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While the review was well planned and generally welcomed by the Council there were differences of opinion on some of the finer points. The planned reduction of societies’ representatives on Union Council was a particularly contentious point of debate.
The original proposal of the non-sabbatical review was focused on streamlining and efficiency, and as such suggested a reduction of officers on Union Council. Societies stood to lose one of their two non-sabbatical representatives. VP (FEDS) Andy Johnston and Societies Union Chair Edwin Burrows consulted the societies on Wednesday. From this an amendment was proposed to the review, which suggested changing the proposed one Societies Exec Officer to two Societies Council Reps.
The amendment was not passed when put to a vote. Burrows was particularly vocal, causing the debate to become quite heated. He had been relying on a petition signed by over 150 students which called for a general meeting so the student body could decide. This petition was not accepted by the council, with the Chair of the meeting Robbie Pickles explaining why the procedure of petition deadlines existed. Burrows had organised the petition late on and therefore it had not been submitted into the agenda.
Burrows blamed the late council agenda release containing the review details for leaving “no opportunity for students to voice their opinions.” The counter to this was that policy exists for a reason, with Pickles stating that once submitted correctly, Burrows’ petition could be taken into account.
Speaking after the Council, Burrows stated that he felt it “somewhat hypocritical that the points in this non-sabb review that have had the most consultation with students are the ones that have been shot down by the union council,” claiming he had had no chance to submit an official petition.
Several students involved in societies were present at the meeting and were angered in reaction. Fred Bullman, Vice President of the Philosophy Society, was critical of the council as a body, calling it a “room full of yes men”. He feels the sabbatical officers’ arguments were no more than “people getting off on who they were and what position they were”.
Johnston is adamant that this isn’t the case, calling the council “democracy as democracy is supposed to work”. He was clear at the societies’ council that he had already made a recommendation to Michael Payne to remove both society non-sabbs. He argues that “myself and Edwin decided to take the view of the societies’ council,” despite his own view.
Ben Griffiths, a Steering Group Representative and President of Rock Soc, was reluctant to offer an extensive view on the disappointing result. He openly supported the students who attended and significantly feels they were acknowledged and represented. He commended Johnston’s role, praising how “he wasn’t actually in favour of that amendment but he still argued on its behalf”.
Johnston was keen to stress that this isn’t a permanent change, and as a bye-law there can be further amendments once the system is tried. He encouraged any response on the matter, saying if students genuinely felt it necessary there is “definitely scope for adding another [societies’ representative] in another few months”. He balanced this with a warning that there will always be “people in an unhappy minority”.