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The system’s broke: it’s time to fix it

“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.

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7 Comments

  1. I share Dorian’s angst; there is something quite wrong if the salient forum for student decision making was so badly attended as to make it, for the moment, benign.

    Dorian ventures a number of reasons as to why nearly every single student didn’t turn up for the matinée performance of student democracy. The primary factor can be summarised thus; “sitting down hurts, if done for long enough.” Perhaps if “Joe Average” had got up from the bean bag in the Arts Fac, he could have put the issue of seats to the chair, and guarantee for a future generations of bums a brighter, more elevated future.

    I disagree also with Dorian’s suggestions on how to remedy some of the ills that haunt the perhaps fusty institution of allowing students to freely and publicly contest, expand, or do away with the policies that will affect them and their peers. Decision making, despite appearances, does have to be taxing ; you need to pay attention Dorian – indeed, collective action requires individuals to encourage other people to pay attention too.

    I can’t stand the idea that students, you know, people that are trying to learn something about the world, are only willing to make their voices heard if “there won’t be any debating or amendments.”

    My position; you can sit (or stand) around drinking fair trade-ish coffees, waiting for someone to invite you to a Facebook group named “we want SOFTER bog roll in the library kazis”, or go and discuss and thereby affect Sussex University policies for four hours per year – to use the phrase that Dorian borrowed from Dick Cheney, it’s a “no brainer”, isn’t it?

    Reply
  2. Juicy Ramone Wrote – (“are only willing to make their voices heard if “there won’t be any debating or amendments.”)

    I think that’s a pretty unfair quote taken out of context, Dorian’s argument is not to remove the debate process, instead she argues that the debate should continue, followed by a larger vote formed after the debate. The “won’t be any debating” bit, is simply to recognize that the chance for debate has already passed (the AGM) and that the vote is simply that, a vote.

    Also, Dorian might have been a bit flowery when she wrote “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.”

    But she did not mean Joe Average (Hums) was slacking in a “bean bag” she meant (I presume) that Joe Average (Hums) was busy in a lecture (Arts A1 is a lecture theatre after-all), as the AGM took place right in the middle of the academic day.

    My impression of Dorian’s article is just ramming home the points made in the referenced news article: http://www.thebadgeronline.co.uk/news/agm-motions-fail-to-represent-students-views/

    Why would Joe Average be interested in “discuss(ing) and thereby affect(ing) Sussex University policies for four hours per year” when as the news piece makes quite clear, the discussion is all about motions which do not necessarily represent the opinions of students.

    Reply
  3. Dorian’s broad approach to the more sublte machinations of student democratic decision making is that they’re boring, and thus archaic. Did I remove the quote from it’s intended context? Ok. Misleadingly so? Nope.

    And pull the other one with the Knackered Student stuff ; I reject that myth just as quickly as I do The Lazy Student generalisation. If you’ve got 40hrs contact a week, congratulations ; hiding behind A Jam Packed Schedule whilst leaving the difficult task of participation in democracy to others is one of the more dishonest types of laziness.

    What Dorian is saying is that students who are are double plus not happy with the state of the AGM should abandon it altogether, or are at least reasonable in abandoning it, and should instead be provided with Another forum, preferably one that is easier to intellectually navigate.

    I’m sure that both you and Dorian turned up to the AGM – why do you not expect others to ar least try to do the same?

    Granted, it’s got some major problems, some cosmetic (approachability, comfort over a long day), some more profound ; should public discussion be done away with becuase of these issues? This is what Dorian, and by extension yourself, seem to suggest.

    Reply
  4. Dear Paul Codd,
    Dorian’s broad approach to the more sublte machinations of student democratic decision making is that they’re boring, and thus archaic. Did I remove the quote from it’s intended context? Ok. Misleadingly so? Nope.

    And pull the other one with the Knackered Student stuff ; I reject that myth just as quickly as I do The Lazy Student generalisation. If you’ve got 40hrs contact a week, congratulations ; hiding behind A Jam Packed Schedule whilst leaving the difficult task of participation in democracy to others is one of the more dishonest types of laziness.

    What Dorian is saying is that students who are are double plus not happy with the state of the AGM should abandon it altogether, or are at least reasonable in abandoning it, and should instead be provided with Another forum, preferably one that is easier to intellectually navigate.

    I’m sure that both you and Dorian turned up to the AGM – why do you not expect others to ar least try to do the same?

    Granted, it’s got some major problems, some cosmetic (approachability, comfort over a long day), some more profound ; should public discussion be done away with becuase of these issues? This is what Dorian, and by extension yourself, seem to suggest.

    Reply
  5. I agree, hiding behind a schedule or simply not taking part is a poor excuse. I’m sure it’s also possible to extend a “well if you don’t take part, don’t complain” argument as well.

    My problem, is that is it still acceptable for the Union to take decisions that affect all students, when it clearly suffers from so little student participation.

    Low student participation can not be blamed on the Union (as the editor’s note makes clear) but still, when the Union takes action or involves motions that affect all students (i.e Anti-Military, or Anti-NUS) Whilst low participation might not be the Union’s fault, can it ignore it and press ahead anyway with representation based on less than 5%?

    Far more worrying, is that the news article http://www.thebadgeronline.co.uk/news/agm-motions-fail-to-represent-students-views/ (whilst I’m sure equally flawed) seems to show that it’s possible to find a completely different response to the exact same motion outside of the AGM (i/e a “no” vote to NUS disaffiliation compared to the ‘Yes” found at the AGM) How does the Union respond?

    Reply
  6. I responded on a personal level in The Badger this week (http://www.thebadgeronline.co.uk/comment/a-response-to-student-apathy/), though it does reflect the sentiment of many within the Union.

    You seem to keep forgetting Paul that the Union HASN’T taken action on the NUS or military bodies. In fact, what we said at the time and which has now been confirmed by Council was that both these descisions effect all students and are clearly too contentious an issue to be decided within the AGM.

    NUS affiliation was never decided at AGM and can never be by our constitution, and is likely going to referendum. The Union has no official position on whether to affiliate or not (I’ve written articles in The Badger to remain affiliated), but if 300 students ask us to faciliate a debate and then a referedum then we have to do it.

    Same with military bodies. If 200 or so students have come forward and asked for it to be policy, we can’t simply ignore it from an AGM as that would be ridiculously undemocratic. Understanding that it’s such a massive issue that we can’t decide there on the basis of an inquorate AGM, the decision will be going to referendum, most likely next term.

    Yes, AGM isn’t entirely representative and yes, it has a lot of flaws. However, when we have a large group of people coming forward in an open democratic matter to decide on Union policy we can’t simply just ignore them as irrealevant. Instead, the Union has seen that these are controversial issues that can’t be decided here and will go out for all students to decide. This is the same for any controversial issue that is brought up.

    Reply
  7. DR Congo means Democratic Republic of Congo. That is a crap joke.

    Dorien at least complains about the AGM having actually attended it, the same can’t be said for some

    Reply

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