NUS General Secretary Richard Budden makes a speech before the meeting gets underway (photo: Nick Blumsom)
NUS General Secretary Richard Budden makes a speech before the meeting gets underway (photo: Nick Blumsom)

The University of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU) held its most important meeting of the year last Thursday, the Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The event provides students with an opportunity to set Union policy for the following academic year. Nine motions were put forward covering a range of different issues from ethical investment, to introducing a long-term environmental plan for the Union, to banning the presence of military-funded bodies on campus.

For any motions to pass the AGM requires a quoracy of 406 students – one fifth of the student body – to provide a fair representation. At 2:10pm when quoracy had still not been reached the chair of the meeting, Holly Chard, decided to allow some initial speeches from two members of UNITE and Richard Budden, National Secretary for the NUS (National Union of Students).

‘For any motions to pass, the AGM requires a quoracy of 406 students to provide a fair representation. Quoracy was lost after less than an hour of it being reached’

Jeremy and Paula from UNITE spoke about the current staff strike over the proposed removal of the final-salary pension scheme, saying that “[the University management] try to screw the poorest and they mustn’t be allowed to do it.” They thanked students for their support over recent weeks both on the picket line and with the many signatures that have been added to their petition.

Mr Budden from the NUS then stepped up to speak about their current campaigns. He also fielded a range of questions from the audience about the recent racism investigation involving a Nottingham University sabbatical officer. Budden went on to say that despite the NUS president Wes Streeting’s recent campaigning at Bangor University, free education was essential to the NUS’ long term objectives. He also spoke about Studentification, stating that the NUS would be campaigning on this issue because “we [students] have the right to live wherever we want to live.”

The meeting then moved to the confirmation of the agenda. After a few discrepancies over the ordering of the motions, it was agreed that motion nine for a Long Term Environmental Plan for the Union would be moved to the position of motion one whilst all other motions would be shunted down one position. The Union budget plus previous minutes and reports from Union Council and other committees were all passed with little objection.

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)

At 3:10pm quoracy was achieved with 411 students present in Mandela Hall. As issues turned to USSU affiliations the controversial topic of whether Sussex students should remain affiliated to the NUS was raised, with some arguing for disaffiliation to protest against the recent extraordinary conference. However, the affiliations – including that held with the NUS – were passed whilst the AGM was still quorate. A new motion was proposed to hold a referendum on NUS affiliation following the result of the NUS governance review. As the voting was announced before quoracy was lost, the vote on the NUS referendum was passed and a referendum is likely to be held in March alongside the USSU Sabbatical elections.

Quoracy was then lost at 3:50pm within less than an hour of it being reached. When quoracy is lost the policy is to treat all AGM decisions as indicative. These indicative results must then be, if possible, ratified at Union Council at a later date. Therefore no official conclusions can be drawn from the remainder of the AGM results. Despite this outcome, the motions still provoked lively and engaged debate among the students present.

At around 4pm the meeting finally moved on to discuss the proposed motions. The Long Term Environmental Plan for the Union motion was passed with an overwhelming majority, as was the 2nd motion, against academic penalties for non-academic debts to the University. The debates around this motion also brought up issues raised by last years’ Let Them Study campaign.

Motion three on Sussex Not For Sale received widespread support. The motion was passed indicatively as quoracy was still not in place.

The discussion then moved on to USSU’s campaign for an ethical University.

An amendment was proposed to remove the mention of promoting employment opportunities to graduates as it was suggested that imposing ethical opinion on graduates could “limit [our] career options when we leave university.” The advocates for the opposition argued that the motion would only affect “the promotion of unethical businesses on campus” and that it would not stop anybody from going out and searching for employment opportunities with unethical companies of their own will. The amendment was not passed, along with another proposed amendment questioning the definition of the statement “the proper treatment of animals.”

‘As the voting was announced before quoracy was lost, the vote to have an NUS referendum was officially passed’

Before the motion for “support for international students” was discussed it was announced that a change to the constitution – as is required for the appointment of a new sabbatical officer – could not be ratified by Union Council if passed by an unquorate AGM and that a referendum would be required if the motion was indicatively passed. Whilst it was widely agreed that international students constitute an important proportion of the Sussex community it was also noted that there already exists the Welfare sabbatical position which caters forissues concerning all student groups and that the needs of one student group should not be prioritised over others such as LGBT, postgraduate and ethnic minority students. Richa Kaul-Padte, current USSU Welfare officer, also stated that the Union had spoken to the University with regards to possible funding to create a new sabbatical position. She concluded that it was not feasible without making dramatic cuts to other areas of the Union. An amendment was proposed but rejected and the motion was not passed. However, there was a general consensus that more support is required for international students especially with regards to current visa laws and passport issues.

The most controversial proposal (and the one which provoked the longest debate) was the motion to oppose the activities of military funded bodies at the University of Sussex. This has become a contentious issue over recent weeks, following a series of anti-war protests earlier this term against military recruiters on campus. During the Freshers’ Fair the stand run by the University Royal Naval Unit (URNU) was doused with paint and glitter by a group of protesters disguised as clowns. Anti-war protestors were also present at the GradFair and have been accused of stealing the list of names of possible recruits from the Army stand. The AGM motion proposes to “refuse to allow military funded or affiliated bodies a presence at USSU events or to publicise their activities in USSU media” and “to fully support students who campaign against war, military recruitment and the activities of military bodies on campus and beyond.”

The meeting risked breaking down at one point when Izzy (SOCCUL) opposed the military presence motion and referred to the other students as “a bunch of hippies”

There was much debate from both sides with Koos Couvée opening up for the motion’s advocates by saying that “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are imperialist wars fought to open up new markets and get resources or economic and geopolitical control.” He continued that “the issue at hand is that we have a university affiliated body recruiting on campus, present on campus, attending our freshers’ fair, recruiting people into their ranks and spreading their information. It might not be an official recruitment organisation but nationally on average 20% of URNU members become registered in the navy after graduation.” The meeting risked breaking down at one point when Izzy (SOCCUL) opposed the motion and referred to the other students as “a bunch of hippies,” a comment which incited much booing and jeering.

UNITE members thanked students for supporting strike action (photo: Nick Blumsom)
UNITE members thanked students for supporting strike action (photo: Nick Blumsom)

Joseph Meldau “Raz” then conceded `his turn to speak as seconder and Koos took his place, responding that “this is not about individuals, this is about an institution. Let us not fall down the trap that reduces all politics into matters of individual choice.” Sophie (SOCCUL), also in favour of the motion, added that, “We are a community and what we choose to allow on campus represents our view on the world.”

Further opposition came from Zoë (HUMS), who received applause when she mentioned that “the anger is misdirected. The military don’t decide where they go to war, the government decides. The argument is that if we had no armies in the world there would be world peace. It doesn’t work like that. We have to have an army.” However her argument lost support when she said that “the reason racism, sexism and homophobia exist in the army is that there are high levels of uneducated people who have just left school” and suggested that they should therefore recruit more from universities as a means of preventing this.

Daniel Tomlinson made the final speech against the motion by saying that “politics is absolutely about individual choice. A group within our student body is dictating to the rest. Is this the thin end of the wedge? If we pass this motion, how far do we extend our prohibition of other organisations on campus? Do we ban the department for international development [a part of the UK government that manages Britain’s aid and aim to find lasting solutions to global poverty]? They are heavily involved in US foreign policy. I would like people to consider, not necessarily if people support the military, but where this proposal takes us two or three years down the line.”

The motion was eventually passed by the majority. However, as it was only an indicative vote it will still have to go to Council, who are likely to call a referendum on the issue. After the vote a large number of students left the hall and the chair decided to draw the 2008 AGM to a close just after 5:00pm, leaving the remaining three motions not discussed. The date for the next Council meeting to ratify all the indicative decisions made at the AGM has not yet been announced, but is likely to be within the next two weeks.

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