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AGM throws up unexpected results

Students gathered in Mandela Hall last Thursday to vote on Union policy at the AGM (photo: Nick Blumsom)

Students gathered in Mandela Hall last Thursday to vote on Union policy at the AGM (photo: Nick Blumsom)

The Student Union AGM last Thursday saw a few hundred (though still not enough) students take to the floor of Mandela hall to debate agendas, motions and budgets.

For a student body that is obsessed with representation, democracy and making their voices heard, often regardless of consideration for others; for students in the union that will also often complain that it’s only a few people’s opinions being voiced from minority groups and for those that complain that we’re not being told enough about what the union is doing, the AGM was your boat. Did you miss it?

The same case occurred last year when it took so long to reach quoracy that by the time that the AGM actually got going everyone was already beginning to feel frustrated, uncomfortable and a bit bored. I’m considering bringing a pillow or something to sit on next year to make the hanging around more bearable. No matter how uncomfortable it might have been to be sitting on that floor, the necessity for just over 400 students to be there was essential, and we all knew it.

We’ve had The Badger debate last year about apathy in the student body, but to ask for just under 5% of the university to attend a meeting that directly affects the place they have chosen to study at is not a ridiculous request. Yes, there are plenty of other things a lot of us would rather have been doing, but the AGM only happens once a year. Apparently it didn’t occur to enough of us that if we just sit, talk about it, get it over with, it kills the apathy debate and stops people like myself bitching about student participation.

Because the meeting lost quoracy so soon after it had just reached it, anything ‘passed’ is not indicative but is taken into consideration by the council at future meetings. We effectively gave up our right to be the ones making the decisions. Those who did stick around long enough to see what policy we could have definitely had passed might be slightly dismayed at the fact that essentially, it was fairly pointless.

Surprisingly, one of the more contentious issues that the AGM opened with this year was not even a motion proposal, but an issue arising from Sussex affiliations to external organisations.

With Richard ‘Bubble’ Budden, the National Union of Students (NUS) Secretary sitting in the corner of the room, there were calls from the floor for disaffiliation to the NUS.

The proposal for a referendum on disaffiliation from NUS will now be called if the Governance Review that was passed on the 12th November this year by an 82% majority is ratified at another conference. With that statistic, it seems more than likely that it will pass. Our union seems to have the majority opinion of opposing the Governance Review. Whether this is right or wrong, disaffiliation because of this would be both ridiculous and naïve. Some students claimed that the £34,062 the union spent on affiliation to NUS last year was not well spent, as NUS clearly do not represent our interests.

‘The Governance Review that was passed on the 12th November this year by an 82% majority still needs to be ratified at another conference. With that statistic, it seems more than likely that it will pass’

Admittedly, NUS has not gone along with our opposition to the Governance review, our will to abolish tuition fees, not just reduce them (even if their way is more practical than ours) and their action on some of the racist incidents that have occurred in NUS has been less than satisfactory. I do not intend to belittle these issues, but what we receive back from NUS as a union far outweighs what we put in. Without maintaining affiliation to them, we lose our national representation (remember our obsession with representation?), our NUS cards and much more. It would also include a massive overhaul in our union structure (and we seem to be opposed here to any kind off mass overhaul at our University), not to mention the ridiculous financial implications it would have- which was pointed out by a student speaking from the floor; to try and do such a thing as disaffiliate at a time of such economic instability would be detrimental to say the least.

While there were opinions voiced from the floor that we should stay affiliated if only to continue to oppose the Governance Review that essentially re-structures NUS and is considered by some to be less representational and less democratic, there were also calls that disaffiliating would put pressure on NUS to actually listen to us. I cannot stress enough how untrue this would be. Approximately 600 Student Unions are affiliated to NUS, with only a handful of universities including the University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews, University of Dundee, University of Southampton and Imperial College London that are not affiliated. The University of Sussex leaving the NUS would have no such desired profound effect.

Having said all this, I’m aware that the question of our affiliation to NUS may not even become an issue until the NUS Annual conference occurs in spring. It was just such a surprising thing to come out of a procedural motion instead of a policy motion. The fact that this has been a previous referendum at Sussex that failed should have indicated to the people debating it that it’s probably pointless because, let’s be honest, no one wants to give up their NUS card and 10% Topshop discount.

The other highly anticipated policy motion was to oppose the activities of military funded bodies at Sussex. Despite my own view on the subject, the arguments made in favour of the motion were fairly persuasive. Though, for many, a motion that should have been easy to over throw was just badly argued by the opposition.

Calling the students at the AGM a ‘bunch of hippies’ was probably not the smartest move in trying to convince people to agree with them on the matter.

Furthermore, the accusation made by another student that the more ignorant students straight out of school into the military were the perpetrators of the accusations stated in the motion of sexual harassment, homophobia and racism in the British military would be avoided if they were to recruit from university appeared to have caused wide offence. Echoes around the room of ‘how dare you?’ and gasps of horror seem to sum up what so many thought of their arguments.

There still remain a number of students in opposition to this motion, hopefully when this policy is next debated, there will be other students willing to debate the issue that don’t offend half the people in the room with irrelevant statements.

All bitching aside, it was still reassuring to see that the Sussex not for sale motion, the motion for a long term environmental plan for the union and the motion for USSU to campaign for an ethical University still passed with overwhelming majorities. We’re not totally useless when it comes to realising sometimes we can actually unite on issues that aren’t so controversial.

Let’s just make sure that next time we get the opportunity to make our voices heard we don’t waste it by not getting enough people to show up, ruin it by name calling or making silly proposals.

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