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Democracy Zone (26th May 2016)

Minutes

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Name of Committee Democracy Zone
Date and time 26th May 2016, 11:00
Place Board Room
Present Members
(voting)
Chair of Council Jade Head
Vice President Democracy and Creative Industries Kerry Sclater
Union President Ben Franklin
Vice President Sports Jamie Wilson
Clubs and Societies Officer Catriona Philip
Union Council Representative (Humanities Faculty Officer) Frazer Delves
In Attendance
(non-voting officers and staff)
Director of Engagement Nickola Moore
Democracy Co-ordinator Guy Drury
Chief Executive Scott Mccarthy
Policy & Volunteer Manager Christopher Small
Democracy Assistant Ed Baird
Absent without Apologies Union Council Representative (Physical Sciences & Engineering Faculty Officer) Giles Howard
1. Welcome and apologies

Kerry Sclater welcomed everyone to the meeting. Also present were:

Will Garside

Alex Hovden

Mike Allwright

Toby Leveson

Samuel Tyler

Emma Morris

Oliver Clark-Darby

Oliver Bassett

Hannah De la Salle

Mayan Al-Shakarchy

Bart Jennings

Kokulan Mahendiran

Rupert Molyneux

Cameron Meldrum

Thomas Gravatt

Rebecca Lake

Matt Warren

Jemma Goldwater

Anthony Kenny

 

The minutes of the previous meeting were passed.

2. Referendum timing

Kerry explained that they had received two proposals for when to hold a referendum on the rebrand.

Ben Franklin proposed Option A – to hold the referendum at the start of the next academic year. Ben explained that this would allow more meaningful engagement from students, more informed and objective debate and would be more likely to reach quoracy. This option wouldn’t be about putting the referendum off, but rather ensuring that it’s done properly.

Frazer Delves proposed Option B – to hold the referendum on Friday 3rd June 2016. Frazer said that the petition shows that students clearly want a referendum, that new students wouldn’t be able to make a fair comparison as they would never have seen the SUSU branding and that it would be damaging to the Union’s reputation to delay the referendum any further. Students have shown that they care despite having exams and the library referendum shows that referendums can be organised quickly.

Kerry reminded everyone that due to the new Democracy Reform Proposal, quoracy is now 10% for referendums, and that everyone should agree that no matter when the referendum is held, it would be good for it to meet quoracy.

Mike Allwright said he was of the opinion that if the referendum is held now when everyone is engaged and quoracy isn’t met, then it tells us that most students don’t care that much.

Trini Philip said that people have heated reactions at the moment, and that people often dislike changes initially, but that having the referendum in the new academic year would allow people to see the brand settle in. Trini also argued that new students should have a say over a brand that they will experience over the next few years.

Toby Leveson said that students still haven’t fully experienced the brand and seen its full potential, so it’s too early to make a judgement about it.

Sam Tyler said that having the referendum in June would deprive new students from having a say whereas holding it in the new academic year would deprive graduating students and it would be more democratic to hold it the new academic year.

Rupert Molyneux said that it would be more of a reputational issue to allow leaving students to dictate the outcome of the brand than it would be to wait to hold the referendum in the new academic year to let new students have a say. For a fair debate, everyone needs to have seen the potential of both the brands, so even if the academic year wasn’t ending, the referendum should still be delayed long enough for both brands to be explored properly.

Oliver Bassett said that democracy needs to be seen to be happening and people want a vote now. It would be damaging to allow the perception that leaving students’ opinions don’t matter. Furthermore new students wouldn’t have experienced the SUSU brand, so wouldn’t have anything to compare against. Kerry said that this was a valid point and noted that both options had the problem of students experiencing both brands properly.

Sam said that a lot of new students will have come to open days and experienced the SUSU brand and that there would likely be a campaign for the SUSU brand, so new students would get to see it then.

Emma Morris said that there was currently an online poll with the two options for the timing of the referendum, which states that out of 104 respondents, 88% want the referendum next week as opposed to next academic year. Ben said that the sample was one-sided, as it had been shared primarily on a Facebook page that was opposed to the rebrand.

Rebecca Lake said that whilst she understood the argument of allowing freshers to vote on something that affects them, the Union doesn’t let new students vote on important things like the Full-Time Officer team or Student Leaders, which will also affect them. Ben noted that the Full-Time Officer team changes each year, whereas the rebrand will likely last throughout the new students’ time at University. Emma said that she’s already experienced two rebrands from the Union during her time at the University.

Kokulan Mahendiran said that one-third of people who currently have an issue with the rebrand would be losing their vote. Kerry said that, as with the challenge around being able to experience both brands, that whenever the referendum is held a large number of students will be excluded from having their say.

Alex Hovden said that if the Committee decided to have the referendum in the new academic year, students wouldn’t be likely to understand or accept the reasons, and this decision, and would continue to be angry at the Union.

Bart Jennings said that either way a group of students would be excluded. If we have it in the new academic year, it looks bad to new students and they won’t be able to make an informed vote.

Jade Head said that the decision on the rebrand referendum in 2014 was made with a small number of people at Union Council and that this decision at Democracy Zone Committee would be made with an even smaller membership, made up of mainly Full-Time Officers. She said that previous referendums have often been led by Full-Time Officers, but as soon as students want a referendum, there seem to be lots of issues.

Hannah De la Salle made the point that if the referendum was in the new academic year, new students would start next year and experience a divided Union. A lot of new students will likely have had few democratic experiences, and then we will be asking them to vote on an issue that they know little about.

Sam reiterated that new students should have more of a say on the issue because it is they who will experience it for the next three years.

Anthony Kenny said that students should be the highest decision-making body and we should give them this choice as soon as possible to let them decide.

Mike said that a students’ union always has a rolling electorate because students continuously leave and new students arrive and decisions shouldn’t be put off to allow future students to vote. Furthermore, if the referendum was held in the new academic year, older students would still be angry and this would filter down to the new students whose first experience of the Union would be negative.

Toby said that if the referendum was held next week, people would vote on instinct and gut dislike to change rather than objectively voting on the two brands.

Emma made the point that current students effectively paid for the rebrand from their tuition fees, so current students should get to vote. Emma also stressed how important the alumni community are to the University (Jade added that the alumni had previously paid for refurbishments to the concourse) and denying leaving student a vote could damage this relationship.

Trini said that holding the referendum in the new academic year would engage new students in the democracy of the Union and could help get more engagement with elections.

Frazer read correspondence from Mayan, in which she urged the Committee to represent what students want, and vote in favour of holding the referendum in June.

Oliver referenced the active petition to dissolve the Union and said that the petition would gain favour from leaving students if the Committee decided to have the referendum in the next academic year.

Kokulan said that instead of presuming how and why people would vote we should just let people have their say now.

Responding to Trini’s point that the referendum would help engage new students, Jade said that experience has shown that referendums early in the year does not help increase turnout in the main Spring Elections each year.

The Committee voted in favour of Option A, to hold the referendum in the next academic year (Option A: 2 (Trini and Ben), Option B: 1 (Frazer), Abstain: 1 (Jamie)).

Student Groups
3. Student Groups update

Trini presented the Student Groups Committee affiliation report, explaining that they had affiliated about 50 new student groups this year and there were now 376 student groups.

Decision-making
4. Democracy Reform update

Kerry said that after it had passed at the AGM earlier this month, they are now looking to implement the Proposal, especially focusing on training at events such as the Student Leader Induction.

Elections
5. Spring Elections report

Kerry explained that the report would be released at Union Council on June 6th.

Kerry said that she had spent the last two days on the redbrick and concourse gathering student opinions on the Union elections and are in the process of rethinking the way elections are done for next year.

6. Summer elections feedback

Feedback will follow at a later date.

Constitution
7. Charities and Community Officer changes

In a written correspondence, Hannah Talbot (Vice-President Engagement) said that the current position is unsuitable at the moment and this change would spread out the responsibility between the officers in External Engagement Zone and reflect more what happens at the moment.

After a discussion about whether this change would simply revert back to the previous position of Community Volunteering Officer, which had had issues, the proposed changes were passed unanimously.

8. Academic Representation structure

Kerry explained that this merely formalises the structure already in place.

This was passed unanimously.

9. Student groups finance & Money Management Rule amendments

Kerry explained that this amendment allow the creation of a by-law so that as the project progresses rules and guidance can be added. The changes have already been to Student Groups Committee for their approval.

Alex asked about the progress of the project. Kerry said that it is growing in popularity, especially with new groups.

Bart asked whether it would be mandatory for student groups to participate. Kerry said their research had shown that some student groups had very specific financial needs, and therefore the Money Management scheme wasn’t suitable for everyone so it definitely wouldn’t be compulsory.

 

This was passed unanimously.

10. Honorary President

Kerry explained that this amendment was merely to implement the Proposal passed at Open Union Council.

This was passed unanimously.

11. Rule 10 amendments

Kerry said these amendments had come out of the Enhancing Volunteering project.

There was a question about the suspension of officers and what it would entail. Kerry said that it would only be whilst the incident is investigated and would be used at the President’s discretion.

Jade also asked about the Supporting and Recognising our Volunteers (1415P5) Policy and whether there would be a survey this year. Chris Small said that they were hoping to release a survey before the Union Council at the beginning of June.

Frazer asked why the Chair of Disciplinary Committee wasn’t consulted. Kerry apologised for this and said that in the future changes would receive more consultation with relevant officers.

This was passed unanimously.

12. Gender balancing on Zone Committees next year

Kerry explained that this amendment had been referred to Democracy Zone after being discussed at Open Union Council.

Mike explained that there are a number of issues with the way gender balancing has been proposed for the Zones in the Democracy Reform Proposal and the amendment proposed a system to allow a majority of no more than 60% for either gender. This system would be fairer and much more flexible than the current system. Mike stressed that this was not a discussion about whether gender balancing should happen, but rather the best way to implement balancing to ensure it is not a barrier to getting involved.

Kerry said that we need a representative democracy in our Zones and that as there are over 50% women at the University we need 50% of women on our committees.

Mike and Bart said that we shouldn’t expect a 50/50 split on a committee every time and that there should be some variation.

Trini said that it is dangerous to assume that men cannot represent women and that she didn’t like the fact that she was automatically allowed on Council because of gender balancing. Kerry responded by saying that we have representative for other groups, such as international students because we don’t assume that other people can represent them and it should be the same for women.

Jade said that before gender balancing, Union Council was dominated by men speaking about male issues but now Council is much more representative and fair. Jade responded to Trini’s comments saying that gender balancing isn’t as much of an issue for them because they have already made the decision to run.

Frazer made the point that gender balancing only affects the voting members and everyone is able to speak and persuade everyone.

Anthony questioned whether men and women would have different experiences or vote differently on certain issues. Kerry and Jade said that on issues such as the tampon tax or sexual harassment, they definitely could. Mike reiterated that the amendment wasn’t against gender balancing but merely proposing a different system.

Kerry said that there could be issues with trans and gender fluid people because it could force people to define as men, women or other. Jade agreed and said in the past there had been a case where someone was forced to out themselves as trans, which is why the current system exists.

Bart asked whether he could amend the amendment and Anthony asked if he could add that the new system could be reviewed in a year. It was explained that if the amendment was passed at Democracy Zone Committee, it would also be proposed to Union Council, where additional amendments could be made.

Frazer said that the real issue that needs addressing is why women feel unable to run and hoped that this would be looked at by the next Full-Time Officer team.

Alex said that the amendment provides people who don’t want to define with that option. Jade said that the amendment still forces people to define as ‘other’, which is intimidating.

Jemma Goldwater said that in the current system a woman could choose not to define in order to allow more women to be on the committee, which wouldn’t be fair.

Kokulan agreed that the current system isn’t fair and referenced examples from this year.

Thomas Gravatt said that under the current system you could argue that trans people are discriminated more because there are no specific spaces for them.

The Committee voted against the amendment (Yes: 1 (Trini), No: 2 (Jamie and Frazer), Abstain: 0).

13. Media Committee by-law

Kerry said that this had been the outcome of the Media Review and that the Media Committee would help to promote collaboration and joint strategy between the media platforms and had already been discussed and approved by Creative Industries Zone Committee.

This was passed unanimously.

Any other business
14. Any other business

Jade asked whether there would be another meeting as there are supposed to be two Zone meetings a term. Kerry said that there would be if the members are still around.

As there was no other business, the meeting was closed at 12:31.

Key: P (Papers Provided), PF (Papers to Follow)