Image Credit: US Department of State; Description: John Kerry speaks in Oxford Union debating chamber
In a series of emails seen by The Oxford Student, allegations concerning the leadership of the Oxford Union have been laid against its senior officials.
Parth Ahya, a member of the Secretary’s Committee who made these allegations, has resigned from his position. They were contained within an email sent to both the President of the Union, Stephen Horvath, and the Chair of the Consultative Committee (CCC), Patrick Cole, detailing the reasons for his resignation.
As put by the President and CCC, the issue at the heart of the matter concerns Ahya’s “failure to complete [his] assigned share of the most important event of the beginning of term”- the sorting and delivery of termcards to Colleges.
Ahya states that he was unable to perform some of these duties, specifically College delivery, as a result of a “migraine headache”, alleging that the President has made “invasive and inappropriate questions” about it. In return, the President and the CCC have alleged that this migraine was “a barely concealed lie”, noting the “use of the migraine as a tool previously”.
Ahya states that he “was of the expectation that the questions leadership in the Union would ask [about the performance of his duties] would be of a professional nature, not a personal one.”
He continued: “It is becoming evident to me, however, from reports from people who have been or are involved in the Union that this is standard.”
In response, the CCC has said that asking why Ahya was “absent for [a duty] is a perfect reasonable question. [Asking why] when [he was] present for the duty and saw others doing it [and] still refuse[d] to help is more than reasonable.”
A further complaint, raised by the President and the CCC, concerned the pidging of termcards to members of Ahya’s assigned College, Keble. Ahya states that termcard delivery to the Keble pidges was completed as of Wednesday October 3rd. The CCC, having received reports of non-delivery at Keble, phoned the porters lodge on Thursday 4th , and states that the porter informed him “that the boxes of term cards [were] exactly where [the CCC] left them on Monday”.
Later in the email, Ahya suggested that the Oxford Union is “a place for people to pursue power” and that “those who claim the power exploit those seeking it. Those seeking it accept this exploitation in the hopes of future power.” He also suggests that the President “has not taken the time to read about good leadership.”
The CCC, while admitting that he has “often said similar things” about the pursuit of power in the Union, cautioned Ahya against “blindly smearing the entire elected committee of the Union” in this manner, saying that the various officials keep “the Union, a multi-million pound business with a global reputation afloat” by “actually put[ting] in the work.”
Elaborating on his resignation, Ahya told The Oxford Student: “While I did not intend for this letter to be published, since it has been, I will offer three comments. First, I think the Oxford Union has immense potential, some actualized, and some as yet unactualized, to democratize access to the thoughts and ideas of brilliant and successful people.
“Second, I think the way the Union is internally structured does not contribute optimally to this end. High membership fees bar all but the financially privileged members of this university from joining, while two individuals: the Bursar and the President get discretion over an outsized budget, along with most other privileges of the society, such as which speakers to invite and what topics to debate. Other elected members are highly limited in their power, and thus are incentivized, not by a sense of ownership or desire to see improvements, but out of the desire for more power.
“This leads me to my final point: this means all members operate, as our mandated email signature so kindly indicate, as “Assistants to the President.” This is why the current President felt comfortable interrogating me about a headache, something typically beyond the scope of a workplace, let alone a student society, when I had not completed the totality of my duties. I hope freshers and others interested in participating in the Union understand this and seek to reform the structure of the Union so it grants its elected members greater equality in power and enables them to institute the changes we all want.”
When asked about Ahya’s decision, The President first noted that “it is a great shame for any member of committee to resign”, and that “it is a sad state of affairs in which two Oxford students cannot work together towards the shared common goal of delivering value to our members.
“However, there is no place for dishonesty in the Oxford Union, nor in any workplace enviroment. As Parth has admitted, he lied […] first in his failure to complete the requisite amount of work over the summer and secondly in his knowingly deceptive behaviour detailed below. No unfair burden was placed upon Mr Ahya, nor was he treated unprofessionally by any member of committee, contrary to the unsubstantiated claims made in his vitriolic letter of resignation.”
“Each term, members of our committee help with the process of termcard delivery […] a process by which just 30 members of committee personally deliver 20,000 termcards […] it consequrntly [sic] requires a degree of manual labour unusual in a student society. Had Mr Ahya attended this process, he would have seen every single Officer […] loading boxes for the duration of the afternoon on to our van.”
“Parth was assigned to [deliver to] his own college, Keble; given other members of his committee received the distant duties of Wolfson and Kellogg, this represented no great iniquity.”“Parth’s resignation is unfortunate, as is his dishonesty – normally members of committee work very hard, especially if they have run in a difficult and contested election! I am very proud of the work that members of committee have been carrying out this term, bringing our termcard of events to life.”
Ahya’s decision to resign from the Secretary’s committee has meant that the next runner-up for the position, Elliot Bromley, has succeeded him and will serve for the rest of his term.