The author of the complaint that called for a vote of no confidence against the YUSU Policy Coordinator, which led to an investigation, the suspension of the policy process and calls for the then-YUSU President to be the subject of his own vote of no confidence, has been identified.
After confirmation from the YUSU President and subsequently from the author themselves, The Yorker can identify the author as Lucas North, Josh Mackenzie’s predecessor as Managing Director of York Vision and a candidate for the role of Policy Coordinator in the 2017 YUSU Officer Elections.
North, who has since graduated from the University of York, submitted a letter of complaint on the 13th June to the then-YUSU President, Alex Urquhart. The letter itself has not been released to students and the author’s identity has hitherto not been publicly revealed.
In the letter, North contended that the Policy Coordinator, Josh Mackenzie, faced a conflict of interest that would prevent him from carrying out his duties. Mackenzie is currently the Managing Director of York Vision and would be part of a committee of representatives of ratified student media who would be consulted during YUSU policy processes. In North’s view, this breached a clause of the YUSU by-law relating to the organisation of the Policy Review Group, which the Policy Coordinator chairs.
After North sent a letter to Urquhart, the policy process was suspended. North told The Yorker that this was not their intended outcome for the policy process, stating that they “had no say or prior warning of that decision.”
I had several policy submissions in the ongoing cycle, and my understanding from discussions since the decision to suspend became public is that this decision was taken after the incumbent Policy Coordinator refused to recuse himself from the policy cycle, in which there were motions which directly affected him. I know that I was not, and am not, alone in believing that the current situation creates a clear conflict of interest, as well as being unconstitutional. I am also aware that were it not for my calling for a vote of no confidence, the policy process still would have been suspended, and similar actions by the YUSU Executive Committee would have been taken.
North dismissed rumours that their letter was motivated by a personal disagreement with Mackenzie over York Vision as “purely speculation and a malicious rumour – not dissimilar to those previously spread about me and others towards the end of involvement in York Vision that I saw the paper as a vanity project.”
I do not know Mackenzie’s view on the future of the paper and so cannot say whether I disagree with it. My calling for a vote of no confidence was motivated purely by my desire to see that the YUSU constitution and by-laws were being adhered to, which I felt they were not.
On June 22, two days after the suspension of the policy process was announced by Alex Urquhart on Facebook and an investigation into Mackenzie’s potential conflict of interest, triggered by North’s letter of complaint, commenced, North uploaded a large document to several Facebook groups occupied by students. This included the group that Mackenzie had himself launched to promote the policy process, ‘YUSU Policy Discussion‘.
The ten-page document, titled ‘Reimagining Student Democracy’ and described by its author as “a guide to how YUSU might implement a Council or Student Assembly type of democracy, while still retaining the openness of the existing process”, contained analyses of the policy process in its current form and a recommendation for major reform.
Citing a lack of student awareness of the policy process and “no guarantee of balance in the feedback” for students’ proposals among other reasons for the policy process’s inadequacy, North proposes a new model of student democracy. Later, North referred The Yorker to a meeting in which they and another student had “successfully changed the minds of the Policy & Review Group on several policy ideas, including a back-and-forth on one particular suggestion in which the PRG took turns agreeing with us and changing their view accordingly.”
“This system is not fit for a democratic organisation with more than 15,000 members,” added North.
The document further elaborated on the benefits of a ‘student council’-based forum for democracy at YUSU, listing the changes to YUSU by-laws needed for successful implementation. Members of the proposed council would consist of the Full- and Part-Time Officers, representatives from liberation and coordination networks, representatives from college committees and a handful of ordinary members.
Some students offered feedback to ‘Reimagining Student Democracy’ on Facebook, but the reactions of the Policy Coordinator and YUSU are unknown. North stressed to The Yorker that the document was wholly separate to their letter to Alex Urquhart:
I had discussed this proposal with members of YUSU staff, the incumbent YUSU Policy Coordinator, and other active members of YUSU prior to submitting my call for a vote of no confidence, and publicly circulated it at the end of the last academic year for further feedback and change before it hopefully going to a vote in the next academic year. This proposal has always been separate to my calling for a vote of no confidence in the Policy Coordinator […]
While in the role of Managing Director of York Vision, North and the former Editor-in-Chief of York Vision, Amelia Hubbard, had publicly declared that York Vision could not continue without major change. Hubbard told York Vision‘s membership in a letter of resignation that the publication was doomed to fail.
Shortly after Hubbard and North decried the newspaper, a new edition under different leadership made it to print. The team that oversaw this edition, supported by the voluntary editorial assistance of student journalists from Nouse and The Yorker, featured Josh Mackenzie as its Managing Director.
The Yorker understands that Mackenzie took on the role of Managing Director at a committee meeting to save the struggling student newspaper from de-ratification, as no other member of York Vision was willing to take on the signatory role necessary for its survival. It was for the same reason that Mackenzie stood for election to this role at the subsequent AGM, which was observed by members of YUSU staff.
In the final policy process of the academic year, which would subsequently be suspended by Alex Urquhart, Hubbard submitted policy proposals stating that societies that caused significant harm to students should be shut down. She named York Vision as one such society. In another proposal, she stated that:
This Union believes that members of the Policy and Review Group, including though not limited to the Policy [Coordinator,] should not be able to act as a signatory on any media committee society due to the likelihood of a conflict of interest arising.
If this proposal were accepted, Mackenzie would be required to step down from his role as Managing Director of York Vision, which is a signatory role.
Asked if they agreed with Amelia Hubbard’s view on York Vision, Lucas North told The Yorker that, on many occasions, they “believe the paper must change and adapt to reflect its resources and a changing student population. This included a call for it to be replaced with a product expanding on its current Scene pullout, which has been the only consistently successful part of the paper.”
An investigation into Mackenzie’s alleged conflict of interest was launched in the last week of the academic year, alongside a second investigation into grounds for a vote of no confidence against Alex Urquhart. However, YUSU is yet to disclose the results of either investigation to the student population.
Since early July The Yorker has invited representatives of YUSU to comment on the progress of the investigations, as well as inform the student body on the status of the suspended policy process and the forty-five proposals currently hanging in the balance. On July 11, a statement released by the Sabbatical Officers was contradicted by a second statement released in response by Mackenzie.
A frequent contributor to the YUSU policy process and a candidate for numerous elected YUSU roles including that of Policy Coordinator, Lucas North graduated last month with a degree in Law.
Note: the author of this report previously held the role of Policy Coordinator at YUSU.