To whom it may concern,
I am writing to you in order to complain about the Annual General Meeting of the Student’s Union. I feel that the way in which the meeting was conducted and organised undermined not only the intentions of the meeting, but also the faith of many students in the capability, accountability and effectiveness of their union.
My first contention with the way in which the meeting was run is the fact that many of the motions that were seen could have been discussed far more effectively at Union Council. While I am privileged as a voting member of the council, the overwhelming majority of students are not – and the AGM is their opportunity to have their voices heard on issues which they think the Union ought to take a stance on. Much of the meeting was dedicated to dealing with frictions between particular members of council, and dealing with the legislative rhetoric in which the Union should be run, and this prevented students from having their say. I feel that the chair could have taken a more active role here in ensuring the swift progress of motions, rather than allowing the discussions to degenerate into an ineffective back-and-forth dialog between two members of council. Furthermore to this, the fact that the meeting started late due to issues of quorum further hindered the progress of motions through council. This led to a denial of students this annual opportunity to voice their concerns to council, which I found shocking.
Secondly, I feel the voting system also ought to be called into question here. I have a number of issues with a ‘hands raised’ voting system – firstly, the arrangement of seating and the division of tellers to count the votes could have very easily led to an incorrect count of voting. In addition to this, the raising of hands takes the anonymity away from voting – this means that votes may not have been as representative, as people may have been voting due to peer pressure and conformity, rather than their actual opinion. While I do not have a solution to this issue as of yet, it is certainly one that needs to be addressed in a meeting of this importance and scale.
Another, and perhaps the most important, issue was that of quorum. During the discussion on an International/Postgraduate sabbatical officer, a member of council called for quorum on the meeting. Due to a vocal disapproval from some members of council, the chair then opted to not take a count of members. While this may have been ‘by the book’, as the constitution stands, there are a number of problems with this. Firstly, despite the fact that the count was repealed, I would argue that there was a consensus amongst the majority of attendees of the AGM that after a certain point the AGM had not reached quorum. Given this, is it appropriate for the chair to simply ignore this knowledge and continue the meeting regardless? Because if the meeting had not reached quorum for the duration, the consequences are significant: the first is that the union is undemocratic, and the second is that the motions that were discussed and passed today do not stand, as they were not passed by the requirements of our own constitution. To demonstrate this point, I would like to request that the chair (or other relevant member of staff) provide the voting statistics for all motions passed at the AGM to Union Council on Monday 17th May to confirm that they were passed democratically.
The AGM today was our chance, as a union, to demonstrate to our members who are not councillors that we are transparent, accountable, democratic, fair and representative. I feel that the way the meeting was run, the way that the votes were accounted for, and the way in which members of union staff knowingly flouted constitutional regulations demonstrates a fundamental and systemic problem in the way in which the politics of Southampton University Student’s Union is run. This is a completely unacceptable route to travel down, and will very quickly lead to student disenchantment and disengagement from the union. Given this, I would like to conclude by asking the following question to the chair, the sabbatical officers and any other relevant bodies: what are we going to do about it? Clearly the way in which the AGM was run today demonstrates a clear failure on the part of the student’s union, and action must be taken to ensure that those who cannot regularly sit on Union Council are ensured their right to be heard.
Ethical Co-ordinator (Environment and Ethics Officer Elect)