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Fate of Policy Coordinator unknown as Urquhart leaves YUSU

Image: The Yorker
Image: The Yorker
Image: The Yorker

Students at the University of York are yet to find out the fate of the Policy Coordinator of the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU), who has been the subject of an investigation following a proposal for a vote of no confidence.

Josh Mackenzie, who was elected by students to the role of Policy Coordinator in February, is under investigation after a student proposed a vote of no confidence (“VONC”) against him in a letter to the President of the Students’ Union, Alex Urquhart.

Sources close to the Students’ Union indicated that, on Friday 29th June, their final day in office, the Sabbatical Officers’ last item of business was to conclude the investigation into the VONC proposal against Mackenzie. The conclusion of this investigation – whether there are grounds to hold a campus referendum to remove Mackenzie from his role – is yet to be publicly announced.

In the last week of term, the policy process was suspended on the order of the YUSU President. Urquhart justified his actions with reference to the Union’s constitutional by-laws, stating that the policy process could not continue while the Policy Coordinator was under investigation. “I am not confident that the process can be run fairly,” he wrote on Facebook on June 20th,

[…] or in the best interests of student members while a complaint of this nature remains outstanding. This request is not one I am making lightly, I have given this considerable thought but regrettably feel I have no other option at this point.

In response, many students have been critical and at least one student has proposed a vote of no confidence against the President himself.

The Yorker understands that the Policy Review Group has been investigating the grounds for a motion of no confidence against Urquhart, as per By-Law 11 “Accountability”. However, the investigation is now moot as Urquhart has left his role at the Students’ Union.

Alex Urquhart was invited by The Yorker to comment on several occasions last week, but declined to respond. His successor, James Durcan, was also invited to comment, but he told The Yorker that the best person to comment would be Urquhart.

The Yorker reached out to the students who sought to succeed Urquhart as the YUSU President of 2018-2019. Oscar Jefferson, who stood as a RON candidate in this year’s elections to encourage students to “vote RON” rather than vote for a successor to Urquhart, told The Yorker:

When we were running the RON campaign, many people from within YUSU suggested we submit our concerns to the policy process. The recent suspension of the process reflects our concerns about its effectiveness and the reasons why we didn’t choose this channel.

Asked to comment on what James Durcan, Urquhart’s successor, should do, Jefferson said that he should “get the process up and running again as soon as possible or indeed replace it with a more efficient system, which he presides over personally.”

I hope [James] Durcan has taken on board the RON campaign’s message about better representation and debate, and should be afforded an opportunity to promote this agenda in his own right. RON was a challenge to Durcan, and senior YUSU officials, such as [the YUSU] CEO Ben Vulliamy, to open up the debate and foster an environment of respectful, but critical scrutiny. If they fail to do this then YUSU really is in serious crisis and RON would be the favourite in spring 2019.

Has’san Suhail, formerly YUSU’s International Students’ Officer (a position held in partnership with Agnieska Gziut), told The Yorker‘s News Editor that, though he had not seen Urquhart’s responses to criticism, “nothing” could justify a cancellation of the policy process. Cancelling the term’s policy process, especially after the previous process had to be called off due to a lack of feedback, was “very undemocratic”. He further described taking the policy process away as “authoritarian”.

Suhail stated that, if he were in the role of President, the policy process would continue while the grounds for Josh Mackenzie’s vote of no confidence were investigated. Suhail added to The Yorker‘s News Editor that the policy process was “very important” as it provided a way for students to change YUSU. Suhail has himself submitted a number of proposals to the policy process over his time as a student at the University of York.

Hector MacDuff was invited to comment, but did not respond before this article was published.

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