It’s a sad day for the Students’ Union

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The lead up to University Court, which was initially expected to be fairly uneventful, saw the Students’ Union rocked by a battle of egos and legacies.

“University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.” I am loath to reference this, because Henry Kissinger has been much overused in Lancaster University Students’ Union of late; admittedly largely by officers who have been hard done to rather than a frazzled reporter from the newspaper.

But, in my humble opinion, this quotation has never been more accurately applied than to the events within LUSU over the last week. It’s nothing to do with the small stakes – in fact, anyone who thinks that students’ unions deal in small stakes is an idiot.

I refer, in fact, to the viciousness of university politics. Because this week, in trying to write a story about a motion proposed to University Court, I’ve encountered an awful lot of it.

Accusations of all sorts of unseemly behaviour have been given to me, on a strictly off-the-record basis. To go into the whole affair now would be terrible, never mind libelous. Different people have taken me to one side and told me that I’m being leant on while I put this story together. I expect I have. The problem is – I’m just not sure who by.

One truth can be taken from the events, however: the motion proposed to University Court was overshadowed by egos, pride and one-upmanship. A motion that aimed to create a working group to discuss the increase in tuition fees was a bold and necessary move at best; poorly thought out at worst.

Yes, there were holes in the proposal. Yes, the choice of seconders for the motion was not ideal and arguably led to all the trouble. However, debate never took place beforehand – few recommendations for change were even made to those behind the motion. It was all left for Court, and something that could have been beneficial was forgotten.

Instead, I’m left here thinking that current and former officers have let me down. I didn’t vote for an officer to lie to me, or for an officer to decide what was best for me without asking.

Reasons why the Students’ Union President made the decision to speak against the motion will remain something I am unable to report, as no-one will go on the record and tell me. Why was this motion, one that created another channel of communication between the University and LUSU, a bad idea? I cannot give you the answer.

If this is how officers represent us students – by airing the dirty laundry of the squabbles and egos of the union in public places; by failing to consult us on the most basic of issues; and by ruining old and new relationships through rumours and lies – then I don’t want it.

The problem with university politics is that people assume the stakes to be small, and behave as if none of this matters any more than their own reputations. When students are about to be paying £9,000 a year for a degree, I don’t consider the stakes to be at all small.

“It’s a sad day for the students’ union” was reportedly uttered by an unknown in the food queue after University Court. She is completely right. The day where a students’ union, and those who purport to care about it, forget who they are meant to represent at the expense of defending their own reputations and legacies is a sad day indeed.

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7 Comments

  1. “Reasons why the Students? Union President made the decision to speak against the motion will remain something I am unable to report, as no-one will go on the record and tell me. Why was this motion, one that created another channel of communication between the University and LUSU, a bad idea? I cannot give you the answer.”

    Disgrace.

    This has brought LUSU to its worst point in years. Somebody should resign or be fired.

  2. Without wanting to reopen the debate from Court, I think it is worth noting that I actually DID go on record with my reasons for voting against the motion. They are clearly outlined, as quotes, in other SCAN articles such as this one: http://scan.lancastersu.co.uk/news/2011/02/02/return-of-former-su-presidents-sparks-bitter-battle-of-legacies/

  3. Yes, that is quite confusing.

    But one thing is quite clear: Either there is a totally unproductive working ethos going on at LUSU (which is always the case, but perhaps worsening) -or- LUSU is being threatened by the University and cannot speak up.

    I’ve seen SUs in the later scenario a few times. They are so heavily reliant on University funding that they are too scared to speak up against them. To do so would potentially cost hundreds or thousands or involve costly relocation. If things are moving this way at Lancaster, it may be time to split the Union up – dividing sport, societies, media, commerce, representation and welfare into different (independently funded) units. That way the campaigning body can make lots of noise without directly impacting on an independently run activities section.

    At the moment LUSU has too many functions and it is impossible to get them all right. No number of sabb changes is likely to improve this. And yes, the stakes have got a lot larger now. Students REALLY are customers now and we should not be treated like cattle.

  4. I usually refuse to get involved in petty political squabbles but this seems utterly absurd in many respects.
    “Reasons why the Students? Union President made the decision to speak against the motion will remain something I am unable to report”, is it really that unclear as to why the President commented on a motion involving LUSU? The very fact that the Union was asked to be kept out of discussions surrounding this motion is quite frankly a disgrace, we were left in the dark with regards to this in order for it to be as one sided as possible.
    I’m all for people having their own opinions, that is the whole reason of what we do so I will no doubt get grief for even having this viewpoint but when the Union is consistently challenged for doing its job and reacting to the University as swiftly and effectively as possible, sometimes the course of action has to be decided upon on a moments’ thought. LUSU is often slated for not doing enough consultation, when in actual fact they often OVER-consult to make sure that every single person is perfectly happy with the party line, this is just not feasible in the slightest.
    Regardless of what the “woman in the queue” said, it is irrelevant and yet seems to be the only thing that this article, and people are focusing on. That is one voice, one opinion, and she is entitled to it. It is not the be all and end all of this debate, but this will undoubtedly go on and on and members of LUSU of all positions will continue to do what has been happening in the past- flog this dead horse. Rather than focusing on details of the past, as I’m sure will happen, we should be looking forward to ensuring the best for our students in the climate that is forthcoming. But I doubt this will happen as long as small minded people would rather point fingers than actually deal with problems as and when they arise.

    This is not the blame game, this isn’t what we are about- and the sooner people realise that, the better.

  5. Also, to split up the Union as you put it, would quite frankly eradicate the entirety of the work that LUSU does. We cannot be a Union if we are not unified in what we do.

  6. If people felt that LUSU _generally_ achieved a good level of transparency and representation then there would be much less complaining. The fact that this discussion is happening, and the reasons behind it, are evidence enough that some serious action is needed to highlight the work that LUSU is, or should be, doing.

    I’ve seen first hand, on many occasions, situations where internal politics, secrecy, a lack of pro-activity within LUSU ranks and unchallenged performance have caused no end of grief and a lack of support/events for students. This isn’t about individual officers, its about the system and attitude within LUSU generally. It needs to change. Students do not have other means to defend themselves. Not yet anyway.

    The sheer number of friends and colleagues who are suffering basic accommodation, mental health, finance and other issues is astounding. Many of these people just stay silent and end up combining the problems. I’d really like to know what is being done to address that.

    Do you really think that people who sign up for a degree costing at least 36 grand in loans are going to be happy with the current situation?

  7. I would hardly say this is a petty matter marc. However airing more dirty laundry on here is not really the way to achieve things. SOmething needs to be done. Forget about the past and all the gossip and ‘enemies’. We are a STUDENT’S UNION. Firstly and formost we repsent our STUDENT’S. So perhaps we should put our time into being constructive. How can we move forward? Perhaps it would help if LUSU published to ALL its student members what exactly has been done and is being done in relation to tuition fees. What is our Union doing for it’s students? A lot as I well know- but not everyone is in the same position as me! Start asking what your STUDENT BODY wants then maybe we can get the the realissues that are being discussed here.

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