After ten days of intensive efforts to attract the whole of the student body, the Annual General Meeting (AGM), organised by the Students’ Union, did not reach quoracy.
Although 260 attended the meeting in Mandela Hall, this was short of the 550 students needed, five per cent of the student population.
Consequently, David Cichon, Chair of the Council and the AGM called for a vote to continue the meeting despite the low turnout.
As the AGM begun, and after urging present students to call and text their friends, people continued to come in.
Before the discussion on the Students’ Union budget and policies, Cichon read through the guidelines for participation, a document to be read out at the start of all union events to ensure a safe environment in which students can debate.
The guidelines outline the Student Union’s commitment “to provide an inclusive and supportive environment without fear of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia or any other form of discrimination”.
The agenda was confirmed and agreed upon by all attendees.
There was an alteration made to the agenda as section G was taken out, the “Debate on the Future Constitution of the Union” was postponed to February 2011 due to “circumstances beyond the Union’s control”. A referendum will take place at this time and could lead to a change in the structure of the union and its legal status.
The Union’s statement on the postponement stated that “the university’s Strategy and Performance Committee rejected the proposed constitution and as such has overruled the agreement between the union and the university”.
Biz Bliss, University of Sussex Students’ Union Operations Officer, presented the financial statements for the year, 2009 to 2010 as well as the budget proposals for this academic year, 2010 to 2011.
She meticulously went through each aspect of the budget and explained that the university’s grant to the union had been reduced by 5 percent since the previous year.
Bliss also warned of the “prospect of losing two of our shops”. This would be detrimental as the University of Sussex Students’ Union Trading Limited will provide the union with £138,122 this academic year.
During the discussion about the budget, students posed questions about the stock and investments of the union and the depreciation of fixed assets. The budget was approved unanimously. After this approval, some students left.
The agenda, given to any person attending the AGM, included a section on retained, updated and lapsed policy.
Many students were frustrated at the lack of debate and discussion about previous policies as well as the lack of information.
The agenda explained at the “Annual General Meeting, Union Council’s decision over the recommendations to retain, update, and lapse policy will have to be approved.
Given the sheer number of policies involved, it is impractical to discuss each and every recommendation in detail”.
One student felt that this was “vague” and as the first year Law undergraduate was leaving, he explained that he felt that the AGM was “unorganised. There was no information anywhere. Everything was predetermined”.
The first motion on fees and cuts was easily and indicatively passed, with only one student against and two abstentions.
The motion that followed, “Students Against Sexual Harassment”, indicatively passed, but not before a lively discussion about the two amendments.
The first of which sought to insure that sexual violence was understood to affect both men and women.
This amendment, together with another amendment on the kind of anti-sexist, anti-harassment training provided for perpetrators of sexual attacks, were passed with majority ruling.
The motion to oppose NATO spokesperson Jamie Shea’s appointment led to a debate questioning the International Relations visiting lecturer’s place on campus.
Tom Wills, the former University of Sussex Students’ Union President, began the discussion that ended with the motion passing.
Simon Englert, a Social and Political Thought MA student, was happy with the proceedings: “the AGM reflected the general rise in militancy in the student population.
“Excellent motions were passed with large majorities in favour of fighting fees and cuts in public services, backing the Education Activist Network, bettering the union’s policy on sexist attacks on campus and supporting the No to Shea campaign.
“Hopefully we will see more union general meetings this year and therefore create a greater involvement in the union to avoid new struggles to get quoracy.”
Although the first three motions passed, the last two were left to Union Council as students began to leave.
The union commented on the overall performance of the AGM: “We are happy about how the AGM went overall, the chance for students to discuss issues and scrutinise the accounts of their representatives is something that Sussex is proud of.
“Despite the fact that less than 550 students attended, we are happy that attendance improved from the previous week.
“Comparing Sussex to democratic engagement at other Students’ Unions also shows that our students are some of the more engaged in the country.
“The votes at the AGM are indicative as they were inquorate. These are seen as strong recommendations to the Union Council.” The three motions discussed and passed will be valid for one year if approved by the Union Council meeting in Week 10.