OUSU’s “divisive” actions under scrutiny

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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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