Oriel to hold referendum over permanent OUSU disaffiliation

Barely a year after temporarily disaffiliating from OUSU before automatically rejoining, the Oriel College JCR will vote Friday on whether to ditch OUSU indefinitely, after a motion to hold a referendum was passed late in Hilary term.

Hustings on referendum took place Tuesday night in the Oriel bar, in front of a modest turnout of about 15 Oriel students.

James Blythe, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, attempted to convince the JCR to work with OUSU on its goals. Oriel students Eleanor Sharman and Alex Chalmers spoke in favor of disaffiliation.

The debate focused on the proposition’s perception of OUSU as unrepresentative of most student’s views as well as further criticisms of OUSU as an institution. The proposition urged that “exhausted all the options” available to them in for impacting change within OUSU, and their best strategy would be to make a statement by disaffiliation.

Blythe, speaking on behalf of OUSU, conceded that there is a need for certain changes to take place, but urged Oriel Students to stick with the Union: “We will lose your voice, and lose your passion… I’m for making a go of it together.”

The issues brought up included OUSU’s failure to communicate both it’s successes and shortcomings to the student body in an effective manner, and the perception that it’s decisions are dominated by a well-organized left-wing coalition. Concern was expressed by both the sides of the debate around some of OUSU’s political actions, perceived as irrelevant of the mission of the body.

Since 2000, Oriel has moved back and forth on OUSU affiliation several times. The college cut ties with the Student Union in 2001, then rejoined in 2010. A January 2014 referendum saw temporary disaffiliation over concerns about OUSU policy positions.

The change did not last long, said Oriel JCR president Kit Owens: “Last year’s referendum was only to disaffiliate until the end of the 2013-14 academic year and so Oriel JCR affiliated again at the end of Trinity 2014.”

The temporary disaffiliation was premised on the hope that President Louis Trup, as a relative outsider, would be able to make headway in changing OUSU for the better, said Eleanor Sharman during the opening statements: “We were filled with hope about how OUSU was going to change. It was going to be much more efficient… We didn’t see that happen.”

Students at disaffiliated colleges still remain members of OUSU, and can speak at council meetings. The College, however would lose voting rights on OUSU council. Trinity is the only college currently unaffiliated with OUSU.

Last January’s referendum was fraught with confusion and procedural issues. While a two thirds majority was required to pass the referendum, abstentions in the online ballot brought those voting for disaffiliation down from 67.3% to 60.8%. After reconsideration and consultation, the JCR decided the referendum had passed. This year’s vote will not have an abstention option, but a 2/3 majority will still be needed.

Speaking to the OxStu, Alex Chalmers said he was hopeful that the referendum would pass, so that the intended statement could be made: “trying to get a two thirds majority is quite a big ask. If we get it obviously I’d be overjoyed. If not then I’m going to… try to find a way we can work with OUSU.”

He also expressed hope that other colleges would consider disaffiliation in order to strengthen the “symbolic point” of the motion.

An Oriel 2nd year, who wished to remain anonymous, told the OxStu: “OUSU doesn’t really seem to be particularly representative, but neither is Oriel’s JCR, so the disaffiliation means little to me.” 

Photo/Oriel College