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The two campus referendums, on whether to sell the Sugarhouse and whether the Trustee Board should have a majority of student-elected representatives, have been decisive.
On a turnout of 26%, 93.9% (3844 students) voted not to sell the Sugarhouse. On a turnout of 14.9%, 89.5% (2096 students) voted for the Trustee Board to have a majority of student-elected representatives.
Both of these referendums passed the 10% threshold required for consideration and will now go back to the Trustee Board for a decision. Both of the referendum outcomes have been Students’ Union policy since the AGM on 28 October, although Article 15.4 of the Articles of Association says that “Referenda may overturn… Policy set by the Student Members at a Student Members’ meeting”.
The Full Time Officers of the Students’ Union released a statement following the results, which said: “We’ve seen two decisive results in our referendums on the future of the Sugarhouse and membership of the Union Trustee Board – your answers will now be passed on to the Trustee Board, and your views will be taken into account when final decisions on these issues are made.” They added that a Trustee Board meeting would be called later in December and “we will tell you the outcomes from that meeting immediately.”
Will they be implemented?
Two motions were passed at the AGM to make the results of the Sugarhouse referendum binding on the Trustee Board. However, during the meeting, External Trustee Graeme Osborn argued that “The problem with this motion is it’s not about democracy, it’s about charity law. As I said earlier, charity trustees have to act as they believe is in the best interests of the charity. So it would not comply with charity law to have referendum motions of the membership bind the board to act in a certain way, because Trustees are ultimately the people who are responsible, so if you remove their discretion to act then they can’t fulfil the duties that they have to exercise by being appointed to that role.”
Article 28.3 of the Articles of Association say Trustees may overrule any decision taken by a referendum that they consider “(in their absolute discretion)” has financial implications for the SU, may breach charity law, “may not be in the best interests of the Union,” or may “affect the discharge” of the Trustees’ responsibility for strategy, governance, or budget of the Union.
Since the Trustee Board meeting on 11 October, the negotiations to sell the Sugarhouse have been suspended pending the result of the referendum. The Sugarhouse referendum was triggered by a petition authored by Jack O’Dwyer-Henry on 6 September, whereas the Trustee Board referendum was triggered by a petition authored by Atree Ghosh on 14 September.
On 16 November, SCAN revealed that several senior University managers have been working with senior management of the Students’ Union to sell the Sugarhouse since January this year. SCAN revealed that George Nuttall had told a University Council meeting on 20 September that “in accordance with the Student Unions’ constitutional arrangements there would be a referendum over the decision to sell the Sugarhouse, as a result of petition numbers against the proposal.” Claire Geddes, who was CEO of the Students’ Union until her resignation on 19 November, had said of the decision to suspend the negotiations that “Whichever way this discussion plays out this is likely to create further challenges.”