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YUSU 2017 election rules published without Policy Review Group approval

Image credit: the University of York Students' Union
Image credit: the University of York Students' Union
Image credit: the University of York Students’ Union

Election rules for the 2017 University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) officer elections were published earlier this term without the approval of the Policy Review Group (PRG), breaking a by-law of the union’s constitution, an investigation by The Yorker has found.

The PRG met on Friday 27th January to discuss the rules of this year’s elections as published by YUSU. A reporter from The Yorker attended this meeting and can confirm that the election rules had not been reviewed prior to their publication.

The PRG’s role is to review election rules prior to their publication and ensure that any planned legislation is fair and encourages democracy on campus. Point 5 of By-Law 7 of the students’ union’s policy, relating to elections, states:

“5. The Returning Officer shall set the rules by which elections are conducted, subject to approval by the Policy & Review Group. These rules should be made available to candidates from the point at which nominations open.”

However, as the rules have already been published by YUSU, potential amendments would have to be implemented to rules already in place, rather than making suggestions from the offset.

In 2016, the PRG called an extraordinary meeting to discuss modifications to the election rules, in particular the ability for union-affiliated societies, volunteering organisations and sports teams to endorse election candidates standing for full-time positions.

In this meeting, the PRG informed a large audience that they had not been consulted by the students’ union prior to the release of the 2016 rules. Due to objections and concerns regarding the policy changes, the PRG rejected the rules, but the election went ahead regardless.

One former member of the PRG told The Yorker in 2016 that he believed that was the second time that the PRG had been ignored on the subject of election rules; if true, this occasion makes the third time.

Johannes Huber, a graduate of the University of York and a former member of the PRG, told The Yorker that the 2017 situation was “eerily similar to last year’s fiasco, with the only difference being that last year the PRG caught it at the eleventh hour and overturned significant changes which YUSU had tried to sneak past students in an undemocratic manner.” He went on to comment:

“The underlying problem is that the PRG is meant to function as an independent oversight body, but the person at YUSU responsible for training and advising the PRG and the Returning Officer responsible for the election rules is the same person, a clear conflict of interest. I can only speak to least year’s debacle, where this individual, who was also the Returning Officer, was not aware the PRG had to approve the election rules. As such I am not surprised the PRG was blindsided again.”

Ellis Byrne, an MA student and former member of the PRG, added:

“We have seen these attempts to subvert democratic oversight of YUSU before. YUSU’s disregard for the due democratic process is concerning, yet sadly, not entirely unprecedented.”

The current Policy Coordinator, James Humpish, told The Yorker:

“There was an administrative error and the rules were online before they were formally approved before the PRG. Given that there’s a new starter in YUSU responsible for the election it feels a bit unpleasant to chastise him for the error.”