The Union has become increasingly unrepresentative in recent years. Last year there were allegations and rumours speculating that quoracy had in fact been faked. This year the union lacked quorum for most of the politically charged votes, but there was no question of trickery. However the students’ council can now decide without further reference to the views of the majorities of students. This is especially alarming given that some motions were voted on by less than half the number of students needed for quorum, and decided by very narrow margins.
The AGM as a system is now deeply flawed. Every year efforts are made to increase awareness and every year there are problems with quoracy. Student apathy is always blamed, but quite simply this does not tell the full story. Although technically lecturers and seminar tutors are supposed to allow students to go to the AGM, some are vocal in resisting the idea. First years are more likely to attend than their older counterparts, as they have more free time and relish the idea of getting out of lectures. Third years are under so much pressure it can be difficult to find time to fit a potentially six-hour meeting into their schedule.
It does not matter that we can technically leave lectures; it is not practical to do so. Taking the time the AGM requires out of studying is not an option for courses with incredibly high workloads like the Graduate Diploma in Law, or a degree in Medicine or Neuroscience.
In addition, though much is made of failing to achieve quorum there is a general failure to consider what happens if too many people turn up. Currently it is possible for pressure groups to arrive early, take up all the space until their issue is voted on and pack other voters out of the hall. There is an upper limit to the amount of people allowed in Mandela Hall due to safety regulations, after all.
Voting is done by a show of hands, something which has been disapproved of in democracy for a very long time. It exposes people to peer pressure, and is NOT a reliable method of counting. Sitting in the hall watching the volunteers from the union counting hands it was easy to see on their faces that they lost count several times and started again. How can we guarantee they got it right at the final count?
Finally The Badger reported the start time of the AGM wrongly, further confusing the issue for students who were already hard pressed to attend. Problems of this kind are far less likely to have as large a negative impact if we reform the system as outlined below.
The current system is simply not sustainable. Instead I propose the following ideal alternative. This is simply my opinion of course and I hope that other students will write to the union or The Badger with their own views.
1 – The AGM should cease to be a voting mechanism. Instead it should be a forum of discussion where the proposed motions and amendments can be discussed freely, and people can familiarise themselves with the issues. Pressure groups can present their work, other students can propose new amendments or motions but nothing is actually voted on.
2- A week or two later students should vote on this in the same fashion we currently vote for union representatives. Voting stations should be set up around campus and we should vote using our I.D cards. It should be possible to vote on each issue separately.
3- A body of students, ideally volunteers independent of the union, or perhaps the student representatives, people students have already elected, should then check each motion to see if it has achieved a quorum.
4- Any motion that has not achieved quorum should be rejected; the results of votes which do achieve quorum should be final.
This would help part time students, mature students with families to look after, and students studying intensive courses, all of whom are discriminated against by the current system.
In summary, once again the union has failed to represent, taking the side of a vocal minority claiming to be democratic whilst outshouting the rest of the students who did attend the AGM and alienating those who didn’t. A radical reform of the union constitution and procedures is needed and although as a finalist I will not be around to see any such reforms through, I hope that younger students will be inspired by the many contentious issues we’ve seen this year to campaign for such reforms.