Durham Students’ Union has proposed to replace student trustees with appointed “student leaders” this year, following the resignation of four student trustees after last year’s SU elections, which saw 58% of votes awarded to Re-Open Nominations (RON).
The student leaders will act as voting members on SU Board Committees, in lieu of student trustees. A recommendation will be made to the October meeting of the SU Board of Trustees by the Chair of the Board, along with the SU President who acts as Vice Chair, and one other trustee, as to who should be appointed.
Any member of Durham SU is eligible for appointment, including sabbatical officers.
Four student trustees elected in February 2020 subsequently resigned from their positions following the revelation that the 58% of first preference votes for RON had been removed entirely rather than transferred to the voter’s second preferences.
This was due to the disqualification of the RON option from the election after a campaign violation by a member of the campaign team for Re-Open Nominations.
In a statement published on their website, Durham SU said: “It will be very difficult to hold another election in autumn 2020/2021 to fill these vacancies and we want to respond to the call from students to review the election process, including providing better information on the election process and role of a trustee.
“We will be working hard this term to get the election process right this year, and make sure that students have the best representation possible on the Durham SU Board.”
On the decision to replace trustees with appointed student leaders, one SU trustee who was elected in the February elections before resigning told Palatinate: “It’s pretty f****d up and I’m quite miffed, especially given my promise to contest a future election, which will go unfulfilled if this proposal is implemented”.
Another former trustee said: “I am disappointed and really frustrated. All of the trustees who ran and resigned said we would run again in a new election, but the SU said it wouldn’t be feasible due to covid. Obviously I understand that they couldn’t have planned for all this, but it would have been, and could still be possible to run a virtual election if they really wanted to, so it’s clear they don’t care about their own democratic process.”
Durham SU states on its website that there is precedent for its proposal given that the Chair of Durham University Charities Committee (DUCK) was invited to serve on the Board’s fundraising committee last year.
Durham Students’ Union plans to carry out a democracy review, led by Durham SU Opportunities officer, Anna Marshall, to meet the “ambitious challenge set by student leaders this year”.
The review is being carried out to allow the SU to “under- stand the structural barriers to inclusivity and participation” in its democracy, which has, “in the past, limited the power of these students to influence our democratic structures and rules”, according to the official democracy review tender.
According to Durham SU, the review will ensure that “the broadest range of student interests are reflected in our future.”
The current SU trustees have asked for a consultation process to be held on the SU’s proposals. A consultation meeting will be held over Zoom, and will be hosted by Durham SU Chief Executive, Gareth Hughes, the SU President, Seun Twins and an SU Trustee, on October 12th at 1pm. Any member of Durham SU can attend.
Image: Tim Packer via Wikimedia Commons