After an hour and forty minutes of spirited discussion, the University of York Student Union (YUSU) Policy Review Group decided against passing the modifications to the union election rules last night.
The Policy Review Group met in Derwent College last night to review changes to the election rules, wishing to ensure the planned legislation is fair and encouraging democracy on the campus.
The changes would permit union-affiliated societies, volunteering organisations and sports teams to endorse election candidates standing for full-time positions in the student union. The changes were motivated by the desire to increase participation in union elections, reach new students who may not have taken part in the democratic process and counteract the influence of the university colleges in supporting particular candidates.
Johannes Huber, part of the Policy Review Group, stated that the new policy would replace an old problem – the large influence of the university colleges and the support a candidate can draw from previous experience as the head of a Junior Common Room Committee – with a new one – the opportunity for popular or larger student societies to have a greater say on which candidates they support.
Several objections were raised by members of the audience gathered to listen to the Policy Review Group’s meeting. Many said that societies and sports clubs could easily lend their support toward former members in favour of other candidates. Others were concerned that the committee’s decision and subsequent endorsement of a particular election candidate may not be an accurate reflection of the majority opinion of the rest of the society membership.
The document itself contained several ambiguities, notably the approach to a society’s use of social media to publicise its support for a particular election candidate. The Policy Review Group accepted that the document’s definition of ‘social media’ and its usage was vague.
By the Policy Review Group’s own admission, YUSU had not spoken with them prior to the release of the new election rules. One member of the audience commented that this was “typical YUSU,” with “a table of people who should know what’s going on complaining that they don’t know what’s going on.”
Clara Riegler, vice-chair of a prominent student society, was not satisfied with the proposal under review:
The proposal was written by a full time staff member, yet it lacked important things which are absolutely necessary to ensure that the YUSU elections are fair and democratic.
Approaching 7pm, Callum Furness, YUSU’s Policy Coordinator, declared that, though he lent his support to the new bill and its amendments, the volume of people who had appeared at the meeting and the number of questions, concerns and objections raised made him “uncomfortable” to agree to pass the policy. The Review Group decided to implement 2016’s election rules, but revert to 2015’s approach to the ability for societies to endorse candidates.
A former member of the Policy Review Group was in the audience last night. He said:
This is the second year, as far as I’m aware, that the PRG had been circumvented in the election process, as when I was on the PRG last year, there was no mention of election rules, which is rather worrying.
More concerning has to be how this happened? The PRG felt there was no intent to bypass them which is believable, however I find it hard to understand how YUSU’s Returning Officer, who is also the member of staff responsible for liaising with the Policy Review Group, failed to spot that they had to have election rules approved by the PRG. Despite these rules being clearly mentioned numerous times in ‘BYLAW 7: ELECTIONS’, in the general rules and is stated in the Returning Officer’s powers and duties.
Last night represented the PRG at its best, holding YUSU to account and having a real impact. The key difference in the PRG this year is not that it has any more powers, but simply that it is using them to their full potential.
The full list of candidates for the student union election has been released today.
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