Student advice service secured • Support for sport • Stop the cuts • Commitment to environmental responsibility • Bottled water phase out • Youth fight for jobs • No blood ban • Endangered species not for sale • Education equality for asylum seekers
Last week students were divided over the motions put forward at this year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), held on Thursday 19 November. All nine motions were carried, including the decision to remove bottled water from sale in the University of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU) shops.
The USSU AGM is open to all members of the Union – every student at the university, including students who are also employees at Sussex. It convenes to discuss and vote on matters of Union policy.
The AGM has to reach quoracy (5% of the student populace) before decisions made can be immediately implemented as policy. Quoracy has to be reached for any AGM to begin, and a meeting is deemed quorate until a head count is requested. To achieve quoracy this year 585 students needed to be in attendance.
During the discussion of motions, the meeting’s peak attendance was 382 students (29 less than last year’s number of 411). This means the motions voted on have been done so ‘indicatively’ and do not automatically become Union policy.
Indicative motions must go through Union Council to be ratified, at which point they will become official Union policy. The Union Council meeting will be held in week nine of the current term.
A total of nine motions were put forward, all of which had statements for and against made by students, most of which caused heated debate amongst those present. All nine motions were passed.
Two members of university management, who are not students, were asked to leave Mandela Hall by Tom Wills, USSU President, during the AGM. Those asked to leave were Owen Richards, Academic Registrar, Joanne Wright, Pro-Vice Chancellor, and a member of the university’s communications team. Justifying his actions, Tom Wills said: “It is important that they [students in the employment of the University] are able to speak freely without fear of recriminations from their employer.”
The meeting was due to start at 1.00pm in Mandela Hall but did not get going until nearer 2.30pm.
Eventually, the Chair, Richa Kaul-Padte, began the meeting, taking a vote on the meeting’s agenda and the minutes of last year’s AGM.
It was proposed by one student that the motions considered to be of higher importance, such as the motion on youth unemployment, seventh on the agenda, be moved further up the table to ensure it was passed by the highest proportion of the student body. This was rejected by the majority.
In order for the AGM to proceed, students had to approve the USSU budget. However, this year the Union was unable to present a budget at the AGM, since it has not yet been approved by the University.
The Union budget, along with previous minutes and reports from the Union Council and other committees, were all passed. Lapsed policies (old policies which needed to be renewed, discarded or amended) were then discussed. Several lapsed policies which were recommended for renewal were questioned, such as the motion banning the sale of Coca Cola in Union run outlets, amongst others. These will be debated at a Union General Meeting (UGM) next term.
Last on the agenda were the new motions tabled by students for consideration.
At this point a student queried the quoracy of the meeting, and the subsequent count confirmed that the meeting was not quorate. A motion was put forward by the chair for students to decide how to proceed with the AGM. The options were: to adjourn the AGM to the following week – forcing the closure of the Union, to pause to allow more students to arrive, or to agree on policies with the indicative vote.
The latter gives an indication of the outcome of the Union Council’s decision to ratify or reject the AGM’s indicative ruling.
The majority ruled in favour of continuing the meeting with the indicative vote. A decision to close the meeting would have been the first in the AGM’s history.
The lack of quoracy came as a shock to some Union staff members. They said they had been organising the advertising and promotion of this event since mid-summer.
The first motion was for the USSU to continue to provide an independent advice service on campus. This included the Union’s resolution to continue providing an independent, impartial and confidential advice service to all current and prospective Sussex students. The motion passed.
Motion two was for the provision of sport at Sussex, including the pledge to lobby for an increase in annual funding to reflect the growth and importance of sports, to fund Disability Awareness Training and to issue feedback questionnaires for students’ experience of sport.
Motion 3 was to ‘Stop the Cuts at Sussex’, an issue which has been highly controversial among students for a long time, and which has also received extensive coverage within the University. The University is to undergo a total of £8 million in cuts to its annual budget in this academic year and the next.
In connection with this motion the Vice Chancellor’s salary – £222,000 a year – was announced and greeted with an overwhelming boo from the crowd. One third year student said: “They’re not going to stop the cuts unless we put pressure on them.” This was followed by a loud cheer of support, reflecting the students’ vast dissatisfaction with the situation as it stands. An amendment proposed to ensure lectures and seminars were not disrupted by protests failed by a margin of 10, opposed by 94 votes.
Motion four, to show solidarity with bin workers, was withdrawn as it was no longer relevant – the bin workers’ strike has ended.
Motion 5, on the Long term environmental plan for the Union, caused a great divide between students as proposals, such as merging the role of the Environmental Officer with that of the Finance Officer to create a full time ‘Operations Officer’ role were passed.
Biz Bliss, who proposed the motion, said: “Climate change is the most important issue of our day, and more importantly it’s a student issue.” This was backed by strong applause and cheering from the students.
Motion six, on the removal of bottled water from sale in Union Shops, was another highly contentious topic. Recently, Facebook groups have been created, where students have voiced their opinions on the matter, and it has shown a great divide in opinion. The group ‘The USSU is not me’ had 471 members at time of print, compared to ‘We are USSU’ which counts only 218 people as members.
A proposal to amend the policy’s statement: ‘Bottled water is a false necessity’, was made by a third-year student who stated: “The Union has no right in telling us what we should and should not have.” While this was strongly supported by a proportion of the students present, the proposal to amend it was dismissed.
The motion includes the Union resolving to gradually phase out bottled water from its shops and to replace it with other facilities such as water coolers and extra fountains. In the short term, it aims to change the meal deal on offer in USSU shops so that it does not incentivise purchasing “unsuitable products”, such as bottled water.
One student pointed out: “Water is essential to life, if you want to reduce plastic waste then why not target fizzy drinks and pop?” This was challenged by the assertion that if water is not sold in bottles it would still be available through other sources, while the same is not true for other beverages.
After motion six was passed a large portion of the students at the meeting left Mandela Hall, resulting in Richa Kaul Padte proposing to the remaining floor that the meeting be discontinued as all votes would now reflect an even smaller percentage of the whole student body. While few voted in favour, even less voted against, as the majority abstained: the meeting continued.
Motion seven reviewed the continuing rise of unemployment to 2.5 million and the likelihood of 1 million unemployed youths by the close of this year, equalling 1 in 5 people. Clare Laker-Mansfield, who proposed the motion, drew attention to the fact that 50% of all the jobs lost in the last 12 months have been among under-25s. Following this year’s graduation, there have been 48 graduate applications for every graduate vacancy in the country.
The Union resolves to continue to work with Youth Fight for Jobs through joint campaigning on the issue of youth unemployment and related issues affecting young people due to the recession. The Union also aims to encourage Sussex students to attend the Youth Fight for Jobs demo in London on 28 November.
Motion eight, for ‘donation not discrimination’, noted the National Blood Service’s lifetime ban on donating blood discriminates against homosexuals and bisexual men regardless of actual behaviour. Furthermore, women who have had sex with a bisexual man in the 12 months prior to screening are banned from donating blood.
The Union promised that until the ban is lifted, it would encourage students who are able to donate blood to do so, in place of gay and bisexual men. The USSU also pledged to create a petition against the blood donation ban whenever there is a blood drive on campus. Promises were also made to promote information among its members about the blood ban and how it is not only discriminatory but also outdated.
At approximately 5pm motion nine, the last on the agenda, was brought into review. This was to “remove endangered or threatened species from sale in Union shops and bars”. The Union noted that there is very little policy regarding the sale of endangered species in outlets. This includes fish such as Bluefin Tuna and Atlantic Cod, which are currently as endangered as the Giant Panda.
The Union believes removing such fish from sale would project a message not just to students but also to government, that the plight of endangered species cannot be ignored. The meeting agenda stated: “USSU should not be part of the short-sighted greedy industry that ignore scientific evidence and will put itself out of work if no change is made.
“The current EU policy on fisheries management is unsustainable and will lead to a bland ocean stripped of life.” The Union resolves to follow the recommendation of Greenpeace and other environmental organisations to protect tuna, cod, skates and rays, halibut, tropical shrimp and North Sea mackerel.
Following this the AGM drew to a close, at approximately 5.30pm.
Jethro Gauld, creator of the motion for the removal of bottled water in Union shops, said: “Today is a good day for biodiversity and a good day for students. Sussex students will now benefit from free water on campus and the knowledge that they are not eating endangered species in USSU outlets.”
A new constitution will come to referendum in the new year which recommends lowering quoracy to 450 students. If it passes, it remains to be seen if even this low figure can be achieved at next year’s AGM.