Tagged OUSU

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OUSU apologises for “deeply frustrating” election delays

OUSU has been forced to issue an apology after a number of JCR officers criticised its handling of college elections.

OUSU’s actions were described as “deeply frustrating” after it cancelled its subscription to Mi-Voice – the online voting system previously used in most JCR elections – during the summer. OUSU officials failed to set up a new system in time for the beginning of term, with many JCRs consequently forced to postpone scheduled elections. Wadham JCR has delayed elections for its Vice President and Charities Officer, with Somerville JCR forced to use a paper ballot in its elections on Thursday. OUSU was also criticised for the failure to inform JCRs of its actions.

OUSU cancelled its subscription to Mi-Voice due to weaknesses in the system and the potential for electoral fraud. President Louis Trup blamed the inability to establish a new system in time for Fresher’s Week on “the complexities of the data and its ownership”.

Trup stated: “Our mistake was in not being more transparent about the work going on to make this happen. We apologise to the colleges for any inconvenience caused and will notify you as soon as the elections module is available”. Trup added that OUSU has put “all its available energy” into resolving the issue.

Wadham SU Chair Andrew McKay said he felt “let down” by OUSU. McKay, a third-year Human Sciences student, stated: “It has caused a great deal of inconvenience … we want to know why common rooms were seemingly not informed of this change.”

Aliya Yule, a candidate in the postponed election for Wadham SU Vice-President, commented that OUSU’s actions are “deeply frustrating”, stating: “It would have been nice if OUSU had let colleges know, rather than allowing us to find out when it came to setting up our elections in 1st week.” Yule also voiced concern about the ability of OUSU officials to organise their own elections, scheduled for 6th week of Michaelmas.

Discussing Somerville’s JCR elections, which due to the online difficulties will be held by paper ballot, Returning Officer Joe Smith stated: “I feel that it may actually increase turnout due to the election appearing more visible, rather than simply having voter codes that get lost in people’s inboxes”.

But one Somerville student told the OxStu: “I know my ancestors fought for my right to vote but I’d much rather exercise that right from the comfort of my chair using my laptop than have to make the arduous trek to some ballot box. Think about all those poor Cowley dwellers who will be disenfranchised through laziness”.

Mi-Voice states on its website that it aims to “provide the most cost effective solution for our customers and to increase participation in customer events”.

OUSU’s decision may be related to the allegations of vote ‘rigging’ following the University’s referendum on NUS affiliation held in May. The allegations, which concerned 1,000 seemingly tampered votes, caused the referendum to be voided.

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OUSU issues Consent Condoms

2000 “Got Consent?” condoms are set to be distributed this term as part of an attempt by OUSU to reduce the incidence of sexual assault across the University. 

OUSU Vice President for Welfare, Chris Pike, said: “We’re piloting the condoms because we think it is good to have positive messages about sexual consent around all of us, and condoms are one way of getting the message across. Combating sexual violence is high on OUSU’s priority list.”

OUSU’s actions are the latest in a series of initiatives focused on raising awareness of sexual violence, including the “It Happens Here” campaign as well as the recent introduction of compulsory sexual consent workshops to all undergraduate colleges.

Students have responded positively to the initiative, with former OUSU Vice President for Women Sarah Pine saying: “Consent is always necessary. A reminder to respect the boundaries of our partners keeps everyone safer, and means that no-one has an excuse to not check with the person they’re having sex with.”

Third-year historian Abigail Burman, an active member of the “It Happens Here” campaign, said: “Condoms and consent are both crucial parts of safe sex, so it makes a lot of sense to put them together.”

However, not all students agreed that this was the best way to tackle the problem. A second-year English student said: “It is a facile and simplistic sticking plaster solution to a problem which is culturally entrenched. Consent workshops are perhaps a more positive way of achieving the same end.” 

A female history student questioned the value of the condoms, saying: “It is naïve to think that perpetrators of sexual violence have simply forgotten about the need for consent and just need to be reminded. This seems like a bit of a gimmick rather than an effective prevention method.”

The condoms will be available from college welfare representatives from the beginning of Michaelmas.

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NUS VP slammed for calling all Oxford residents ‘rich middle class’

Piers Telemacque, NUS Societies and Citizenship Vice-President, has apologised after characterising all Oxford residents as “rich middle class people”.

On 13th August, while at the NUS’ ‘Lead and Change’ seminar, Telemacque tweeted: “I’m so worried about the social issues the rich middle class people in Oxford will be talking about. I’m preparing to be heartbroken #LC14”

Telemacque’s tweet was criticised by OUSU officers, who highlighted the social problems of Oxford. (more…)

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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