Addressing the democratic deficit in student unions
I was suspended on the very first day of term from an elected representative position in the guild of students on the basis of my political campaigning and arrest. Despite the fact I have not been found guilty of any crime or any wrongdoing unelected officials and undemocratic procedures have kicked into action to keep me suspended since the very first day of term. This procedure has been dragged out now to the limits of imagination. To the extent that replies to my e-mails requesting why this is taking so long can now only quote that guild is waiting on “due process”1.
The norms of democratic “due process” give the expectation that when individuals are put in positions by democratic means then they can only removed from position by similarly democratic means. Anything else would be damaging democracy due proccess, the right to protest and the freedom of speech of democratically-elected representatives.
I’m not the only student officer in the country to be facing politically motivated and undemocratic attacks this year. Many more officers I know live and work fearful of removal by powerful, unelected officials and boards within their own unions. Increasingly as the situation in higher education gets worse due to government cuts and privatisation the student body is going to elect increasingly more militant officers and additionally require more militant action from them. If we are going to win the fight to defend public education we must at the same as winning elections address the democratic deficits within our unions.
The reasons the guild of students policy is so undemocratic is because it is so ambiguously worded in terms of timeframe. This allows essentially indefinite suspensions at the discretion of individuals with no democratic mandate. Additionally, in the guilds policies the disciplinary and suspension procedures have no democratic oversight or accountability by students.
Some good but, not perfect policies like Birbeck student union’s , have elected student committees that oversee any disciplinarys or suspensions and they can end the disciplinary or suspension democratically. Furthermore, an unusual system at Birmingham whereby the majority of the Guild of Students trustees are unelected and the powers to remove an officer have been given to this unelected board of trustees; compounds the democratic deficit at the university of Birmingham guild of students.
A Check list for any students or student unions seeking to create a democratic officer disciplinary policy should be.
- Clear timeframes that are not open to abuse by unelected official seeking to drag out groundless suspensions.
- Transparent and accountable democratic oversight of the implementation of the policy by an elected body of students and disciplinary panels that made up of a clear majority of elected students.
- Most importantly ultimately the power for political decisions that need to be made on disciplinary issues to be taken at democratic student bodies like general meetings not unelected boards.
The best way to get these changes passed at a student union is by building a quorate gerneral meeting and setting new policy. It should aslo be bourne in mind that officer disciplinary policy is only a small part of wider battle for student union democracy, which involves empowering and protecting gerneral meetings as well as making trustee boards accountable.
|to||xxxx xxxx <email@example.com>|
|date||Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 12:33 PM|
Can I ask what are these due processes and how long will they take?
|to||Edward Bauer <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
|date||Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 2:51 PM|
|subject||RE: Strictly Private & Confidential|
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Thank you for your email.
The panel are following the processes as laid down in the Guild officer Group Disciplinary & Appeals Policy.
Point 8.17 The Chair shall endeavor to communicate the decision to the Guild officer and to the complainant within 5 working days of the hearing.
*The hearing took place on the 29th of november. As of friday the 16th of december I have recived no comunications.
To remove an officer at UCA Students’ Union you require either 150 signatures to kickstart a referendum (which then has to meet a target level of votes to be valid), OR the Officer can be kicked out if 3/5 student Councils (made up of a potential 12 voluntary officers each) vote to remove that officer through a motion.
Even that doesn’t go far enough, but its simple and it goes quite a way toward being democratic.
This is basic stuff, and it really surprises and worries me to see this stuff.
Edd, I share articles like this with our Officer team and staff at UCASU so we can avoid unfairness like this at our Union.
The only thing our officers have to worry about is the students, and thats how it should be.