Student Council forces SU President to U-turn over rules change

Following a heated discussion at Student Council this week, the Council has voted to restore the majority of its old rules and seek an explanation from the SU President about the changes made to them by the SU Trustee Board over the summer.

The motion, which was amended slightly so as to keep the number of Student Council meetings at 2 per term, passed with 33 votes for, 13 against, and 2 abstentions. The passing of the motion means that Student Council’s official position is that the Trustee Board acted outside of its remit in forcing through changes to the rules.

The decision will mean that all rules in place at the end of Trinity 2023 will now remain in place, apart from the decision to move from four meetings to two. This restores the ability for extraordinary meetings to be called and for emergency motions to be submitted. SU President Danial Hussain will now also be forced to make a report to the next meeting of Student Council on how and why the changes were carried out.

At the meeting, sabbatical officers claimed that four meetings a term required too much work from them and the SU staff. Nick Harris, VP Postgraduate Education and Access, said that staff and sabbatical officers were “bordering on burnout.” Harris also confirmed that the vote had taken place online via emails between the members of Trustee Board rather than a meeting. Mia Clement, VP Activities and Community, said four meetings a term as opposed to two put the SU “under pressure.”

As Trustee Board’s vote on the new rules took place online, it is unclear whether Student Council will be able to access these emails as ‘minutes’ of the meeting. Minutes of Trustee Board meetings must be uploaded to the SU website, but they haven’t been since April, violating article 40.3 of the SU’s Articles of Association. 

Rosalie Chapman, VP Welfare, claimed that the sabbatical officers had been told that there had been consultation with people involved in Student Council and JCRs when they voted on the new rules. The Oxford Student has learnt that not all JCR Presidents were consulted, and many SU Campaigns weren’t asked at all.

The old rules had only been put in place at the end of last Trinity after a working group made up of student volunteers produced a new set of rules that were passed at the last Student Council meeting of term. Theo Sergiou said at Student Council that it felt like “overnight [these rules] got taken away.” One of the members of the working group described their efforts as “months of unpaid volunteer time.”

Harris said he had not been aware of the working group until the Student Council meeting this week. 

Niall Pearson-Shaul, the proposer of the motion, commented to The Oxford Student: “The result of the vote in Council is a vindication of the principles in the Motion, in particular, the declaration that the Trustee Board acted beyond its powers in amending the rules. I am pleased that common room and campaign delegates, representing those whose voices were threatened by the decision, joined me in asserting the Council’s right to control its own procedure: a cornerstone of our student democracy. Though the motion was ultimately amended to accommodate Council meeting only twice per term this does not affect the underlying principle of the motion and merely represents a voluntary concession to the concerns of Sabbatical Officers which, in my mind, remains under consideration pending the President’s report on the process informing the decision, which comes due at the next meeting of Council. I encourage Common Room and Campaign delegates to commit themselves to making two meetings per term work, not conceding Council’s democracy to accommodate the change, but actively working to ensure full and thorough representation despite it. I myself look forward to working within the Steering Committee to cultivate a truly representative student democracy for years to come.”

The SU commented: “We were grateful and open to hearing feedback on the motion during Student Council and we fully support the democratic function of this body in providing a space to listen and platform student voices and views.”

The meeting, which took place under the new rules, took over three hours to complete, raising concerns about the length of Student Council under the two meetings per term system. There will only be one further meeting of Student Council this term. 

The rule change also makes it more difficult for no confidence motions to be passed against sabbatical officers. A motion has to be brought to two consecutive meetings before a referendum can be held, meaning that any no confidence motions submitted now could take until February 2024 to resolve.