The president of the Oxford Union has proposed substantial changes to the Union rules intended to tackle corruption and make it easier for serious complaints of misconduct to be addressed.
The proposed rules will set out an explicit procedure for raising complaints over misconduct. If the changes are passed by Standing Committee, the Union website will provide a ‘complaint information pack’ including information on how to report breaches of the Union rules as well as procedure for referring criminal misconduct to the police. Under current rules complaints are dealt with by the Union’s Standing Committee, while the proposed changes provide for a ‘Complaints Consultant’ to handle accusations of misconduct.
A central component of the proposed changes is the clause that any committee member or Senior Officer (including the President) who is arrested on suspicion of committing a crime will be ‘subject to an automatic leave of absence,’ in effect standing down on a temporary basis. This change comes after a year in which the Union has been under heavy fire for its handling of criminal matters, in particular its response to the arrest last May of Union president Ben Sullivan under suspicion of rape last May. Sullivan’s arrest sparked a campaign to have him removed from his position, with activists criticising the Union’s ‘deeply distressing’ and ‘casual’ response. Sullivan remained in his position, and no charges were brought against him.
Critics of the Union’s handling of the Sullivan episode have been quick to praise the new rules, framing the new changes as a response to last year’s controversy. Sarah Pine, last year’s OUSU VP (Women) and a prominent voice in the campaign for Sullivan’s resignation, told the OxStu: “This is great. The Union has done well to tackle the crisis of last term – keeping people in office when they have been arrested of serious crimes sends horrific messages to survivors of those crimes.”
The proposed changes will also seek to limit opportunities for corruption by formalising the process by which the President can invite society members to Presidential Dinners and drinks receptions.
Standing Committee will vote on the new rules next week, following a discussion on Monday of 0th week which will be attended by committee members as well as past critics of Union policies.