By Tony Allen
An important series of changes were made to the UEA Students’ Union constitution this month, regarding the leadership roles that are held by students.
Perhaps the most contentious point was the implementation of a policy to limit the number of society committee positions one individual can have to three, including one presidency. Whilst there will remain no restrictions on society memberships, the measure aims to limit the workload individuals can place on themselves and allow more students to hold committee positions.
Societies will now also require some level of gender balancing in their committee, or be required to explain themselves to the Union and gain special dispensation from Council, which is expected to be the case for certain sports clubs and other societies, for example, the Feminist society.
Proposed by Campaigns and Democracy officer Amy Rust in four parts, UEA Union Council debated each as a separate motion and passed all four of them after a long, and at times boring and bitter debate that nearly didn’t even get going.
Repeated attempts were made by some councillors to postpone discussion of the proposals, and there was a very time consuming argument regarding whether the actual byelaws being changed required a 2/3 majority of assembled councillors as opposed to the regular half of votes plus one.
So, what is the Student Leadership Review and how will it affect you?
The review’s final report aims to “improve and standardise [the Students’ Union’s] promotion of, training of, and support for the breadth of student leadership positions in the future,” and “take steps to remove barriers to involvement for students.”
The hefty document can be condensed into its four key sections and summarised as follows:
1) “Tidying up” current byelaws. This included clearing up the byelaw which had effectively banned candidates campaigning together at election times, to improve safety and encourage more people to run. This part also included a pledge to hold an annual “student leadership conference” for committee members like the one held with great success last semester.
2) This was one of the most talked-about blocks of new legislation. It requires societies to “introduce a Vice President role that is gender balanced with the society President” meaning that one of the positions must be filled by someone who defines themselves as a woman or non-binary, unless they demonstrate to Union Council that this is impractical. Furthermore, “all student opportunity groups [must] elect a first year students rep” as part of its committee- in any role. The Students’ Union has also been mandated to support the Health and Social Care Society, create a strategy specifically to help academic societies and take a closer look at training for new committee members- ideally before the summer when they officially assume their roles.
3) This part concentrated on the creation of a number of “sub-committees” on issues like ethics and the environment, education, equality and diversity, and welfare, to take some power away from the central Student Officer Committee (SOC) which was seen by some as being too centralised and powerful, reporting directly to Council. Also, School Convenors will be elected to closer connect the Union and academic societies.
4) Finally, it was agreed to allow the Union’s Trustee Board to appoint members through Council rather than election to improve its diversity. The Board’s Equality and Diversity committee will similarly be changed. Also, societies will be created for liberation, plus international and mature students to better support them and hear their views.
Reflecting on the review, Amy Rust told us: “For a long time our research has shown that students think the SU is a closed and cliquey bubble- so when some students got a motion passed on opening up our structures we got to work. Given the SU’s size, scope and ambition, we decided we should expand the number of leadership roles available to students and form leadership committees/boards for different types of student and SU functions. “In the future this will mean far more opportunities for students to get involved – from being on one of the boards that looks after the LCR or the Advice Centre, though to getting more involved in campaigns around education or student welfare and wellbeing. This is all about people who want to get stuff done being able to take up a position without having to get too heavily involved in student politics “There are also changes coming that will see far more first years involved in the SU, and we’ll be taking steps to improve equality – for example this is a University with a majority of women but 70% of our society Presidents are men, and the changes will mean that student groups involve more students from a range of backgrounds in leadership roles”
Elsewhere in the meeting, new chair Jack Lewis was elected unopposed. He coped well with something of a baptism of fire for his first Union Council in the hotseat and should be credited for not allowing the persistent arguments over majorities required to pass legislation and Trustee Board reviews to take over the entire meeting.
Seven new society constitutions were approved including Big C Cancer and UEA Movement for Justice, before the Aerial Aerobics Society’s amended constitution was also ratified.
The length of debate over the Leadership Review meant that only two of the eight ordinary motions were discussed. Both passed: a motion to pledge to diversify union staff and another to push for free contraception on campus, backed up by a hilarious (if slightly rushed) speech from Jo Swo better suited to a Carry On film than Union Council, which lightened proceedings no end.
It has been decided that the motions which did not beat the 10:30pm cut off point, like Nightline’s search for a new home and the Music Society’s dearth of space in which to store their equipment, will be debated first at the next meeting, this Thursday.
Photo courtesy of Samuel Seller at https://unsplash.com/@samuelzeller