DSU President, Sam Roseveare, was censured “for not engaging the student body adequately before releasing a statement which does not accurately represent student opinion” regarding 38 week lets at a DSU Council meeting last night.
The emergency motion of censure was proposed by Roseveare’s fellow DSU Sabbatical Officers. Education and Welfare Officer, Jake Wanstell proposed the motion which was seconded by DUCK Officer Martin Dorset-Purkis. Council passed the motion with a significant majority.
The statement referred to is entitled Improving student services outside of term time. It was signed by the DSU President and Deputy Warden Graham Towl. Sent to the entire student body, it announces: “the University Executive Committee have decided to put a hold on the implementation of a compulsory 38 week let default position for incoming students for this coming year.
“However, we would anticipate that a number of colleges may wish to make 38 week lets their standard offer to incoming students this coming academic year albeit as an option only for such students for 2011.”
The statement acknowledges that “the rationale and detailed arrangements for the changes have not yet been sufficiently well communicated to the student body over the year, and we need to learn from that.”
But it also says: “After discussions with students and staff the Colleges Divisional Board and University Executive Committee endorsed a policy of 38 week lets being the default position for incoming students”.
Wanstell argued: “there should have been a public consultation before a stance was taken”.
The motion of censure notes that “the University does not possess any minuted record of students backing 38 week lets”.
It continues: “the DSU President should whenever possible consult with student representatives before taking a public position on controversial issues.
“Though the DSU president has achieved some favourable outcomes (in terms of getting UEC [University Executive Committee] to change its policy and the withdrawal of implementation for this year), the statement could compromise future progress on the debate as it suggests students have been adequately consulted.
“The statement given by the DSU president this evening does not represent current student feeling on the subject and could hamper future students’ abilities to refute the university’s belief that students back 38 week lets.”
And the motion concluded: “To censure Sam Roseveare as President of DSU for not engaging the student body adequately before releasing a statement which does not accurately represent student opinion”.
Earlier in the meeting it was recognised that “the DSU President is the only figure who can represent the views of students to University management” in a motion opposing 38 week lets.
But Roseveare said there was “absolutely no way” he would retract the statement.
“I do not believe that the University would have agreed to progress [with 38 week let discussions] without this statement.”
He added: “I’ve made sure the statement doesn’t commit me to anything.” “I’ve remained tacitly silent”.
“The censure damages my reputation when I’ve just secured funding for the DSU”.
Speaking to Palatinate, Roseveare admitted he was “taken aback” by the motion of censure. He added: “I’m willing to listen to the student body in the future”. “I gauged student opinion wrongly”.
Discussing the withdrawal of enforced 38 week lets earlier in the meeting, Roseveare said he was “sorry” he had been unable to unconditionally oppose them.
But he stressed that the main issue is “the cost of college charges in general”.
“The key issue is the baseline figures: how much it costs to live in college and if students can afford it”.
But Mary’s JCR President and Chair of Presidents’ Committee, Emily Warburton-Brown, asked whether the statement would just result in the issue recurring next year and postponing the problem rather than solving it.
Roseveare answered that the agreement has created more time for discussion but “it won’t be my problem to solve”. He pointed out that Durham needs to compare its lets with other universities.
Keiran Aldred, founder of the group Durham Students Against the Enforced Implementation of 38 Week Lets for Freshers, said: “I hope that students will continue to fight on the issue and be active in participating in the running of their university”.
And a Facebook message, sent by the group after the meeting, said: “Amazing news! The University Executive Committee have backed down on only offering 38 week lets for the colleges affected for the freshers of 2011.
“Thank you to all those who have sent emails and expressed opposition to JCR Presidents and Heads of Colleges. Our opposition has been heard and it has made a difference.
“But, for all those non-finalists, the discussions will continue and there is no promise that compulsory 38 week lets won’t become policy for October 2012. I hope you will continue to voice your opposition and make sure Durham students will not be over charged.”
“The battle has been won but the war continues.”