Oriel’s referendum over whether to disaffiliate from OUSU was defeated on Friday by a vote of 57 – 40.
The vote, which would have needed a two-thirds majority to pass, reflects a turnout of less than a third of Oriel Students.
The referendum was originally proposed by Oriel undergraduates Alex Chalmers and Eleanor Sharman. In the referendum hustings, Sharman said that the JCR and its reps on OUSU council had “exhausted all our options” in attempting to reform the body.
Referring to the low turnout for both the hustings and the referendum itself, Alex Chalmers told The OxStu: “The extent of OUSU’s engagement problem was made all too clear. In the past, passions and tempers surrounding OUSU used to run much higher in Oriel; we have now reached the troubling point where very few people actually care.”
Oriel first proposed leaving OUSU in 2000, and has held several referendums on the issue since then. Given the result, Oriel JCR will remain officially aligned with OUSU and retain its three seats on OUSU council.
James Blythe, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, told Oriel students that he hoped to work with them to improve OUSU’s process, policies, and communication.
Telling Oriel’s JCR that “we as the students need our voice heard in the central University”, he also referenced OUSU’s role in rent negotiations, University policies, and other services. Responding to those supporting the disaffiliation, he said: “We will lose your voice. We will lose your passion.”
Speaking after the referendum, Blythe said: “I am delighted that Oriel JCR has decided to remain affiliated to OUSU. It’s incredibly important that OUSU remains the shared and clear voice of oxford’s students, to the university and the world. This has never been more important than with a new government and in a few months a new Vice Chancellor.”
Chalmers remained less enthused with the result, and focused on pressuring OUSU to better engage with students: “The onus falls upon OUSU now to counter the rising tide of indifference that is engulfing the student population, but I struggle to see any meaningful change on the horizon.”
The motivation for the referendum seemed to be a growing sense of apathy towards OUSU among the student population. This lower level of engagement has been accompanied by the perception of left-leaning political groups using their organizational muscle to control the OUSU policy agenda. Speaking to The Oxford Student last week, one Oriel undergraduate said: “OUSU does not seem to be particularly representative.”
In his statement, Blythe said that OUSU wants to engage with the problems considered during the referendum: “We would all be delighted to meet with anyone who has concerns, as we regularly do already. The specific comments made by the proponents of disaffiliation in Oriel are being very actively considered by the OUSU Executive at the moment.”
Photo/Malcolm Reading Consultants