OUSU’s Council has voted to change its Executive. The proposals, which the Oxford Students understands were accepted at Wednesday’s meeting, will see elected Part Time Officers replaced by Campaign Chairs and two Common Room Presidents.
The Executive meets four times a term and currently consists of six Sabbatical Officers and 21 Part Time Officers elected each year. According to OUSU, “individual officers campaign on issues of interest (especially those in their manifestos), while helping Sabbatical Officers with their priorities – and working as a team and in various combinations on joint projects.”
The proposed changes will see the 21 Part Time Officers (PTOs) removed from the Executive and replaced with the Chair or Co-Chair of each of OUSU’s Campaigns and two Common room Presidents (one graduate and one undergraduate). The review notes that there has been low participation rates in recent PTO elections. They have also complained about a lack of structure on the Executive, a lack of clarity about their roles and overlap between Campaigns and PTO’s issues of interest; the Review notes that this “may in part be due to a discrepancy between manifesto pledges and the constraints of the role”. Sabbatical officers have also reported being overworked, while PTOs have expressed concerns about insufficient communication with them. The Review suggests that co-ordinating campaigns is complicated by this system.
According to OUSU, the proposals will fix these problems by “putting campaigns at the centre of OUSU’s activities”, “providing a direct link to Common Rooms”, “avoiding duplicating roles in the Executive and Campaigns” and making participation easier. A “Project Incubator” scheme will be established with a budget of £2,000 “for students to get money and support to run projects”. A panel consisting of elected students and Sabbatical Officers will decide on roughly 3 campaigns each term and allocate money accordingly.
Some JCRs have held votes on the matter. Brasenose JCR, which has three votes on the OUSU Council, voted on the proposals on Sunday. 22 voted against, 19 abstained and one person supported them. The motion was proposed by Paul Fradley, Brasenose’s JCR Secretary and OUSU representative, and seconded by the JCR President, Beth Jenkinson.
According to the minutes, Fradley said: “it’s unclear if campaign co-chairs want to sit on the committee (admin role which may distract), also they need at least one grad student which is difficult to get. By focussing so much on campaigning it distracts from the role of representing students. Currently we elect part time exec, there have been no democratic safeguards on how we elect the co-chairs. Danger is that it makes OUSU even more self-selecting, could leave some groups without any representation.” In his opinion the “proposals [are] not a good idea[;] although it comes from a good place, it has been rushed through and won’t really work.”
OUSU have commented about democratic accountability: “We agree there is a concern about losing the cross-campus elections. However the current system is not any better: many positions go unfilled, and most others go uncontested, allowing for little scrutiny. By requiring Campaigns to advertise elections properly, we hope that the new system will encourage more participation in OUSU’s campaigning from a range of students.”