Return of former SU Presidents sparks bitter battle of legacies


Faces past and present: Roca, Pickles and Payne — Photo by Chris Osborn

A motion to University Court, held on Saturday, sparked a bitter feud between former and current officers of the Students’ Union.

Former LUSU Presidents Michael Payne (2008-2010) and Tim Roca (2007-2008) returned to Lancaster last weekend in order to second a motion proposed by Alan Whitaker, a former Pro Vice Chancellor at the University, and former President of Lancaster University’s University and Colleges Union (UCU).

Though appearing to be a motion created with students in mind, LUSU President Robbie Pickles was quick to outline his views against the motion. He was, however, less willing to state why he held these opinions and did not wish to go on the record with information he had received from the University and other officers.

Speaking against the motion at Court, Pickles claimed that the motion had never been something students wanted, nor was it something that would be beneficial to them.

“When I see a time frame which will lead to irrelevance and a guaranteed student membership of only two, I cannot be convinced that this is in the best interests of students; when the Students’ Union and JCR [Executive Committees] – the prime representatives of the student voice – are deliberately kept out of negotiations which might have resolved these issues, I cannot be convinced that this is in the best interests of students. And when one of the proposers of the motion – in an attempt to convince me to lend my support – reveals their primary motive behind this to be not students but, and I quote, ‘to wipe that smug smile off the Vice Chancellor’s face’, I cannot and will not be convinced that this is in the best interests of the students who I was elected to represent.”

The claims made in this speech about the remarks made about the Vice Chancellor have been denied by the proposers of the motion.

The motion has been met with a surprising amount of controversy within the walls of the Students’ Union, but all those involved in the proposal were keen to state that this was not the intended result of it – and those suggesting it was remain reluctant to go on the record with their claims.

However, speculation has been rife that this motion was created with the intention of undermining the current LUSU President and Pro Vice Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience).

Whitaker said: “That is not the aim and, certainly, there is no intention to undermine their work on behalf of the students. I am somewhat surprised at this interpretation. The motion is supportive of the student body and of the University and that’s because Tim Roca, Michael Payne and myself are very supportive of students and the University.”

Roca also supported this, saying “It’s not meant to revisit old battles or anything like that, just to […] look at the situation facing the University”.

He added: “These sorts of issues get clouded with personalities, and a lot of politics goes on which is a bit unfortunate, but to be expected […] I don’t think it’s anyone’s intention to get personal about these matters”.

The controversy seems to stem from the opposition to the motion by the Students’ Union President.

Pickles explained his stance: “It’s been proposed by people who are not here or who are not aware of the situation at Lancaster. We have won significant gains for representation with the University which are not recognised by this motion, and which we stand to endanger by bringing in more groups with lower student representation than I have come to expect. Lancaster students deserve more than what this motion has to bring”.

When asked to explain how the passing of this motion would endanger existing relationships between LUSU and the University, Pickles responded:

“People would have started to close down current groups in favour of this one, and there are more students on the current groups than the one proposed. We like to see minimum 40% student representation on every committee. This motion, proposed by former student leaders, only saw 20% guaranteed student representation, which is fundamentally not enough.

“There are a number of informal channels of communication that exist at the moment, between students and management, which are extremely productive, but it is extremely clear that this motion would have created an alternate system of communication which would have seen students pushed out of the frame […] by everybody involved.”

Payne, however, felt he could shed some light on why Pickles may hold this fear.

“I can tell you that I have had conversations with the current Students’ Union President, where it was iterated that conversations had taken place with the University, where there were suggestions that student support for this motion wouldn’t be looked on as favourable by the University […] that came from the current Students’ Union President to me, in a call made to me”, he explained.

Many remarked on the lack of student officer input in Court, with Full Time Officers being the only ones to speak up. It was also felt by the proposers of the motion, that the lack of correspondence over the motion before Court maybe led to its downfall.

“I think it’s a very sad indictment that Students’ Union representatives didn’t come forward in a constructive way – as I would have done in that situation – to suggest changes, but rather waited to make some cheap remarks, I think, in University Court. It’s very easy to get a clap at University Court, and I think we have to reflect that in two years time, when fees go up, students will be asking what their Students’ Union did at the time to make sure these issues were on the agenda”, said Payne.

He continued, however, focusing on the future for LUSU and its relationship with the University: “The Students’ Union has this brilliant tool at its disposal, where the relationship with the University is reset every year when new officers are elected. Obviously those elections are coming around very soon and I look forward to seeing what view the Students’ Union takes after those elections.”

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