OUSU

OUSU’s “divisive” actions under scrutiny

OUSU’s “divisive” actions under scrutiny

A top OUSU committee has delivered a mixed verdict on the work of officers this year, claiming that one should separate her “private and professional” roles and questioned whether another should “continue in this important role”.

The report, published last week, praises VP (Women) Sarah Pine for her work on consent workshops – which have become more popular and widespread this year – and supporting the Women in Leadership programme, but also describes some of her actions as “divisive”. 

It claims that she made OUSU officers “feel in the dark about what [she] was doing” and stresses the importance of distinguishing between decisions taken in personal and professional capacities, asking for “more moderation” in future if making this distinction proves problematic.

Some of Pine’s actions as Women’s VP have provoked debate in the student body. She co-authored an open letter calling for the Oxford Union President to resign, and asked speakers not to address the society this term.

Responding to the report, she acknowledged that “not all students supported the requests for speakers to reorganise their appearances at the Union,” but feels that the positive responses she received outweighed the negative. 

She outlined the manifesto pledges that she had fulfilled, and stated that “controversy does not mean it was not the right thing to do.”

“I could not be more happy with my year and what I’ve achieved in OUSU,” she added.

A member of the part-time executive who works closely with the OUSU President was also told to improve amid claims that the officer missed meetings and made slow progress on projects. It suggested that “the Officer should consider his position and whether it is right for him to continue in this important role.”

The Officer said: “I have had some personal issues arise this term that  have detracted from my ability to reach my goals for the role.”

“The OUSU President, the sabbatical officer I work most closely with, has been supportive and understanding during this time, and I have been meeting with him recently to discuss how best to take on the role properly next term.”

The report concludes by encouraging “a high level of communication to be maintained” between Officers in future. It also recommends that a formal document is drawn up to clarify the “division between personal and professional capacities” for future OUSU Officers.

The report also praises the work of many Officers in the Student Union. Daniel Tomlinson, VP (Charities and Community) was praised for his “considerable effort and diligence” whilst Emily Silcock (Community Outreach and Charities Officer) was lauded for her work in setting up the “On Your Doorstep” homelessness campaign.

President Tom Rutland, who is entering his final week in office, received a largely positive review. The report claims he “has realised he cannot please everyone all the time” and highlights his efforts in recruiting new OUSU staff.

The Chair of the Scrutiny Committee, Will Obeney, said: “The committee found that there is an ill-defined distinction in OUSU between officers’ personal and private capacities. This was highlighted when talking to Sarah [Pine], who felt as if she had distinguished between the two, but this does not seem to have been reflected in reports and discussion about recent events. 

“We would like to see a formal document drawn up and agreed [to give OUSU Officers] peace of mind regarding what they can do, when, and how,” he added.

Former Scrutiny Committee Chair Jack Matthews praised the “truly excellent work going on within our Union” and emphasised that “the people driving this should be proud of their achievements”. However, he stressed that “Officers would do well to remember that they serve to represent 22,000 students, and not just those of a similar viewpoint to themselves.”

The report on Sarah Pine’s work concludes that “controversial events should not obscure the fact that Sarah has had a very successful year.” OUSU President Tom Rutland echoed this view, stating that “as the Scrutiny Report says, Sarah has had a very successful year – reforming the University’s harassment policy, running the incredible Women’s Leadership Development Programme and spreading a positive message about sexual consent across the university. The under resourcing OUSU has faced in this and previous years means that officers are incredibly busy with their portfolio work and that sometimes communication between officers can slip, and this is not unique to any one officer.” 

Further to this, the general comments in the report indicate “a serious consideration” for Sabbatical Officers’ “health and welfare”, due to their extensive hours of overtime work. The committee acknowledges the necessity of “redistributing roles around the Sabbatical team”, with too many “extras” taken on by individuals. 

These suggestions sit alongside a reinforced recommendation that any “personal agenda” remains “separate to [Officers’] OUSU role”. A “dropped” level of communication between Officers is also acknowledged, and that team members “are aware of what everyone else is up to.”

Overall, the report concludes on a positive note. It congratulates OUSU on a successful year but makes recommendations for future committees, such as more clarity in what some OUSU roles entail, more communication, and the creation of a handbook to help Officers deal with the “private and professional” distinction.

OUSU President opposes proposed DSA cut

OUSU President opposes proposed DSA cut

OUSU President Tom Rutland has joined the growing opposition to the government’s proposed cut to the Disabled Students Allowance.

In tweets addressed to Andrew Smith and Nicola Blackwood on Friday, Rutland called on the Oxford MPs to oppose the move. The measure was announced by Universities Minister David Willetts in April and will take effect in September 2015, affecting upon many of Oxford’s disabled students.

Following Rutland’s tweet, Labour MP for Oxford East Andrew Smith released a statement condemning the proposed cut. Describing the measure as “regressive” and “damaging”, Smith raised concern that, by transferring responsibility for support from the government to the university, the policy could create a “perverse incentive” for universities to admit fewer disabled students.

Rutland later commented: “The Disabled Students Allowance provides a lifeline to the students who receive it. Cutting a fund that improves access to higher education at a time when students are already facing a higher cost of living risks leaving disabled students behind.”

OUSU Disability Officer James Elliot also voiced opposition to the measure, describing the DSA as a “vital lifeline” for many disabled students. Cutting the allowance will, according to Elliot, bring increased drop-out rates and greater inequality in education between disabled and non-disabled people.

At present, a disabled student may receive up to £20,000 per year for non-medical support (such as note takers or library support) and around £5,000 per year for specialist equipment. The DSA supported 53,000 students across the country in 2011–2012 at a cost of £125 million. Research by the National Audit Office has shown that the DSA reduces the proportion of disabled students who drop out of their course and improves educational attainment.

Oxford University Labour Club voiced opposition to the policy, with OULC spokesperson Nikhil Venkatesh stating: “The DSA provides much needed support to many students at Oxford and across the country. It is disappointing, though not surprising, that the coalition government is proposing to cut that support.”

President of Oxford University Conservative Association James Heywood defended the policy, however, arguing that the allowance has not been reformed “in nearly three decades” and is “in need of modernisation”. “These changes are intended to ensure that support is targeted to those who are disadvantaged as a result of their disability. There may well be students who cannot afford a laptop but it is not the job of the disabilities allowance to fund that- there is a separate provision for those on low incomes and the two should not be conflated.”

Heywood went on to describe as “totally misguided” the idea that cutting the DSA would lead to reduced admittance of disabled students into higher education, pointing to the £300 million Opportunities Fund as a measure that provides a financial incentive for universities to admit disabled students.

 

OUSU furthers the Campsfield campaign with its condemnation

OUSU furthers the Campsfield campaign with its condemnation

OUSU council last week voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling for the closure of Campsfield House and ultimately an end to immigration detention which since 1993, the year Campsfield was opened, has increased 20-fold to some 5,000 detainees at any one time in the UK. Similarly, JCR motions have passed in Lincoln, Christ Church, St. Catz and Jesus over the last fortnight with more planned in coming weeks, again condemning Campsfield and urging their respective Heads of Colleges to sign a letter to the Prime Minister in line with these principles. Several Heads of College, alongside other notable Oxford academics, have already signed this open letter which shall be released next month.

The resolutions of these motions are significant, but more important is the fact that a discussion has begun and student bodies have publicly condemned the abhorrent practice of detention without trial, without time limit, without proper judicial oversight and with little chance of bail. Too often conversations about Campsfield or immigration detention begin with ignorance (‘We do that in the UK?!’) or the assumption of criminality on the part of detainees. We hope such motions and articles such as Redmond Trayner’s investigation piece for OxStu will be the foundation for greater student awareness and action. After all, indefinite detention happens a mere 6 miles away- not often do such blatant abuses of human rights happen so systematically, so openly and so close to home.

The UK detains more migrants, for longer and with less judicial oversight than any other country in Europe and we are also the country where the role of private companies in running detention centres (7 out of 10 detention centres) is most prominent. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, as well as organisations such as Amnesty International, have called on the UK to revise its immigration detention policy and reverse the trend to ever-more immigration detention- even the Lib Dems in their latest Immigration Policy Paper propose to end indefinite detention for immigration purposes. The facts are clear: immigration detention doesn’t act as a supposed deterrent to immigration and contravenes basic human rights. Furthermore, the psychological impacts of indefinite detention are grave, with a dual uncertainty hanging over detainees, since some have been held here for 2- 3 years, yet simultaneously deportations can occur with next to no warning, in some cases the next day.

Last year marked 20 years since the opening of Campsfield House and it feels like finally the tide is turning. If you want to get more involved in the Close Campsfield campaign, demonstrations outside Campsfield are held every last Saturday of the month at noon, or for more info visit: http://closecampsfield.wordpress.com/ or email joanna.hynes@st-annes.ox.ac.uk.

 

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PHOTO/Close Campsfield

EXCLUSIVE: Over 1,000 “tampered” votes in NUS referendum

EXCLUSIVE: Over 1,000 “tampered” votes in NUS referendum

The result of this week’s NUS referendum has been plunged into doubt after “concerns of serious irregularities” were raised, The Oxford Student can exclusively reveal.

Evidence filed in a complaint by Jack Matthews, the leader of the “No” campaign, suggests that over 1,000 spare unique voter codes (those not originally assigned to students) were used to vote no “in large clusters…at a similar time”. According to the complaint, the votes all came from logons at the same IP address.

Matthews’ complaint also claims that a “significantly larger number” of UVCs than normal were issued. The student electorate is around 21,500, but for this vote 23,000 codes were issued.

The “result” announced on Wednesday suggested that the “Yes” campaign received 1652 votes, while “No” received 1780. It will now be reviewed by OUSU’s Junior Tribunal.

“There is considerable prima facie evidence that the referendum process has been tampered with,” Matthews’ complaint read.

“In view of the seriousness and scale of the potential problem, I therefore request that the matter be immediately referred to the Junior Tribunal for further investigation and consideration,” it added.

Under OUSU rules, the Junior Tribunal must make its decision within 96 hours of the complaint being filed.

In a joint statement, Matthews and Tom Rutland – who led the “Yes” campaign – said they would be “working together” over the coming days.

“We are both concerned that the result of the referendum did not accurately reflect the views of students. We await the decision of the Junior Tribunal, and will be working together over the coming weeks to ensure that the democratic principles of OUSU are upheld,” they said.

Returning Officer Alexander Walker, a second-year student at Wadham, responded by acknowledging that “the complaint is clearly of a serious nature”.

“Regarding the points made in the complaint, I can only answer to point one in that I did not know the size of the electorate when I made the UVCs and this is similar to what I did in the RAG Ballot, in which I made 22,500 UVCs.”

“I issued roughly 20 UVCs to those who requested a spare, during the period of the referendum,” he added.

Walker announced the result of the referendum at 7.30pm on Wednesday. He has just been elected Vice President of Wadham’s Student Union, and is also Chair of Monmouth Conservative Future.

The referendum was marred with controversy in OUSU circles when an order was issued banning anyone but the Returning Officer from attending the count. This decision was reversed on May 6th, and the count was attended by the leaders of the two campaigns.

OUSU RO resigns

OUSU RO resigns

OUSU Returning Officer Alexander Walker has resigned citing “recent events surrounding the NUS referendum”.

In a letter posted on the OUSU noticeboard, Walker announced: “I, Alexander Walker, Wadham College, hereby resign my position as the Returning Officer of the Oxford University Student Union.”

Walker continued: “In light of the recent events concerning the NUS Referendum, I have come to the decision that my position is no longer tenable. The grave situation with the NUS Referendum happened under my watch. Although we do not currently understand how this happened, I do not believe that I should continue in this position as with my academic pressures as a second year chemist, I am unable to fulfil my duties.

I understand that many people have had a great deal invested in this referendum and I feel for them in this turbulent time. I wish the Junior Tribunal the best of luck in finding out how this has happened and I am happy to continue to contribute to the investigation.”

When asked for comment on Walker’s resignation, OUSU President Tom Rutland responded: “A Junior Tribunal is meeting today to consider the complaint issued regarding the voting irregularities in the referendum.”

Walker’s resignation follows allegations of“serious irregularities” in the NUS referendum. Evidence filed in a complaint by Jack Matthews, the leader of the ‘No’ campaign, suggests that over 1,000 spare unique voter codes (those not originally assigned to students) were used to vote no “in large clusters…at a similar time”. According to the complaint, the votes all came from logons at the same IP address.

OUSU officers urge Sullivan to resign

OUSU officers urge Sullivan to resign

An open letter has been written to Union President urging him to resign.

The letter was sent by Sarah Pine, OUSU VP Women, and Helen Dollimore, a History and Politics Student. Signatories include feminist writer and Wadham alumna Laurie Penny, OUSU President Elect Louis Trup, OUSU VP Women Elect Anna Bradshaw, feminist and Keble alumna Caroline Criado-Perez and OUSU Women’s Campaigns Officer, Lucy Delaney.

The letter states: “Last week, President Ben Sullivan returned to his role as President of the Union following his arrest earlier this month. This is despite being under ongoing investigation by the police for rape and attempted rape. Though he has not been charged, he remains on bail.

“In order to recognise the severity of these allegations and protect the reputation of the society, Mr Sullivan should step aside while still under investigation.”

Sullivan told The OxStu: “At this point I am unable to comment on what is an ongoing police investigation. However, as I said last week in the Chamber, I have the utmost faith in the English legal system and know that justice will be served”

Pine and Dollimore told The New Statesman that they have contacted 30 Union speakers and urged them to pull out. Thus far only one, Human Rights Watch’s David Mepham, has cancelled their speaking engagement.

The letter also alleges Sullivan “previously attempted to use union funds to finance his legal actions against the press. This is a misuse of his office and makes a mockery of the society’s core principle of freedom of speech.”

Sullivan responded “I have at no point ‘misused Union funds’. I was advised by our Trustees to contact lawyers because they believed an article about me, which contained a number of claims, was damaging to the reputation of the Union.

These claims were not primarily related to membership of the ‘Banter Squadron’ (which is clearly not a real drinking society) and involved other claims including the claim that I somehow opposed the Union’s harassment policy which I helped to write. I have since agreed to pay the fees myself despite the fact that these funds were passed through the correct channels and that our Trustees still do not believe I should have to pay.”

 

In defence of a political NUS

In defence of a political NUS

To many students, the NUS represents little more than its discount card. But when it takes a stand, it is students’ first line of defence against education cuts, tuition fee hikes and oppression on campus.

Earlier this April, I and four other delegates went to the NUS Conference to represent Oxford. An annual event, Conference is where NUS policy is decided, and its leadership elected. Over three days delegates discuss motions submitted by individual student unions, ultimately voting on NUS priorities for the coming year.

This April’s conference saw a number of policy victories for the left, successes which follow from the winter’s upsurge in student radicalism. For the first time this decade, the NUS has made a principled commitment to campaign for free education. It is mandated to fight loan-book privatisation, to support staff trade unions in industrial disputes and to build a legal fund for those affected by police or management repression. At the next Conference, all committees and delegations will be gender-balanced, with reserved places for self-identifying women.

There was evidence of a broad political resolve. Delegates voted to actively campaign against UKIP at next year’s general election, to call for full employment and a living wage, to support taxing the wealthy more heavily. For many, these are bold positions that the student movement must adopt if it is to fight in the interests of students under austerity. And yet they have attracted criticism. Detractors argue that the NUS ought only to campaign on issues directly related to higher education. Many disapprove of UKIP’s condemnation, arguing as though the NUS could anti-democratically restrict the motions brought to Conference, or pretend that open xenophobia does not affect students. Some even claim that the Union should not be involved in national politics at all, instead focussing on helping students to learn, and dealing with their localised problems.

These are issues that should be discussed in the run-up to Oxford’s disaffiliation referendum. Beneath the debate lies an existential question: exactly what kind of organisation is the NUS? If it is apparent that the Union has strayed from its basic purpose, then the case for breaking away will be stronger.

So on this we should be very clear: the NUS is an essentially political institution. It is an instrument of collective expression through which students assert themselves in the public sphere. It is a union. Politics is about the power relations between people, and any union is necessarily involved in those relations. There is no neutral space to which it can withdraw. The call for an apolitical NUS is itself based on an ideological vision of students as atomised consumers without shared interests.

If the NUS remains silent, it only endorses the status quo. And if the past few years have shown us anything, it is that the direction of education policy is something to worry about. The only choice is between principled objection and acquiescence. There is no way to ‘represent students’ without actively intervening in national politics.

Neither is there any way to address ‘education issues’ without taking a position on broader social and political questions. It is superficial to criticise attacks on students without understanding their economic context. Tripled fees, slashed funding, pay-cuts for lecturers, outsourcing of university services, increased police presence on campus – none of this can be opposed without also questioning the logic of austerity and the political settlement that drives it.

Of course, this is not to say that the NUS should ignore ‘on-campus’ issues, such as improving teaching and welfare provision. It is simply to point out that the dangers faced by students are political in nature, and so require a political response. Only an NUS animated by principles, and willing to take action on them, can hope to overcome these threats.

 

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PHOTO/mikael altemark

OUSU apologises as competition escalates between anti-racism Tumblrs

OUSU apologises as competition escalates between anti-racism Tumblrs

OUSU was dragged into a debate between opposing anti-racism Tumblr accounts last night after it apologised for publicising one campaign over the other.

It had shared the “We are all Oxford” campaign – which aims to highlight the positive experiences of ethnic minority students – without having first shared “I, too, am Oxford”, which aims to highlight racism.

“We are all Oxford” (WAAO) has been accused by Oxford Students of “diluting” the message of the original “I, too, am Oxford” project.

On Friday, OUSU posted a link on its Facebook page to the WAAO tumblr, describing it as “some great stuff”.

Yesterday, this was followed up with: “In case you were wondering what our previous post was about here is some more great work by Oxford students from “I, too, am Oxford” to put it into context [before linking to the ITAO tumblr]”

Charlotte Hendy, VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, told The Oxford Student that “neither campaign was an OUSU project.”

Tom Rutland, OUSU president, tweeted last night that WAAO was “Definitely not OUSU organised, but appreciate the post sharing may give the impression it is.”

OUSU has since stated on its Facebook page that it “would like to make clear that it supports the ‘I, too, am Oxford’ campaign and would like to apologise for posting a link to the recent ‘We are all Oxford’ campaign without first highlighting the former campaign.”

“This was a mistake made by one of our officers that the individual has apologised for.”

The original “I, too, am Oxford” Tumblr states that participants in the project “are demanding that a discussion on race be taken seriously and that real institutional change occur.”

Students on “I, too, am Oxford” express their individual experiences of racism in Oxford. One, for example, said: “You’re from London! You must be from BRIXTON? (x2 in a week)”

Others used the photo-shoot to communicate the problems of institutional racism, with statements such as: “If you “don’t see race”, how come we don’t see that in the admissions statistics?”

However, fears that “I, too, am Oxford” could deter potential BME students from applying led Alexandra Jaye Wilson, a first-year PPEist at Univ, to set up the WAAO page.

This alternative Tumblr account states its “aim is to present the full picture. We have heard from those who have suffered negative experiences here, which we all agree need to be voiced and challenged. We want to show people that many ethnic minorities have an overall positive experience here at the University of Oxford.”

Some students used this new Tumblr to qualify their earlier involvement in “I, too, am Oxford”, with comments such as: “My statement was not meant to represent my entire experience, by highlight some issues. My overall experience is very positive.”

Other students express their own positive experiences of Oxford, such as, “I’m Asian, and I have not felt that it has been a problem here.”

However, many of the statements expressed on “We are all Oxford” relate more generally to the institution’s attempts at access and outreach, such as one student’s assertion that the University spends “£5.6 million on outreach each year.”

In 2013, the success rate for UK candidates applying to Oxford was 17.6%, but for non-EU applicants the figure fell to 10.1%.

Vinay Anicatt, a third-year E&M student at Wadham, commented that, “the [WAAO] campaign has mainly white people saying they haven’t noticed prejudice/racism – I wonder why? Whatever they intended, they’re (at best) discounting and (at worst) overwriting the original experiences posted.”

Wilson told The Oxford Student why she chose to set up WAAO. “The ITAO project raised some outrageous and unacceptable comments that students from an ethnic minority background have faced while being here. However, the campaign presented an unrepresentative experience for ethnic minorities studying here.”

“Our main concern is that the ITAO campaign will deter prospective ethnic minority students from applying to Oxford. Such a campaign gives the impression that ethnic minorities are excluded at the University of Oxford.”

“We all agree that one of the best ways to combat racial prejudices is by increasing access for all people to this institution. However, we think that a campaign [such as ITOA] that discourages applicants has the potential to undermine access work,” she added.

The original “I, too, am Oxford” campaign was based on the “I, too, am Harvard” campaign which proved widely popular in the United States.

The Oxford version has been featured this week in national publications such as The Guardian and The Independent.

Commenting on WAAO’s claim to be aiding access work, Anicatt added: “I think it comes off as pretty disingenuous – ‘no no, we promise there aren’t any problems – come here and enjoy the occasional alumni sponsored financial support package, that’ll make it all better’.”

Chiara Giovanni, BME/women of colour rep of feminist organisation WomCam, praised “I, too, am Oxford”, saying: “I am heavily involved in Access work and one of my priorities has always been portraying a balanced picture of the university. There are enough people either entirely against Oxbridge or entirely in love with it; for this reason it’s essential to present potential applicants with the truth.”

“Access is about encouraging applications from those students who would not normally apply, and these students often have legitimate concerns about equality within an institution like Oxford.”

“Engaging with them as nothing more than a glorified propaganda machine is useless; it’s far better to take their concerns seriously while letting them know that current students are working to improve things. This is why the [“I, too, am Oxford”] project is crucial; we are starting a dialogue that has been ignored and pushing issues that need to be resolved,” she added.

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