During Korean superstar PSY’s Oxford Union visit last week, numerous problems threatened to overshadow what was undoubtedly the term card’s biggest billing.
IT issues with the ballot, forceful paparazzi photographers and concerns about fire regulations requirements were faced.
Over 1300 Oxford Union members balloted to attend PSY’s talk, with less than 400 successfully gaining a place. The number who attended the event from the ballot was then estimated to be at 80%, meaning that 320 members are believed to have attended the talk.
An IT issue occurring after the ballot had been made meant that some names were duplicated on a separate guest list, and some members didn’t know they were entitled to attend the talk as they did not receive confirmation emails.
President of the Union John Lee said: “Part of the IT error leading to apparently duplicated names on the guest list and balloted list was due to members not providing an up-to-date email address when they balloted.
There was however concern on the day that too many people were being granted entry to the event, with Bursar Lindsay Warne overheard arguing with some members of the Union Committee about fire safety regulations.
Warne was overheard saying that letting more people in to the chamber would be “illegal” at 2.20pm on the day- at least ten minutes before PSY arrived. Warne was also concerned that the clicker to count the amount of people wasn’t being used, saying that it had been used “earlier” and “got up to 300”, but she added the guards hadn’t been around since to count.
More concerns were raised about people trying to gain entry with allegedly forged emails from Union Committee members giving them permission to attend the event. Warne was heard telling Committee members she’d “seen the emails from people”, and that at least “one had [the Committee Member’s] name on.”
The capacity of the Union chamber is 450, with a final list of roughly 510 people compiled for the event, excluding PSY’s entourage. This means that had everyone who was entitled attended the event, it would have certainly surpassed the fire safety regulations capacity.
John Lee emphasized that he event did not however cross this limit. He said: “The capacity of the Union chamber proper (i.e: the area in which, when seated, one is granted speaking rights) is supplemented by the overspill capacity of the gallery (seated in which one is not granted speaking rights).
“In the event of 100% expected guests turning up, we would have accommodated anyone over the chamber’s capacity in the upstairs gallery.
“This was the plan all along. We were not at any point over capacity.”
He added: “It is not unusual if 100% of those who sign-up do not end up coming to the event itself. This is something we have no control over.”
Lee was quick to defend the security at the event, saying: “The security team who assisted the permanent Union staff were not inexperienced. [They were merely] another party we had to coordinate with, which obviously added to the complexity of managing things on the day.”
A member of Union staff working on the day disagreed however, and said the event was ‘ridiculous’. He also described how the media photographers were asked to leave Union property.
He said: “Yeah, the paps they chased him, they were photographing him through the windows. And there’s one guy there, he’s really aggressive.”
Within the chamber itself, just under thirty people present were with media organisations, and they were partially responsible for the reduced numbers of members able to attend.
Lee said: “Capacity was slightly reduced on the day due to the large media presence, which involved roving cameras (video and still), fixed cameras (video and still), roving microphones, fixed microphones, speakers to play music etc.
“We planned for this by reducing the number of non- media attendees”
Another anonymous source however, said: “There was a lot of media people inside, and a lot of people from outside the university.”
As part of his speech at the Union, PSY taught members to do the notorious gangnam style dance, and spoke of his future music career and album.
In-fighting broke out in the Union’s Standing Committee after the Treasurer was branded “irresponsible” by a senior official for attempting to remove members of its Election Tribunal.
At a meeting of the Standing Committee last Monday Treasurer Joey D’Urso objected to placing seven former union officials on the list for this term’s tribunal shortlist at the recommendation of ex-Secretary Miles Coates.
Tribunals are used by the Union to investigate electoral malpractice and are made up of former Returning Officers and Officials who have been members of the Society for at least 18 terms.
D’Urso wished to object to the members which Coates believes to be “the more trigger happy people”. However Rajiv Dattani, the Union’s Librarian, said that by “knifing a whole bunch of ex-ROs” the Treasurer would be landing Ryan Ng, the current Returning Officer, “in the shit” should a tribunal need to be held as there would not be enough members to fill it.
Although Ng clarified that the shortlist would contain enough names after the cull, Senior Treasurer Stephen Dixon stated that D’Urso’s actions were “bad form” and that cutting people off the list for no good reason was “really bad news”.
While the Union’s rules permit Standing Committee members to oppose names on the shortlist, the Returning Officer reminded D’Urso that he should recommend the Committee to object on the grounds of capability.
Members facing the cut included Robert Dougans, a lawyer who has sat on many Union tribunals, and Peter Orlov, a former Returning Officer. Lindsay Warne, who has been the Union’s bursar since 1999, confirmed in the meeting that she knew all of the members threatened with removal and stated they are some of the Union’s “most conscientious ROs”.
She denied that the members were “trigger happy”, arguing that “they take their responsibility sensibly”. One member can be heard saying: “Do these people know they’re being knifed?”
Discussions continued despite the Committee successfully voting to remove Simon Bowmer, Jo Joyce, Tim Myatt, Alex Stafford, Sheridan Westlake, Robert Dougans and Peter Orlov from the tribunal shortlist as D’Urso’s actions were called into further question.
Librarian-elect Chris Starkey noted that D’Urso was acting on the recommendation of an official who had been previously found guilty by an election tribunal.
D’Urso claimed that Coates had more experience with tribunals than anyone else in the room. In July 2011 the ex-Secretary was found guilty of electoral malpractice and disqualified from Union elections but was cleared the following September after the society’s Appellate Board overturned the decision.
But Dixon, who became Senior Treasurer in 2001, doubted Coates’ claims of superior experience and reiterated that the ex-officio member should have been present to make the objections himself. He asked D’Urso: “Is that really how you think you should behave as an officer of this society?”
Both Dixon and Rajiv Dattani were minuted thinking that “it is irresponsible of Standing Committee to have passed the motion.”
Union President John Lee denied a rift between senior officials and Committee members. He said “It is completely natural for there to be disagreements between the senior officers (who have a long-term position in the Union) and the Standing Committee members (who have a shorter-term position) on certain issues from time to time.
“These disagreements are constructive in that they provide a forum for debate where all viewpoints are represented. In my experience this contributes greatly to the better running of the society.”