The University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) is to replace its constitution and change its legal status as a charity, subject to students’ approval in a snap referendum next week.
The students’ union intends to replace its existing constitution with a Memorandum and Articles of Association. The constitution, established in 2011, is due for review five years’ after its inception, but until now, YUSU has not promoted or advertised any form of constitutional review on social media or ordinary communication with students.
The current constitution does not always agree with its own by-laws. For example, the constitution states that the “Union Chair” will steer the union’s Annual General Meetings, whereas a constitutional by-law awards this responsibility to the Policy Coordinator, an elected part-time position.
The replacement of the constitution will be subject to vote during Week 7 of the Spring Term, coinciding with the ongoing YUSU officer elections.
Though the students’ union states that the referendum “is being held in line with the requirements of YUSU’s Constitution,” the constitution’s recommendations seem contradictory. According to the current constitution, a 20% turnout from student voters is necessary for proposed constitutional amendments to become legitimate. Of the voters, 75% must vote in favour of the amendments for a new version to become legally binding. Paragraph 11.1 of the constitution states that
a resolution passed by a 75% majority of the Members voting in a Referendum provided that at least 20% of Members cast a vote in the Referendum
provided The University of York approves the amendments (as required for the purposes of compliance with Section 22 of the Education Act).
However, the constitution and relevant constitutional by-law on referenda states that a 5% quorum is required for referenda results to be considered legitimate:
a resolution may only be passed by Referendum if at least 5% of Members cast a vote in the Referendum and a majority of the votes cast are in favour of the resolution.
As the referendum will decide not only whether the constitution will be replaced, but also whether YUSU will change its legal status as a charity, it appears that YUSU will seek a 5% quorum to guarantee change.
The union’s Board of Trustees also seeks to alter the union’s legal status, incorporating YUSU as a Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee. In a Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee, the union’s trustees would not be held personally accountable with regards to the union’s finances.
The union argues that the change will ensure that trustees, many of whom are elected students, are not subject to penalty should the union enter financial trouble. The union further argues that the change will increase transparency “with regulation and disclosure requirements that can increase public accountability and confidence” and will not affect members’ rights as laid out in other legal documentation.
The constitution provides students with the opportunity to vote on this suggestion. Paragraph 6 of the constitution states:
The Members by Referendum may authorise the Trustees to transfer the assets and liabilities of the Union to a limited liability entity established for exclusively charitable purposes with the same or similar objects, and to dissolve the Union at any time following the transfer if it is considered appropriate to do so.
The students’ union is asking all students to vote in favour of the proposed changes. Millie Beach, President of the union, states in a YUSU article:
Our consultation on a new name and the recent policy review have told us that our utmost priorities right now must be transparency of decision making, flexibility and improved digital capability and that these things are much more important to students than what we’re called.
As a result, when you come to vote this year for your elected officers, you’ll also be asked to approve the new legal structure of incorporation as a Charitable Company Limited by Guarantee. Your Union, YUSU, needs you to say yes to ensure that we have the right governance framework in place to continue to improve accountability and accessibility.
Previously it was believed that YUSU’s Board of Trustees would vote for incorporation and wanted students’ consent only to change the constitution. In a video released on the YUSU President’s Facebook profile yesterday, Millie Beach and Activities Officer Alex Lusty informed students that they would be voting on whether to accept a new version of the constitution, drafted as a memorandum of association.
However, Alex Lusty confirmed to The Yorker and other media societies in the early hours of the morning that the referendum would concern both incorporation and the constitutional change.
The current constitution can be found on the YUSU website, along with a number of by-laws relating to specific elements of policy, as well as appendices relating to key policies, including the conduct of ratified media, sport clubs and societies.
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