Monday, 20 October 2008

All the excitement of a governance review

I won't bore you with the reasons why I haven't blogged much recently. I could have posted my opinions on the credit crunch or the latest news about the US election, but I'm not going to today - that will come later. This post is more of a continuation of my last post as it's about HUU's latest governance review.

The last post analysed the draft constitution when it was at it's green paper stage. Now it's after the white paper stage and it's time for a referendum - the point where the student population gets to decide whether the document is acceptable.

I have to admit that the publicity for the voting period has been superb. There's been balloons, flyers, posters, information on HUU's website and more. Some people might say that it's too much (too many posters was often a complaint in previous sabbatical elections) however, you cannot say that they haven't made people aware that something is happening. There was a budget of £5k for this campaign though (see minutes of the UEC meeting from August 20th).

There is a couple of things wrong with the publicity though. Firstly, they don't have the details of how to vote on the flyers (e.g. website). A big ommission, especially considering not everyone goes on the union's website regularly.

Secondly, everything says 'vote yes'. This is a classic psychological tactic that used in the NUS and used by a number of factions within the student movement. It plants a thought in the mind of the student populus that there is only one option, when there's clearly two. The whole point of having a vote is allowing students to make their own decision. The union should present their proposed documents alongside the facts and the history of the governance review. If the UEC were right, then it's quite possible that the students could vote yes without needing their choice forced.

The final point about publicity is fairly serious. Considering there is a substantial budget for this, it would be sensible for large expenses to be approved by UEC. In the minutes of the UEC meeting from September 23rd, there is this in the President's report:
"Have ordered the 'year of change' banner to go across the entrance to the Union. Apologies to all members of UEC for ordering this without approval and not consulting on the cost. Hope to have the banner up for Welcome Week."
Helen apologised for the oversight, but it's still a significant expense and it has a message that was not approved by the UEC. It sets a dangerous precedent.

Draft Constitution - Part 1
The first issue in this part of the constitution is in point 2 ('The Name'). It states:
"The Association’s name is Hull University Union."
Currently, the student union is an un-incorporated association, but under the new constitution it will be a registered charity. Surely it should read 'The charity's name is Hull University Union'.

The next problem is in point 3 ('Objects of the student union'). These are included to tell you the union's reason for existing. They have to feature in the list of charitable objectives in the Charities Act. This is from the union's proposed constitution:
"The objects of the Students’ Union are:

1.1. The purpose of Hull University Union is the advancement of Education of students at the University of Hull.
1.2. It will achieve this by:
  • 1.2.1. Promoting the interests and welfare of students at the University of Hull during their course of study and representing, supporting and advising members.
  • 1.2.2. Being the recognised representative channel between students and the University and any other external bodies.
  • 1.2.3. Providing cultural, sporting and recreational activities, opportunities to volunteer in the community and forums for discussion and debate for the personal development of its members."
For an official document, this is incredibly poor layout and could easily be misinterpreted. According to that section, the union can advance the quality of education at the university by providing such things as sporting and cultural activities. That makes no sense. Sport is an object separate to education.

In point 4 ('Application of Income and Property'), sub-clause 3 places restrictions on what money/remunaration can be given to members (for instance, no income or property of nthe charity can be given to a member) unless it's a reimbursement for a product or service. However, sub-clause 8 conflicts with that by stating that a trustee can receive a benefit not permitted in sub-clause 3 providing they declare interest, do not attend relevant meetings and do not vote.

Draft Constitution - part 2
In the section aout membership, it lists the various different types of membership for the student union:
  • Full members
  • Honorary Life members
  • Life members
  • Reciprocal members
  • Associate members
  • Temporary members
It also provides detailed information about your rights as a full member. However, there's no part of the constitution that gives information about the other types of membership.

The next point refers to Union Extraordinary General Meetings. The Board of Trustees, UEC or 100 full members can convene an EGM. Is 100 members enough peopleconsidering there are several thousand members in total? I can only assume that it's this number due to the apathy that exists amongst the members of the union. The problem is, this could lead to minority rule. A larger number is required, but nothing like e.g. 40%, because that is just ridiculous.

In the point about the board of trustees, it states that trustees must keep minutes of meetings. Wouldn't it be better if an actual secretary did this and sent the minutes to the trustees afterwards? It would ensure consistency.

Ten committments
From the UEC meeting on the June 3rd (i.e. last academic year when Ed Marsh was the President), the following committments were agreed and would form part of the new constitution:
  1. Week 2, semester 2 council and open policy forum to be held in Scarborough
  2. the removal of VP SC will be reviewed against bench marks after 2 years
  3. all committee's must be run with representatives from both campus's, e.g. Women's, Societies and Media
  4. Union Manager Scarborough to keep a record of Sabbatical Officer attendance in Scarborough, to be presented at Council in week 12
  5. creation of Video Conferencing Facilities in both Unions
  6. president to hold 2 open forums a semester in Scarborough
  7. part Time officers to visit Scarborough twice a semester
  8. to run a Scarborough Specific Marketing Campaign aimed at explaining that Scarborough students can run for cross campus positions from President to A.U Council rep on union council
  9. to safeguard the recognition of Scarborough’s individuality by ring fencing its proportion of representation for 6 years
  10. to ring fence the wages of the VP SC for 5 years, so if it is reintroduced by UEC the required funding will be available
Under the consitution that is being put to referendum, Open Policy Forums no longer exist (despite it being implied that their existence is set in stone according to the UEC minutes from September 4th). Instead, there will be a one-per-term General meeting. There is no information about whether the committments relating to OPFs would be applied to this new meeting.

There is also no follow-up information in the UEC minutes about whether point 2 will still be happening. The same applies to points about finance. Also, will any general meetings, Zone meeting, EGMs or AGMs take place in Scarborough? If this is to be explained in the standing orders, fair enough. However, standing orders should already be available for viewing on the governance review pages of They are governance documents and I presume new versions will be written.

Summary and Conclusion
The constitution that is being voted on contains sections that are poorly laid out and could be easily misinterpreted. The section about money for trustees contains a potential loophole and the publicity is highly visible, but has a message which almost forces a particular choice from the students. Parts of the publicity are not approved either and some key details have been missed off.

All that, plus the fact that some pledges agreed last year have not been included in the new constitution. Unfortunately, the proposed documents cannot be altered now as it's part way through the voting period and it would mean voiding the votes that have already been cast.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Student Unions, Politics, Governance


Anonymous said...

An analogy of this paper might be:

Marking a dissertation based on its abstract only.

But, I can see that asking 10% of the voting body to agree on the same score for that paper's abstract, is a near impossible feat.

Anonymous said...

Im afraid the pledges made to Scarborough are even more mis-leading.

The fact that money is ring-fenced is not a constitution or bye-law issue, and so is not being voted on.

The review of the part time chair scarborough after 2 years is irrelevant, because to bring back full time vp scarbroough would require another referendum (10% students voting)

This new costitution leaves Scarborough seriously under represented.

Anonymous said...

"In addition, the President is directly linked to the Chair of C&D and will co-ordinate all officers in democratic areas".
This is a grave concern. Gibson has shown her disdain for democracy by cheating to win the election by printing more flyers than allowed, over-spending on her campaign, having her campaign staff punch the opposition and making it look like a drunken incident, and by having Ed Marsh set up purposefully loopholed e-voting so that her friends can find data on HUU apathetic students, give that data to "Virtual Janet" or "Ask Dee", then log in as that person, thus improving turn out and getting her own way into the bargain. This was also done on the referendum on the new constitution.
If you want evidence, read of how she didn't bother to advise UEC on spending. She feels she doesn't need to, as she is now the all-powerful ruler. Democracy has had its day at HUU and the apathy means it won't be coming back.