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LUSU has scheduled an Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) to take place at 7pm on Tuesday Week 5 in George Fox Lecture Theatre 1, despite being constitutionally bound to be held last term.
This meeting, called according to the LUSU Constitution by Vice-President (Finance, Events, Democracy and Societies) Matt Windsor, gives students chance to question Union Officers and discuss important issues. However, there is debate over participation levels and the value of the General Meeting.
There has also been contention regarding the timing of this General Meeting. The LUSU Constitution states that “there shall be an Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) held during the first and last term of the academic year on a date determined by the VP (FEDS)”. No such meeting was called in Michaelmas term, apparently an omission on the part of Windsor. “We are having one this term instead to cover the last,” he said.
Asked about the lack of a meeting last term, LUSU President Robbie Pickles suggested that this may have been because there was little to discuss. “I think that one was looked into last term but no agenda items were received.” A General Meeting held last term would have been highly unlikely to discuss changes to FTO roles, given that these were only passed at the end of Week Nine.
On the agenda for the meeting will be the changes made recently to the roles of Full-Time Officers (FTOs). Passed at Union Council late last term, these changes saw the creation of a Vice-President (Activities) and a Vice-President (Events and Democracy) to replace the existing Sports and FEDS remits. The financial aspect of the FEDS role was passed into the President’s remit.
The meeting will also provide opportunity for an Officer Question and Answer Session. Matt Windsor explained how this element has been built into the meeting in an attempt to counter the view that a General Meeting is “boring, cliquey and completely pointless to the average student”. The relationship between LUSU and the National Union of Students (NUS) is also expected to be discussed.
Windsor expressed doubts about the overall worth of these meetings, arguing that they can be unrepresentative. “[They are] a tired concept,” he said. “We are supposed to be a democratic union, but [General Meetings] are normally centred around one issue that a particular group have a grievance with, who then hiijack the whole process”.
This occurred at a recent meeting, said Windsor, when a disproportianate number of sports team members attended a meeting “at the request of a potential VP (Sports) candidate”, causing what he calls “a skewed argument”.
Windsor is more in favour of a more democratic process whereby Officers are seen to go out and speak to the lay student. “One thing LUSU doesn’t do is talk to our members enough – we’d rather hide it in a committee,” he said. “You alienate people in the [General Meeting] – but if you go to a society training session or club game and speak to people like human beings, people will gladly talk to you about it.”
Lack of student participation seems to be becoming an issue in forming agenda. “The average student has not proposed a motion or inititated a discussion for as long as I can remember,” observed Windsor. “That’s a problem”.
He argues that issues such as the LUSU-NUS relationship are given inflated importance by this sort of meeting. “The danger is that you can build a [General Meeting] around an issue and pedestal that issues beyond its real level. The issues for the agenda should be coming from students on the ground.”
However, Pickles was keen to maintain the importance of the meeting. “We want to press ahead and hold one because it is important that students get a chance to raise their opinions,” he said. “Hopefully people will take up this opportunity, although attendance at past meetings has sadly been rather low.”
Regarding the discussion of changes to the FTO roles, Pickles said: “Students are welcome […] to discuss any of the changes Union Council has made to the Union By-Laws, which includes changes to Officer roles.”
Constitutionally, a General Meeting has the power to repeal any decisions passed at Union Council, giving it a potentially significant say in the running of LUSU. However, support for the changes to FTO roles, as well as historically low participation, makes this notion seem unlikely.