Can you really change the world at the SUSU Annual General Meeting?
The Annual General Meeting is promoted as the most important meeting of the year for all students and this year we are being asked what is the one thing you would change within the Union, University and the world. This marketing has perhaps led to 4 out of the 5 top ranked ideas being about changes to the University, changes that SUSU actually has very little power (besides lobbying) to influence. In reality, SUSU only has the power to change itself, but based on last year’s AGM, struggles even to do that.
Some of the most popular policies passed last year had the potential to affect thousands of students, but unfortunately, like many policies in SUSU just ended up not happening for one reason or another. Even the most simple of changes like putting sanitary bins in male toilets hasn’t been able to happen in 12 months, despite numerous students asking for updates on the progress of the project throughout the year. So where are the new seats for the Cube? What happened to the SUSU Bank? Where is the referendum on card charges?
Background – Follow the University in cancelling the 15p charge for using debit cards in SUSU outlets.
Outcome – The decision at the 2014 AGM was to refer the decision to Trustee Board with the intention that they would organise a referendum on the topic.
Current progress – A decision has not been made yet because Trustee Board hasn’t even had a discussion on the issue.
Future – SUSU President, David Mendoza-Wolfson says that the issue had unfortunately been forgotten due to SUSU appointing a new Chief Executive and the new staffing structure, but will be discussed soon.
Background – The current seats are clearly no longer fit for purpose – several seats are permanently out of use, whilst a number of films have recently been delayed due to difficulties with the retractable system.
Outcome – The policy was passed, mandating the Union President to implement new seats by Summer 2015.
Progress – SUSU are still in the process of negotiating with the University over who is going to pay for the work that needs to be done.
Future – David Mendoza-Wolfson still hopes that the refurbishment will happen soon and hopefully in time for the new academic year.
Background – The idea was to follow Leeds and Sheffield Unions in offering current accounts to all student groups, potentially affecting over 300 groups and thousands of volunteers and greatly improving the current system.
Outcome – The policy passed, mandating the Union President and VP DCI to create a business plan, presenting this to Trustee Board in the 2014/2015 academic year.
Progress – No such business plan has been created, again due to a staff restructure, meaning that the Bank of SUSU is not a priority at the moment.
Future – Hopefully work will resume on the project sometime.
Background – This policy was all about breaking down the barriers that stop people getting involved in SUSU and making the Union more inclusive specifically for trans people.
Outcome – The policy passed, resolving to make a number of gender-neutral toilets and to place sanitary bins in male toilets in the SUSU building.
Progress – Recently, two toilets have been made gender neutral, but no sanitary bins have been put in male toilets.
Future – Include sanitary bins in male toilets and to publicise any future changes.
It is clear that the lack of progress cannot be blamed on individuals, but the system itself. The AGM is often seen as a good opportunity to get students who are less involved in SUSU to voice their opinions on what needs to change and this year we are told how easy it is to make change happen. This is likely to result in even more students feeling disillusioned and disappointed by SUSU. Whether it’s more student involvement in the organisation of Grad Ball or suggestions to improve the website, these ideas need listening to without students having to write policies or resort to the infamous SUSU Ideas and Open Discussion Facebook Group.
The Union therefore needs a better system of listening to ideas and feedback from students and then responding and acting upon what the students want. A policy passed at the 2013 AGM resolved to create a system where students could petition for ideas to be discussed, but somehow this still hasn’t happened either. Recently there have been many discussions about changing the way decisions are made within the Union, so perhaps there is hope for future improvement, but what really needs to change is communication, transparency and accountability.
Increasingly students feel as if SUSU isn’t listening to them because ideas aren’t acted upon and progress isn’t publicised properly. Ideas are left abandoned, explanations are rarely given and so the breakdown of communication leaves students feeling disappointed in the Union and reinforces the ‘them and us’ attitude as well as the dreaded ‘SUSU Clique’. A lack of clear transparency and accountability often leaves students questioning the progress of projects and asking questions to which they can only find the answers by coming along to Union Council or delving into the minutes of meetings.
Having to present a fully formed policy at the AGM is a barrier to people wanting to see change happen. Many of the top ranked ideas from this AGM haven’t been made into policies and so still need addressing, but due to a lack of accountability it is likely that they will just be forgotten. Therefore by all means come along to the AGM this year to have your say on important issues and take part in democracy, but despite what the posters say don’t expect change to happen easily or even at all.