their cases not to be heard.  Instead they had to listen to te internal politics of the Union’s Inner Circles spilling out into what is the regular members only opportunity in the year to vote on the issues they raise.  It has been proposed that these motions can now instead be heard at an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) at a UC meeting next Monday, but that UC members will have to ‘approve’ motions to be resubmitted and that the structure of the meeting is not currently known.  Indeed, as it was difficult to get Quorom even for the AGM during the day, some doubt that an EGM a few days later in the late afternoon/evening will attract enough members to make the decisions valid.

One member proposong one of these motions told us:

“It’s ridicolous.  I’ve spent 3 hours of my time here in order to get my case heard, when I should really be revising for my imminent exams, only to be forced to listen to the Union’s top ‘leaders’ challenge each other and argue amongst themselves.  I wanted to get our campaign’s voice heard and change the union, but it seems they’re too caught up in their own business to listen.  Now it sems I’ve got to sacrifice my Monday evening as well to be heard (if they let me resubmit), but it’s unlikely that as many supporters will be able to come after having had their time thoroughly wasted today.  They’re talking about political reform on a national scale in the news now, but perhaps some is needed closer to home if they can’t sort this mess out…”

The Blowhole feels that the fact that debates that should have happened in UC prevented regular members participation in the AGM is deplorable, and that the only time of the year that members can vote on these issues should be far better managed to prevent this happening again.  In the meantime, all the Motions that weren’t discussed should be heard as soon as possible and SUSU should work as hard as needed to make sure that the Motions can still count despite the chaos, and the proposers not inconvenienced further.  In the long-term a more open structure would be commendable, as a situation where quoroms representing  just 1% of SUSUs members can’t be achieved and vocal minorities can dominate proceedings is not particularly democratic.  And if the Motions aren’t heard as they should be, then SUSU will have lost a lot of trust and support, and greater action to reform the Union would be needed to restore this.  Sort it out, SUSU.

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UPDATE:

The EGM on Monday heard the motions not heard at the AGM, although not enough Union members turned up to make it quorom so only UC members could vote on them.  Motions against course cuts, supporting the Transition University Initiative, supporting cheaper medecine produced by the university in third world countries were passed unamended, motions against halls wardens cuts and supporting take back parliament were passed but in watered down forms.

The motions from the AGM are to be presented to a constitution committee to be ratified due to issues of quorom (when this became apparent and that there was to be no vote on Monday on it around 70 AU members spontaneously left the room, showing a wonderful commitment to supporting democracy and hearing issues other than their own).

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