Special Resolution 1: Inclusion of a requirement to hold general meeting once a year
Having one General Meeting annually means that once a year all students have the right to turn up and vote on policy, whoever they are, and whether they’ve had any involvement in the Guild before or not. And their decisions will be listened to, because a General Meeting under company law is the highest format for decision-making in the whole organisation – whatever is decided overrides whatever else is decided at other times in the organisation.
Our democratic structures can be quite exclusionary for many students. If you want to vote in Guild Council, you have to be a Guild Councillor; if you want to make major decisions or coordinate large campaigns, you should probably run to be a Guild Officer; if you do manage to influence Guild Council, your motions can be overturned by an un-transparent Trustee Board made up of people you never knew existed; if you want to influence policy via a Guild committee, you have to have a good understanding of the democratic structures already; etc. etc.. Now this is not to say that we should be dismantling our structures of representative democracy – they are crucial in maintaining effective decision-making, accountability, representation, and operation. However, having an Annual General Meeting means we can inject some direct democracy into the organisation in addition to all this. It’s a no-brainer really.
Special Resolution 2: A change to the percentage of students required to call a general meeting
(To clarify, this is to call a General Meeting in addition to those called by the Trustee Board). At the moment the number of students needed to call a General Meeting is 5% of total membership – seeing as we have ~ 28,000 students at this University, this is an incredibly high number. I was a member of the Reclaim the Guild Campaign, which collected over 1500 signatures in order to hold this General Meeting, and that took a large team of people weeks to do. Having such a high level is incredibly onerous because it means that calling a General Meeting is an incredibly difficult task – and would put people off doing so due to the large amounts of effort involved, which would certainly hinder student participation and democracy. Moreover, the length of time required to obtain such a large amount of signatures means that Emergency General Meetings would not be able to serve their primary purpose. It prevents the student body at large being able to respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations in any kind of democratic manner. The proposal therefore is that the amount of students required to call a General Meeting is lowered to 2% of membership.
Special Resolution 3: Changes to the composition of the Board of Trustees
The Trustee Board is the highest decision-making authority in the Guild (excluding General Meetings), and has the power to block, overturn, or change any policy that is made lower down in the organisation (e.g. in the democratic forums like Guild Council), as well as to make policy of its own.
At the moment we are one of the few Students Unions in the Russell Group to not have a majority of elected students on our Trustee Board. The proposal seeks to add the three Sabbatical Officers who aren’t currently trustees (God know why on earth they aren’t already) to the Board, along with creating another student Trustee. This would give students a firm majority. This is very important because there have been times in the past when many have felt that the Trustee Board has acted in ways which are not in the best interests of students; and this could foreseeably happen again should the Board remain largely controlled by non-students. While the Trustee Board’s remit is technically legal, financial, and reputational, the boundaries of these terms are blurry, and there are occasions when the Trustee Board does not act in a purely technical way, and its decisions (rightly or wrongly) affect the democratic decisions made by students. As such, it is only right that there is a student majority on the Board to communicate and represent the interests of students to others who might be a little more out of touch.
Special Resolution 4: Removal of the position of University Trustee
A senior member of the University currently sits as a Trustee on our Board. This is, again, not the norm in the Russell Group – only two other Students Unions in the group have University Trustees. This is a problem because we are supposed to be an autonomous organisation. Among other things, we exist due to the understanding that what the University does, and the decisions it makes, may not always be in the best interests of students, and we are required at times to take an oppositional stance to the University in the interests of our members. As such, it is contradictory for a senior figure in the University to be a member of our highest decision-making body. While I am levelling no criticism at any individual in particular, it is not impossible to imagine the problems that could arise from the conflict of interest inherent in this scenario. They are in a position to influence Guild policy massively, three possible ways being: through curbing frank discussion of other Board members; through veiled threats about “what the University will do” if the Guild did X, Y, or Z; or through simply using their position of power to unduly sway the room in an argument.
The argument often used in response is that Guild Officers sit on a number of University committees, so it is only fair if they sit on ours. However, this is not fair for several reasons. Firstly, no members of the Guild sit on the University Executive Board – the highest decision-making body, but only on lower down committees. Secondly, such an argument completely ignores the fact that the University is the more powerful partner in this relationship. It is they who deliver the education, and their decisions which have a large effect on students’ lives. They are the parent institution which we are trying to influence and mould in students’ interests, not the other way around. If an Executive Board of a company suggested to a trade union that they should have representatives on the committees of the union, they would be laughed at.
Therefore I urge you to vote in favour of the motion to remove the position of University Trustee
Special Resolution 5: Change to the procedure for electing Student Trustees
At the moment the student trustees are appointed by an appointments panel, which is a bit like a job interview process.
Firstly, I won’t go into details but there have been real problems with the lack of transparency and fairness in the way this procedure has been conducted in the past, and although these issues have been resolved, it is the secretive and back-room nature of the process which allows these problems to arise in the first place. It is not impossible to imagine new problems arising in a similar vein were the process of selection to remain out of the public eye.
Moreover, any individual trustee is appointed based on the expertise they can bring to the Board, whether it be legal, technological, financial, or whatever. Students are unlikely to be experts in any of these things. Their role is to bring the student perspective to the Board – no one is going to be as in tune with students as students themselves. In order to ensure the students on the Board understand the interests, and are representative, of the student body at large, the only effective means of selecting student trustees must be via popular vote, rather than via their CVs.
Special Resolution 6: Administrative amendments to governing documents
These are administrative changes – nothing substantive is changing here.
The meeting is at 6pm in the Avon Room on the 28th January – and anyone can turn up. If you don’t want to turn up to the meeting, you can nominate a proxy to vote for you, and specify the ways you want to vote. To do so, fill out this form (delete the name of the Chair as default proxy and replace with whoever you want who you know is attending the meeting – you can nominate a Sabbatical Officer if you are unsure of who else to nominate), and hand it in before the 26th of January to Student Voice or the Guild reception: