SU scraps half of Student Council meetings; complaint to Vice-Chancellor submitted
Rose Henderson and Milo Dennison
The SU Trustee Board has acted unconstitutionally by driving through changes to Student Council with no consultation of Student Council. The SU By-Laws only stated that the Council can amend the Rules of Council, yet new rules were published with no notice on the website and without Council approving them.
The new rules halve the number of Student Council meetings per term from four to two, slashing the opportunity for students to have their voices heard. The provision for extraordinary meetings and extraordinary motions has also been removed.
This was done without even a meeting of the Trustee Board to discuss these major changes. Instead, the SU CEO emailed the members of the Trustee Board asking them to vote electronically, telling them that he had consulted students on the proposals.
However, The Oxford Student can reveal that rather than putting a motion to Student Council allowing any student to express their opinions, the extent of student consultation was casual conversations over the summer between the SU President and some JCR Presidents on general problems with the SU, rather than the rule change being proposed as a definite policy.
The Oxford Student can also reveal that some JCR Presidents who were consulted were told that the changes would mean they would not have to attend as many meetings and that pizza would be provided. One JCR President we spoke to told us that they were simply told that the changes had been made, with no opportunity to express their own views. Another only heard that the change was being made after The Oxford Student contacted them.
The changes have caused serious concern amongst the student body. A complaint has been submitted to both the SU and the Vice-Chancellor outlining the unconstitutional nature of the complaints. The University has been asked for comment.
The complainant told The Oxford Student that “the Trustee Board’s decision was not only unconstitutional and undemocratic, it was foolish. This complaint only asks them to affirm what everyone already knows, that the trustees never had the power to change when or how often the Council meets. The SU’s rules are democratically decided and it is not for its leaders, duly elected or not, to wilfully disregard them. Reducing meetings of the Council will hurt student engagement, reduce scrutiny, and distance sabbatical officers even further from the students they serve. Everyone else can decide if those are the priorities they want sabs to have.”
The Trustee Board is made up of the SU’s elected Sabbatical Officers, including Danial Hussain the SU President, three elected student trustees, and four external trustees. The SU website states that this group is “legally responsible for its [the SU’s] financial and legal health and strategic direction.”
When we asked the SU President about these changes at his “Ask us anything” event outside the RadCam, he repeatedly declined to comment, instead simply staring silently at The Oxford Student’s reporters. This comes despite earlier assertions that he was keen to be open and transparent with the student press.
The 2022/23 Student Council Chair was not consulted on the changes, and when Isaac Chase-Rahman, the 2023/24 Chair, contacted the SU with his concerns about the proposed changes in a 2000-word email, they responded in under 400 words and failed to address all of his critiques, which included concerns over the removal of extraordinary meetings and motions and the fact that the changes could lead to a perception that the rules represent a “move away from Student Council being structured around students and towards being structured around non-students, particularly trustees and the university.”
Chase-Rahman told The Oxford Student, “Student Council has always been the only place that students can rely on to hold the SU and Sabbs to account, and make their own voices heard, and this change jeopardises that. A body run by students for students has been changed by non-students into a body for non-students. This move by the SU destroys accountability and transparency for the people they are meant to represent – us students. I believe this change has been made based off inadequate and inappropriate student consultation, done in a way to allow this to be rushed through by the Trustee Board and prevent students having a proper say in the matter. It is undemocratic and flies in the face of the principles of Student Council.”
In the proposed policy document prepared by the Democracy and Community Manager, seen by The Oxford Student, Student Council is described as “not fit for purpose” with the timeline of Student Council and Trustee Board meetings “too condensed for Trustees to fulfil their legal responsibilities”. The previous arrangement of four meetings per term is described as “detrimental to Sabbatical Officer wellbeing.” The document also notes that the Council is “relatively ineffective” and that there has been a “significant drop in Council engagement over the last two years.”
The SU said, “Due to unmatched inflationary pressures and their impact on our grant funding, Oxford SU faces financial challenges. In response, our CEO, with the board of trustees’ authority, conducted an internal review to formulate strategies ensuring our financial sustainability while upholding our core mission. To optimise resources for student-focused projects this academic year, the number of council meetings will be reduced from four to two per term. Moreover, meetings will be hosted within colleges, facilitating easier student engagement, and fostering local democratic involvement. The adjustments will enhance our student engagement efforts, allowing for increased student interaction and project development. We are initiating a comprehensive review and invite students from the entire collegiate university to join us. Our aim is to create an SU that resonates with every common room and serves our 25,000+ student community.” The CEO of the SU is a separate position to the SU President.
Paddy Breeze, JCR President at St John’s College and one of the JCR Presidents the SU consulted said, “I’m very supportive of the reduction of the number of Student Council meetings, and grateful to have had the opportunity to consult on the change with the SU President. I remain unconvinced about the effectiveness of this forum for formulating SU policy, or its mandate as a representative body for students. The common rooms are the bodies which are most in touch with the needs and views of students, and I would be very supportive of any move by the Student Union to further collaborate with existing JCR/MCR structures in its policy-making process”
The Oxford Student has also received an email, sent to the PresCom mailing list (i.e. all JCR and MCR Presidents), asking them to sign a petition of no confidence. The email accuses him of not properly consulting students over the changes, and draws links to Danial Hussain’s time as Director of Research for The Oxford Union whilst Ahmad Nawaz was President. It also makes a number of other claims, which The Oxford Student has been unable to verify. It is unclear whether the motion will be brought to Student Council, particularly since extraordinary meetings can no longer take place. The No Confidence Campaign has created an Instagram account, where it describes itself as a “Campaign To bring A Democratic No Confidence Vote Against Corrupt and Bullying Changes.”