All entries for Monday 16 January 2006

January 16, 2006

Union Crises, What Would You Have Done Better?

Sorry guys this one is a bit of a beast, I always get carried away when I'm drinking stella.

Our sabbs have come in for a huge amount of criticism over the last couple of months. There have been two big issues which I think itís fair to say have provoked students into an unusually high level of anger and cynicism about our union.

The first and biggest is the issue of the smoking ban, and the story as I see it goes like this. At the start of the referendum period the sabbs find out that there is going to be a referendum on banning smoking in the union. While some of the sabbs are sympathetic to the idea of a smoke free union they are concerned by the potential loss of revenue. Leeds and Bournemouth have both attempted to implement smoking bans and suffered huge losses in revenue, while neither of these are exact models of our situation they surely cannot be completely ignored. Consequently at the general meeting the sabbs push through a lot of amendments to the motion to make everyone aware that services will probably have to be cut should the vote be successful. The sabbs also commission a full feasibility study at this point. A week or so later students vote in a referendum with unusually high turnout and pass the smoking ban. Another week passes and the feasibility study comes back and suggests that if the ban is to be implemented the union will face crippling losses that will bankrupt it and cannot be compensated with cuts in the budget. Here the sabbs are in a pickle, they are trustees of the union and legally are not allowed to let it go bankrupt. Constitutionally they could not have delayed the referendum until after a feasibility study because they can only stop a referendum if they know it to be illegal. But the students have clearly voiced the opinion that the smoking ban should go ahead. So what would any of you have done in the situation faced by the union officers?

The second is the issue of Boar Ďcensorshipí. The situation as I remember Mike Britland (the returning officer for the referenda) describing it is that there has always been a rule that referenda and elections must be held fairly, and that since the Boar has a unique situation on campus in that apart from RAW and WTV, who do a brilliant job but donít reach the same kind of audience, the Boar is the only real source of news, and consequently must be fair in its coverage of the elections. While generally the Boar was trusted to be impartial, it was thought sensible that 24 hours before going to print the editor of the Boar would run any articles relating to referenda or elections past the elections committee to check they were impartial. The Boar did that for an article in the first week of the referenda period, and the article was approved, but in the next two weeks the Boar published articles that were deemed by elections committee to be biased, and the elections group were not consulted. Consequently in elections periods the elections group want to see the whole Boar 24 hours before hand. This clearly inconveniences the Boar, but is it sensible to trust the paper when it has broken the rules in two consecutive weeks and was warned after the first time not to do it again.

Now Iíll accept that Iíve heard these two versions of events from the people that are involved with running the union, and would genuinely like to hear different versions if this isnít the truth, but if this is how events took place what could the people involved have done differently? My one criticism of the union is that on the smoking referenda very little information has come out about how they reached their conclusions that a ban would bankrupt the union, apart from that I canít fault them.

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