Oxford Union President accused of “blatant nepotism”

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Committee members of the Oxford Union have accused the current President, Stephen Horvath of “blatant nepotism” following his decision to allow Minal Haq, an ex-Standing committee member, to have a paper speech during this week’s Thursday debate.

Haq is scheduled to be speaking against the motion, “This House Believes that Retributive Justice is Obsolete”, alongside Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust and Diane Curry OBE, CEO of Partners of Prisoners. The proposition case will be made by Sara Dube, the second elected member of the current Standing Committee, Frances Cook OBE, the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, and Ard van der Steur.

These accusations follow the discussion that took place during the Ordinary meeting of the Standing Committee, which was held on the 8th October 2018, in which Haq was not ratified as Women’s officer and therefore a member of committee.

The minutes of this meeting read as follows: “The Secretary questions the rationale for ratifying a member of committee who has completed 0 vacation days.”

“The President says that Ms. Haq has offered to organise a women’s drinks event after a female speaker this term, perhaps Obi Felten. The President says that no work was required of her over the vacation.”

This contrasts with a comment previously made by Hovarth to The Oxford Student, in relation to the resignation of Parth Ahya, in which he had said Parth failed to commit his duties as “he resigned before completing even a single term-time assignment and only worked 2 of the 15 days over the Summer vac required by the rules—a requirement which all members of committee explicitly accept by signature when they run for election”

The minutes of the committee meeting continued with:

“The Secretary says that work is required of all members of appointed committee over the vacation, and that in Standing Order C7 it says that required vacation days shall be “not less than three”.

“The Librarian-Elect says that in a term with notably few female speakers, it shows disrespect to the role of Women’s Officer to appoint someone who does not take the role seriously.”

This discussion ends with:

“The Secretary says he thinks it seems silly to ratify people who have failed to complete 100% of the work required of them so far, and suggests the ratifications are postponed.

The President agrees that it is fair to postpone ratification until Standing Committee is satisfied that the individuals have completed something substantial.

The Treasurer-Elect asks for clarification on how the members of committee will be treated if they are not ratified.

The President says that the individuals should not receive perks, and that they would behave as acting access reps without vote.”

However, despite this reached agreement, Haq was invited to speak.

Two senior members of the Union Committee have made the following comments to The Oxford Student.

One senior member of the Union Committee told The Oxford Student: “Paper speeches are usually given to members of committee on a meritocratic basis, based on the work they do over the vacation and during term. This choice clearly violates that norm.

“Ms. Haq is known to be a close friend of the President and the Librarian, and has been appointed as Women’s Officer as a smokescreen for blatant nepotism. As Women’s Officer, she has barely attended committee meetings and neglected her duties to promote women within the Union. “

Another senior member told The Oxford Student: “Following the resignation of a Parth Ahya (member of Secretary’s Committee) and the resignation of Patrick Cole as the Chair of the Consultative Committee (Director of Logistics) over accusations of inappropriate treatment by Senior Members of the Union Committee, committee morale is already at a record low. This blatant nepotism is another blot in an increasing number of stains representing an unprecedented breakdown of relations within Committee between Junior and Senior members.  Other resignations are reported to be on the horizon.”

A junior member of the Union committee has said to The Oxford Student: “It is poor leadership from Stephen Horvath. Committee members who have often worked every day, sometimes until 3am doing manual labour for the union have been insulted with the kleptocratic nature of his term. Friends who were last properly on committee over a year ago get speeches, when hard working committee members don’t. It probably is a mentality fostered from his public schooL days. He tells committee only officers could attend certain meet and greets, then brings six of his friends. He needlessly is unprofessional and rude to junior committee members.”

In response to these allegations, Stephen Hovarth, has told the Oxford Student: “Minal Haq is a former member of Secretary’s Committee (HT17) and a former member of Standing Committee (TT17). In both of those roles she invited numerous speakers, and played a role in several high-profile speaker events.

It is common for former members of Committee to make paper speeches. I cite the examples of Elizabeth Webb (ex-standing MT16, spoke in HT17), Christine Jiang (ex-Convenor of the IV 2017, spoke in HT18), Brian Wong (ex-standing MT17, spoke in TT17 & MT17).

Indeed, there is another reason for giving Ms. Haq a paper speech. When I was a member of Secretary’s Committee, I was organising a debate on drugs. I gave a paper speech in a debate on liberalism. Just one week before Minal was meant to be giving a speech in Opposition on the Drugs Debate, I unexpectedly confirmed a high profile guest speaker (Steve De Angelo). The then President decided to replace Minal with this guest on the opposition. I therefore thought that if I ever had the chance to make this wrong right, I would.”

Minal Haq was also contacted for comment. The Justice debate is scheduled to take place this Thursday at 8.30pm at the Oxford Union.