DSU motion proposes to remove JCRs’ right to elect College SU Reps

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Thursday’s upcoming Durham Student Union Assembly will see a motion proposed that disassociate the election of college SU representatives from JCRs if passed.

The motion, proposed by the SU’s Opportunities Officer Jack Ballingham, will set out “substantial changes” to the SU Assembly’s membership. According to documents submitted to the Assembly seen by Palatinate, the proposed changes include the addition of student representatives from each of the University’s academic faculties, engagement in each of the student group areas, and the introduction of student leaders from the University Enrichment Department.

The motion further proposes changes to the way college SU Reps are chosen. Whilst the role of SU Representative has traditionally been an elected role within college JCRs, the remodeled Assembly would welcome representatives elected directly from colleges rather than common room committees.

The full motion was made known to all current Assembly members on 3rd February, a week before the Assembly was to be held. According to Ballingham, the issue of the election of college representatives has been an ongoing conversation “for quite some time now”, such that some common room leaders were already aware of the motion before it was officially proposed.

The motion aims to build trust and improve accessibility and clarity over the SU’s democratic processes

If the motion is passed on Thursday, its indicative nature means that changes to the standing orders must then be passed by Assembly for the motion to come into effect. Once the standing orders are passed and ratified by the Board of Trustees, the new model Assembly will begin operating from the beginning of the 2022-23 academic year.

Cross-campus elections would then be held directly by the SU for all representatives at the beginning of the Michaelmas term, meaning a significantly decreased role for college committees in the SU’s democratic process.

The document submitted to Assembly claims that the proposal was prompted by responses to the SU’s Democratic Survey from over 1000 members of the student body and that the motion aims to build trust and improve accessibility and clarity over the SU’s democratic processes.

Ballingham told Palatinate, “The motion is the third part of the Democracy Review that the SU undertook to reform its democratic structures, starting in the 2020-21 academic year”. The first two parts changed the operation of the SU Assembly and its subcommittees and took effect in Easter term last year.

According to Ballingham, the Thursday motion is an “updated model” of changes to Assembly that was first proposed in the last academic year, but which was “only passed by a narrow majority, at an inquorate meeting, and generated some dissent.”

“I hope that common rooms are able to understand the need for the change to governance now that many of them have become independent.”

Jack ballingham – dsu opportunities officer

Ballingham said that the motion would “retain” the current system of college representation in Assembly, as each college would continue to be represented by one elected college rep.

However, Ballingham felt that it had become inappropriate for common rooms committees to be responsible for their election, as many common rooms have recently become independent charities, “who have their own interests.” He said, “I hope that common rooms are able to understand the need for the change to governance now that many of them have become independent.”

With regard to the possible implications the motion could have on the SU’s relationship with the common rooms, Ballingham believed there was “no reason to think Assembly would be any less representative. Every student will still have a vote in who represents them.” He claimed that SU officers would help facilitate a smooth change to processes over the course of 2022. “We’ve worked well with common room leaders and reps on many issues so far this year, and we’ll continue to do so.”

In the wake of this controversial proposal, which will leave Common room committees further estranged from the SU, Palatinate understands that JCRs are dissatisfied, and are drafting a collective response to the measures. Palatinate understands that these sentiments were expressed during the SU’s Pizza and Policy night which took place on Monday night.

As of now, Assembly membership consists of five Association Presidents, five Sabbatical Trustees, five Committee Chairs, nine Academic Representatives, four Open Places, and seventeen College Union Reps. More information about Assembly membership and Assembly operation in general can be found on the SU website.

A previous version of this article implied that all students would vote in elections for specific colleges. This is incorrect and we apologise for the mistake. A piece with the same implication has been deleted.

Image: Peter Reed via Flickr

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