Southampton University Students’ Union held their Annual General Meeting today in the Cube. Due to start at midday, proceedings were delayed by 45 minutes as the 250-person quorum was not immediately reached. The sabbatical officers delivered reports of their year in office before motions were proposed. While the sabbatical team were keen to highlight that the Union received the third most overall votes this year in a student Union election, nothing was said about the low number of student members who attended the AGM.
Student and ex-Union Council member Terry Robinson explains that the ‘advertising wasn’t effective or targeted enough’, but the problems experienced go beyond this. He explains that ‘the 250 number for quorum is clearly just plucked out of thin air’, although we can now confirm it is written into the Union constitution.
Several other criticisms were levied about the AGM during the meeting as it developed into what has been described as a ‘rowdy circus’. With eleven motions proposed, only six were heard due to time limitations which left many students, who had spent three hours waiting to support a motion, angry and frustrated. One such student agreed, explaining that ‘the AGM started off promising, but quickly descended into pointless discussion. Democracy was undermined today by political rambling’.
The motions proposed for the AGM that were not heard will be carried over to an Emergency General Meeting to be held on Monday 17th May. After pressure from the Wessex Blog, the President of the Student Union, the Chair of the AGM and the Membership Services Manager all admitted that they could not confirm the exact rules and regulations that would be in place. Currently it appears that all motions that were unheard can be proposed at the Emergency General Meeting. However there may be a claus: only members permitted to vote as part of Union Council (approximately 50 students) are allowed to approve that the motion can be heard. When questioned about the fairness of this, Union President Steve O’Reilly said that ‘we are just going on the constitution as it stood before motion one’, and this is ‘us playing by the rules’. However for those students who have waited an academic year to be given their only guaranteed opportunity to propose a motion, this is not satisfactory. Peter Apps, who proposed motions about course and warden cuts, explains:
‘I’m annoyed that I took the time out of exam preparation to draft a motion and attend council. I feel they are both matters that the wider student population deserves to vote on and therefore it would have been better for them to be raised at the AGM’.
There was also disbelief in the way that votes were counted. Attendees were given a red wristband to wear, and told to raise their hands when necessary to support or oppose a motion. This made the private process of voting a public matter, and with 250 voters present there is no guarantee that raised hands were only counted once. One of the tellers discounts this notion, explaining that ‘each person had a section’ to count. However due to the block seating arrangements and the tellers counting predominantly from the aisles, a miscalculation could easily have been made.
There were several controversial motions, notably the proposal made by Allan Steynor regarding whether Athletic Union clubs could host their AGMs at a location of their choice. The motion can be read in full here, and was passed just after the 3pm cut-off point. Harriet Collins, Women’s Officer for the Union, said she was ‘not happy about the AU decision’, as ‘the AU students were intimidating’ and ‘people were too intimidated to call quorum’. This opinion is echoed by the AU attendees themselves, with one threatening that ‘if anyone votes against [the motion]I will punch them in the face’. As the meeting ran out of time it was suggested that the discussion regarding whether the AU should be able to host their AGMs in alcoholic venues be continued in The Bridge Bar, with this contradiction providing much amusement for attendees.
A facebook group has been created for students to give their comments on the SUSU AGM. Dave McKay presents a summary on the facebook wall:
‘The fact that motions raised by union members were not heard due to matters which should have been (and have already been discussed) in Union Council is inherently unfair to members who aren’t part of the council. Most of the time was spent dealing with motions arising from disagreements within union council that had not been properly challenged within the council meetings (motions that had passed then but were being challenged now), resulting in normal members losing their own voice in the only open voting meeting of the year. When I protested against the Uni two years ago for the student voice not to be silenced by the University, I didn’t realise we’d not be able to use our voice properly in our own Union a couple of years later’.
The Wessex Blog will keep you posted with information regarding Monday’s Emergency General Meeting as and when we receive it.