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Campus societies voice support for VONC in President’s last week

The Sabbatical Officers of 2017-2018, pictured on the night of their election, due to finish their tenure at the end of this week. Image: The Yorker
The Sabbatical Officers of 2017-2018, pictured on the night of their election, due to finish their tenure at the end of this week. Image: The Yorker
The Sabbatical Officers of 2017-2018, pictured on the night of their election, due to finish their tenure at the end of this week. Image: The Yorker

Several student societies at the University of York have publicly backed a vote of no confidence in the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) President as he enters his final week in office.

Last week, a student submitted a vote of no confidence in the President after the latter cancelled the term’s policy process in light of a separate vote of no confidence against the Policy Coordinator.

The University’s Labour Club stated on the 20th June that it was

…clear there is a democratic deficit at the students’ union, with most ideas being ignored and even ideas and policies democratically passed unanimously through the policy process not being acted upon, such as the implementation of accessible menus in YUSU outlets. UYLC calls for reform, whatever it may be, to the policy process and bylaws as soon as possible to make sure it acts in the interests of students.

The former Chair of the Labour Club, Aisling Musson, was the author of a policy proposal that requested braille menus in YUSU’s bars and restaurants.

On the same day, the University of York Conservative Association, better known on campus as the York Tories, stated that they were “shocked at the decision made by YUSU president Alex Urquhart to suspend the policy-making process.” The Tories described Urquhart’s move as a “massive overreaction” that had “the appearance of a YUSU president trying to exercise their powers before they leave office.”

We believe that this decision was as the result of a personally motivated and vexatious complaint against a YUSU officer and did not call for the suspension of another policy cycle. We are aware of a proposed vote of no confidence in the leadership of Alex Urquhart, and as a committee we support it. However, given that his term of office ends on Friday, we think that he was aware he was immune to any scrutiny procedures.

Noting that Huw James’s policy on commemorating the end of the First World War would again be delayed, the York Tories urged the next President of YUSU to make preparations for honouring the next anniversary of the end of the war.

A further public statement from the campus Liberal Democrats described the “incredibly poor justification” and “inconsistent application of authority” they believed came in the cancellation of the policy process. The Liberal Democrats went on to state that it was “all the more outrageous” that “the President has sought to do this in the last days of their term…”

They have broken student trust[,] undermined our campus democracy and damaged student life for the coming year. Presidents represent the student population and when there is gross misconduct they should be held accountable to students no matter how late in the year. It is all the more important that a vote [of no confidence] is held urgently before the handover.

Criticism also came from the University of York Greek and Cypriot Society. In a Facebook post that tagged The Yorker and York Vision, the society committee condemned the cancellation of the policy process, as it would prevent the hearing of several policies intended to benefit students coming to York from overseas.

The committee drew attention to the twenty-first motion of the forty-five submissions, authored by the outgoing Community and Wellbeing Officer of YUSU, Mia Shantana Chaudhuri-Julyan. This proposal would compel the Union to research the reasons why students from certain backgrounds are reluctant to participate in the YUSU electoral process. The committee concluded:

In a time when YUSU Sabbatical Officer candidates are mostly white[,] male and British and show explicit disregard for the needs of international students we say, no more. We will not stand for a status quo that perpetuates the disenfranchisement of international students around the university. Specifically, in a time of political crisis such as Brexit, we remind you that we are part of this university and we have the same rights as everyone else. We hope that other international societies join us and condemn the above behaviour in order to ensure a brighter future for us all.

Some students have criticised their peers’ demands for the President to face a vote of no confidence. In a Facebook post shared by Alex Urquhart on his Union account, Connor Drake, one of the two new Part-Time Officers for Working Class & Social Mobility, dismissed the vote of no confidence efforts as “totally the wrong way to handle this.”

For one, Alex is no longer president in what, a week? What does voting him out now do? Nowt really. In my opinion, Josh is the unfortunate focus of a rather innocent misunderstanding, and further to this misunderstanding, the policy process has become a victim too. I hope that a solution can be successfully sought.

Writing in response to a post by Huw James to the York Tories’ members group on Facebook, Amelia Hubbard, the former Editor-in-Chief of York Vision, stated that “If Josh [Mackenzie, the Policy Coordinator] had resigned when this issue was first raised this might not be happening.” Hubbard added that she shared James’s frustrations about the loss of the proposal to commemorate the end of the First World War, but said she did not “believe that the Policy Coordinator has made this easy for YUSU.”

Hubbard herself had authored a handful of motions that were submitted to this term’s policy process, one of which requested that members of the Policy Review Group and the Policy Coordinator should not be permitted to be signatories “due to the likelihood of a conflict of interest arising.” This is understood to be the rationale for a complaint submitted in the last week of term, prompting Urquhart’s cancellation of the policy process. However, the identity of the complainant is unknown.

Urquhart is yet to respond to The Yorker‘s request for comment, issued last week, but told Nouse:

I respect the processes of the Union that allow students to take issue with my actions. My decision to suspend the policy process was made with a heavy heart but I stand by it completely. As President, I am responsible for this process to be conducted fairly and am I not satisfied that this is currently possible. I appreciate the effort taken by students and the importance of some of the policies, it is a frustrating position for me too, but the integrity of the process is my priority. I look forward to the investigation relating to the Motion of No Confidence proposed against me and will respect and adhere to any conclusions made.

Alex Urquhart is expected to step down from the post of President at the end of the week, making way for his elected successor, James Durcan.

Note: the author of this article previously held the role of Policy Coordinator.