The annual University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) AGM was an event that looked set to provoke heated argument, but the event took a calming turn and, whilst referendum procedure was outlined, the movement to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students (NUS) couldn’t make much progress.
The night started off fairly predictably, albeit with an unusually large audience turnout. After the minutes, the YUSU finances and their policy process were approved, the event could get onto the topic that the majority of the audience was there to hear: the possibility of disaffiliation from the NUS.
The process was calm and structured. With a carefully-planned speech, Ben Leatham, the YUSU President, was clearly prepared for the motion that was to be brought against the NUS. It was explained that YUSU had held a referendum to determine their NUS affiliation in June of 2014 for the next three academic years (2014/2015 – 2016/2017). However the potential for a referendum does exist in the current academic term.
This referendum would rely on negotiations being held between the group wanting to leave the NUS and the trustee board. There is however an alternative: provided the open letter being penned receives the signatures of 5% of York’s student population, a referendum can be forced within 5-10 days of the petition being handed in.
The Sabbatical Officers then explained their stance on the whole affair. They would prefer the referendum to fall next summer, as that is when our affiliation needs renewal. There were many reasons for this stance, one of the main ones being they felt that the organising of such a petition and campaign to disaffiliate would distract people from their exams. They also felt this would help to include the maximum number of students, and therefore to be as democratic as possible, the referendum should have the greatest possible run up.
Mr. Leatham also stated that he believed that the NUS could be reformed, and that York’s representation had increased over the years. One of the main flaws people highlight of the NUS is their lack of a ‘one member one vote’ (OMOV) policy. Mr. Leatham emphasised how he had fought for this policy to be discussed and how, even though it failed, it failed by a smaller margin than last year.
One of the main criticisms leveled against the OMOV policy is that it dilutes the voices of minorities who might otherwise be drowned out. However, a point raised by an audience member countered this with the fact that many minorities do not in fact receive a dedicated liberation officer, and this puts them at a further disadvantage than if a OMOV system was implemented.
The AGM then changed topic with the officers each giving an account of their successes over their terms. Chris Wall explained how his ‘Give It a Go’ plan had gained a large attendance and how each college had been connected to specific charities. Scott Dawson praised the work of Nightline and Nightsafe, and the increased success they’d had over the last year, as well as his own work on helping the LGBT+ community around campus.
Mr. Leatham explained his work to make YUSU more accessible on social media, as well as his attempts to stop online social media bullying. Grace Clarke’s campaign promise of a fitness track around campus was well under way with equipment orders being placed and she also praised York’s sport as it beat Durham in the varsity. Finally, Thomas Ron explained the success of his lecture capture programme and how there are now a record number of Course Representatives at York.