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AGM [Monday 20th November 2006 at 8:55 am]

The other day, I went to our Student Union AGM.

Oh, what a mess that was. The chair didn't appear to have much experience in running it, the motions were handled in an apparently random order, with little consideration for importance (this is significant given that in the past the union has had a hard time maintaining quorum), the handling of motions 6 and 7 was a complete farce, and half the time people had no idea what was going on.

Apparently we actually managed to start with the needed quorum (just under 500 students), which is a first while I've been here. We even kept quorum until right near the very end, unlike last year. Unfortuantly this quorum appeared to be made up of activists and arts students (being a science student, I get to look down upon the arts students. I'm sure they look down on us science students in some circular loop of looking-downness).

I turned up just before we voted to split from the NUS. Not sure what the reasons were, but there will be a referendum over this and if that passes then the USSU will no longer be affiliated with the NUS. Southampton union apparently went this way a while back, and about the only visible effect was the union got more money to play with.

First up was the motion for the doption of an Ethical Investment Policy (#1 in the list). This got passed rather easily, although this could be sticky to implement as the university's bank of choice isn't the most ethical of banks.

Next was #2, motion to establish an environmental policy and "Eco-Unit". Again, passed easily, and quite sensible in it's aims.

Motion #3, motion for activities to be represented on the NUS National Executive, also passed though it's a bit irrevelant given that we don't plan to be part of the NUS for much longer. Then again, that'll take about a year to achieve.

Number 4, equalities, not much in it. Basically telling the university to get an equalities unit.

Motion #5 is where the fun started. Entitled simply "Motion on Islamophobia", this one managed to get the wrong end of the stick with such things as Jack Straw's dislike of women wearing veils, and ran with it. Needless to say this one had a lot of shouting, and was passed overwelmingly by the vast numbers of arts students present. I abstained from this one, as I do not agree with such statements as "The comments from Jack Straw [and others] are not about integration but are fostering the climate of scapegoating which ultimately benefits the far right". A rather sensible amendment to strike out the two statements about this was shot down for no good reason. Thinking about this, I didn't see any veil-wearing women argue for or against this motion. I wonder what they think of this?

Motions 6 and 7, oh this was fun. Motion 6 basically says that the Badger (the union paper) should be democratically accountable, and to achieve this we should vote in the editors (I believe at present they're appointed by the Comms Officer). Motion 7 instead says we should add a section about union media in general to the union's constitution. So, in their infinite wisdom, they decided to debate both motions at the same time, and to treat motion 7 as an ammendment to motion 6 that if voted for automatically overrode motion 6.

It's worth noting that in the latest issue, the Badger ran an opinion column which called out against these, pointing out that there's already methods in place to control the Badger and to complain about it. Cue at least two people shouting out about how the editors were biased and opposed to democracy. Folks, it's an *opinion* column. It contains something known as "opinions". The editors of the Badger have the right to their own opinions, which may include stating that these motions suck. I'm also perfectly at right to ignore them.

Anyway, we voted for motion 7 (before motion 6), and as soon as that passed the chair threw motion 6 away, saying that as it contradicts motion 7 and we've passed that one there's no reason to have a vote on it. Um, WTF? If you have two contradictory motions, then wouldn't most sensible (and democratic) method be to vote on each seperately, *then* hold another vote getting people to choose which one the union should actually follow.

That, and if you read the actual text of the motions they don't actually contradict other and can coexist perfectly with a small application of uncommon sense. I'm not sure if it's worth calling the chair on this, but it may be worth it for the novelty value.

Oh, to add to the fun around now was when people started drifting away, and we spent the next half hour losing quorum every few minutes until they gave up. Did I mention that it took a good half hour or so to get through the Badger motions, thanks to several people choosing to make impassioned speeches rather than actually debate the motions?

Anyway, back to the motions. Next up was #8, which was about university governance and democratisation. This actually important motion got passed suprisingly easily, considering the length and the number of speech-makers in the audience.

I think then we jumped straight to #14, waited a couple of minutes before deciding that the person behind it wasn't going to turn up, and then moved to #10. I'm not sure what happened to #9.

#10, Motion on University Education in Palestine, looks reasonable enough until you get to the end of the "the Union Notes" section where you find what looks suspiciously like someone with an axe to grind writing about boycotts. A few people proposed amendments to tone down this section, and all of them got shot down by people claiming that the "this union notes" section had no relevance to the actual outcome of the motion. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to vote for a motion where I do not agree with parts of it. By all means state relevant facts, but do not go off on your own spiel about how things should be, and remember that the entire text of the motion is relevant. Also you're meant to debate for and against the motion, not try to raise a rabble and march on 10 Downing Street. Unsuprisingly, this one got passed by a large majority.

#11 got skipped due to a lack of a proposer (folks, if you propose a motion then make sure you turn up on the day to argue for it!), shame as it was actually a) intelligent and b) directly related to our degrees here.

#12 is amusing as it basically calls for the union to either carry out all the motions agreed at the AGM or resign. Some union members quite reasonably pointed out that they at times can't legally do what's stated in the motions, and that getting the entire union to resign wouldn't actually benefit anyone. Plus, we can always kick them out anyway. Unusually, a motion to strike that clause was actually passed

...or it would have been if we still had quorum at that point. With 15 students needed and more leaving every moment, the chair decided to wrap up the meeting leaving motions #13 (one intended to broaden the democracy of the student union by, amongst other things, calling for a referendum to be held on the outcome of the AGM) and #15 (condemming human rights abuses by communist regimes) untouched. It's a shame that the activist motions got debated before the ones about the union and uni, as in my view the latter are more important. #13 even had an amendment to change the running order for future AGMs to reflect this.

Ah well, there's always next year (assuming I stay at Sussex).
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[User Picture]From: ricold
Monday 20th November 2006 at 10:29 am (UTC)
"and about the only visible effect was the union got more money to play with."

That, and the union officers had to do an *awful* lot of legwork. NUS membership gives a number of external benefits, and the Sabs went around asking every shop in town if they'd still give a discount with just the union card, rather then NUS. Repeat for each type of benefit
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[User Picture]From: boggyb
Monday 20th November 2006 at 10:57 am (UTC)
True, though if I remember rightly from what you've told me the almost unaminous answer was "yep, sure". None of the shops I've been to have ever wanted to look at the NUS logo on the back of the card - they've always been happy with the fact the front says "University of Sussex" and "STUDENT".
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[User Picture]From: ricold
Monday 20th November 2006 at 11:41 am (UTC)
Almost unanimous. You get some bastard companies like UGC.

Plus the legwork still really needs to be done, otherwise you get awkward situations fo rthe students
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[User Picture]From: boggyb
Monday 20th November 2006 at 5:05 pm (UTC)
Fair enough. I didn't mean to offend anyone here - by the fact you're on my friends list you're a sane arts student who doesn't spend all their days thinking playing politics with the university.
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