“AGM motions ‘fail’ to represent students’ views.” This was the headline which, along with a friendly-looking pie chart, jumped out and grabbed my attention in last week’s The Badger. Sadly, my reaction to this headline was not outraged shock or even bemused curiosity, but “Well, duh!”
I’ve attended the last three AGMs and in each one felt the same mixture of boredom, frustration and ultimately despairing resignation (not to mention a really sore bum) as the most trivial of clauses in a motion I neither know nor care about is nitpicked and bickered over ad nauseam. The system of voting for everything (vote to hear an amendment, vote on the amendment, vote on the motion) slows things down even more, and is frequently both confusing and alienating if you’re not really paying attention (which after four hours of this, you won’t be).
Clearly then, there are plenty of reasons for Joe Average (HUMS) to stay away from the AGM – he can either spend hours numbing his rear while We The Student Body decide if we’re officially narked about the state of affairs in the DR Congo (and who is this Dr Congo person anyway), or he can spend one hour in a relatively comfy chair in Arts A1 and perhaps even learn something relevant to his life. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
This can’t go on. If USSU is really serious about getting more people involved in the democratic process, the system needs to be changed to suit the busy, politically apathetic majority rather than the opinionated, mainly left-wing minority who actually attend the AGM. The 2.5% “majority” of the student body required to pass motions at the AGM is never going to be representative of US as a whole. That’s not democracy, no matter how you dress it up.
So here’s my idea: keep the AGM. Actually publicise it (how many of us were aware of it in advance this year?) and make sure everyone knows the deadlines for submitting motions.
Have the meeting, make sure quorum is reached (no way were there 406 people in that room this year) and go through the motions as per usual but all decisions made, quorate or not, are only indicative.
Now take the amended, nitpicked motions, read them out and vote on them at the start of lectures for the next few days, so that everyone is made aware and is represented. There won’t be any debating or amendments – that’d waste time in lectures, and besides that’s what the AGM is there for. There’d just be a vote.
I think we’d all be surprised to see just how radically the views of the student body differ from the views of We The Student Body. Then again, maybe we wouldn’t. Either way, it’s time we the democratic majority of US students got our Student Union back.
Editor’s note: This year the AGM was more publicised than ever before. The submission deadlines for motions were printed on cards on 3000 lanyards in Freshers’ Week; there were five full pages dedicated to it in The Badger (which included the Front and Back page), posters, flyers, door-knocking, social networking, blogs and a mass email to ALL students.
Despite the allegations in this article, the AGM was quorate for a period of time as was confirmed by the door count, the chair and the sabbatical officers.