Oriel College to hold OUSU opt-out referendum

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Oriel is to hold a referendum in 8th week on whether to disaffiliate from OUSU for the remainder of this academic year.

The JCR passed a motion on Sunday of 7th week that listed seven critiques of the student Union, which echoed many of the arguments used by OUSU President-Elect Louis Trup in his recent election campaign.

If the students vote against OUSU, Oriel will become the second college, alongside Trinity, to officially dissociate from the wider student union.

The motion, proposed by second year Philosophy and Theology student Eleanor Sharman, was damning in its criticism. OUSU, it argued, “consistently discusses and passes inappropriate motions, has costs remarkably disproportionate to its effects on student life [and] is not financially accountable to college.”

The motion was seconded by 26 undergraduates of all ages, and did not hold back on its denunciation of the student union’s mandate: “[OUSU] does not adequately represent JCRs, does not adequately represent student views [and] is consistently partisan.”

If the referendum results in a withdrawal of Oriel from OUSU, individual students would remain members of the student union. The college, though, would no longer have voting rights at OUSU Council meetings.

Tom Rutland, OUSU President, responded to the news with a plea for the college to vote to remain associated: “Students are stronger when they work together, and I hope that Oriel will remain affiliated.”

He also provided a defence of the union he leads: “OUSU helps common room committees with their rent negotiations, it provides tailored support and training for Presidents, welfare reps, access & academic affairs reps and many more people involved in college life, and recently it worked with common room Presidents to secure cheaper Sky TV for students – saving £300k across common rooms.

“With a fractured collegiate University, it’s so important to have a strong student union representing students to the University as students of Oxford – beyond their colleges. I’m frustrated that OUSU isn’t able to offer all it should to its members – that’s why I ran on a platform of increasing its resources, and I’m pleased that thus far negotiations are going well.”

Louis Trup, OUSU President-Elect, echoed Rutland’s remarks, saying: “OUSU is not a finished product, it’s got a lot to improve on and I want to have as many JCRs on board as possible to help make the positive change that we all want to see.”

The motion was conceived before the recent OUSU elections. One supporter of disaffiliation, Mia Smith, a first year Classics student, said: “I think a lot of us feel that OUSU politics needs to change and that the current system doesn’t represent us in the same way our college JCR does.”

She continued: “There are some great things that OUSU do, but we don’t feel that these outweigh the poor fact that it’s a fundamentally unrepresentative and essentially unmandated body. Hopefully our disaffiliation will go someway to prompting change.”

Michael Scott, a PPEist at Oriel who seconded the motion, believes the referendum would create healthy discussion within college: “I think it’s time that everyone became more informed about what OUSU is and what it does.”

“I’m not saying that Oriel – or any other college – should leave OUSU per se, but I definitely think everyone should be taking a long hard look at what our Student Union does and the money it spends and ask the question ‘Do I want my college, with its perfectly capable JCR, to be represented by that lot?’ It does seem difficult to justify at the moment.”

Ianthe Greenwood, Oriel’s JCR President, said there were “strong feelings on both sides”.

“Considering the interest in the recent OUSU elections and the issues they highlighted, Oriel’s relationship with OUSU is something that has been discussed more in the last few weeks.”

“There are strong feelings on both sides and the preliminary discussion has already raised some interesting issues. Regardless of where they stand on the issue, Oriel students showed in our JCR meeting on Sunday that they were interested in engaging in a debate by holding a referendum, whether that results in collectively reaffirming our affiliation or deciding as a JCR to disaffiliate from OUSU,” she added.

The print version of this article did not include Ianthe Greenwood’s comment, and claimed that she did not respond to our request for comment. We would like to apologise to Ianthe Greenwood for this error.

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