The Oxford University Student Union has severed ties with the Oxford Union. 78% of voters were in favour.
The motion for financial independence means that the Union will no longer have a stall at Oxford’s annual freshers’ fair. The Union made over a third of its annual income from its membership drive in freshers’ week last year, according to draft accounts seen by The Oxford Student.
The motion was proposed by Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs Jade Calder and seconded by the former co-chair of the SU LGBTQ+ Campaign Clay Nash. It will “cease any and all commercial and financial relationships between the Oxford Union and SU until at least the mandate expires in three years.”
This will most critically impact the Oxford Union during their Michaelmas Term membership drive, as they will no longer be able to purchase rights to a commercial stall at the freshers fair, as they have done in the past.
In draft accounts seen by The Oxford Student, the Oxford Union made just under £600,000 from new memberships last year, accounting for a significant proportion of their annual income.
The motion states that the Oxford Union has had a history of documented “bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and data privacy breaches which affect students.” It also explains that “unlike many student societies, there is no external body to regulate or hold the Union accountable for its actions.”
The motion added that “the SU has a duty to take necessary actions to safeguard all members of the Oxford student community” and much of what the Union does is “antithetical to the SU’s commitment to access”.
This comes following rising tensions between the Oxford SU and Oxford Union.
In Trinity Term 2022, a motion came to Oxford SU’s student council regarding a conflict of interest. That motion stipulated that those running for a position in the SU must ‘declare to the Returning Officer any roles within any relevant organisations to which they were elected or appointed since their matriculation’.
Further to this, sitting Sabbatical Trustees now “must publicly declare any current roles within any relevant organisations as well as any new roles they take on”.
In Michaelmas Term 2022, the Oxford Union passed a motion on “Independence from the SU”. This added a new subclause which prohibited members from nominating themselves for a position which was Standing Committee or higher if they would be serving as a Sabbatical Officer of Oxford SU simultaneously.
It also added clauses to bar ex-Officers from exercising their vote on the Standing Committee if they are simultaneously serving as a Sabbatical Officer of Oxford SU and if someone becomes a Sabbatical Officer would be deemed to have resigned at the time of this election.
This was highly controversial at the time, with one governing body member saying, “It seems entirely hypocritical that the President-Elect would bring this motion given he is actively working with the SU in hosting the annual Freshers’ Fair stall and raising thousands of pounds for the membership drive.In fact, there are Union governing body members who sit on Student Council and make high level decisions within the SU, so it seems malicious to restrict the contrary. He clearly intends on targeting certain individuals and carries a political vendetta. ”
Ties with the Union have previously been curtailed by other student body organisations. In 2019, Wadham SU passed a motion calling for “Boycott the Oxford Union Campaign” which was supported by Anneliese Dodds, MP for Oxford East & SU President 1999-2000.
In a comment to Cherwell, The Oxford Union stated: “The Union offers unique opportunities to its members, which range from meeting world leaders, to partaking in our debates, and joining us in our social events. The University’s compliance policy indicates that ‘free speech is the lifeblood of a university’, a principle that is upheld by the Oxford Union. It is unfortunate that many of the claims made on the motion are not factually accurate, and merely represent the views of a minority of the student body.”