A planned motion of censure against Durham Students’ Union President Kate McIntosh has been withdrawn, only days after a drafted version was published on social media.
The motion, part of which had been leaked anonymously on the Durfess Facebook page, detailed at least 19 clauses rebuking the President’s conduct. These claims were unsubstantiated by further evidence in the motion itself or its appendices.
Following its withdrawal, the motion will not be tabled at an SU Assembly meeting in its current form. Multiple sources close to Palatinate indicate that the motion had been drafted by a member of the Assembly who are themselves looking to run as SU President for the next academic year.
If tabled and passed, the motion of censure would have expressed the Assembly’s strong disapproval of McIntosh’s presidency, but would not have resulted in her removal from office.
Palatinate has seen the planned motion of censure and a drafted version of a motion of no confidence in the SU President, which had been planned to be tabled if the motion of censure had passed by simple majority.
The exact reasons for the motion’s withdrawal are unclear
Although the exact reasons for the motion’s withdrawal are unclear, it is believed that the lack of substantive evidence provided by the motion is one of the key factors.
The motion’s withdrawal comes in the midst of a turbulent fortnight for the SU, which was widely criticised for accusing Durfess of libel by posting a version of the motion of censure online.
In a letter written to the moderators of Durfess, the Students’ Union requested the post was removed on the basis that it was defamatory. The letter defines defamation as including “statements that claim the plaintiff [the individual bringing the lawsuit] […] is incompetent in his job, trade, or profession.”
The letter argues the Durfess post “clearly has the potential to have serious impacts for an individual’s employment, reputation and future.”
Due to many of the included allegations being confirmed libelous by multiple parties, Palatinate is unable to publish any of the motion.
The Students’ Union requested the post was removed on the basis that it was defamatory
In response to the Students’ Union letter threatening a libel claim, Durfess posted the following on their Facebook page: “Unlike the SU, we believe in transparency and accountability”, alongside the link to a petition for anyone who wishes to “express solidarity against the SU suing us [Durfess].”
As well as posting a partially-redacted copy of the letter received from the Students’ Union, Durfess changed their profile photo to cover their logo with a ‘Censored’ bar. Several sources have told Palatinate that the SU has now settled the libel issue. Durfess has since deleted their post of the SU’s letter, and removed the ‘Censored’ bar from their profile photo after several hours.
Kate McIntosh was elected unopposed as SU President in March 2019, on a turnout of 14%, receiving 2,211 votes. Durfess’s petition criticising the SU’s libel accusation was signed by 1,299 people within 24 hours – that’s 59% of the total number of votes McIntosh received when she was elected.
Although McIntosh has not responded to Palatinate’s multiple requests for comment, she published a lengthy article on the Students’ Union website within hours of the motion leaking, entitled “Durham’s Problem with Respect.”
“I am confident that I’m doing my job well”
Her article makes no explicit mention of the leaked motion, but McIntosh writes: “I am confident that I’m doing my job well because I speak up about the things students care about to the best of my ability.”
She continues, denouncing an “ingrained culture that permits misogyny, harassment and disrespect,” while also acknowledging that “we also have thousands of people who want to change that.
“Undoubtedly, the harassment and intimidation I’ve faced is gendered. No one calls a man ‘manipulative’, or takes notes of the exact date and time a man has an original thought, so that they can be called out later. Let me be clear: this is misogyny.”
“I’m just the next in a line of women student leaders called bossy, manipulative, overly opinionated or ‘unsavoury’.” To clarify, ‘unsavoury’ was a term used by the presenter of the motion of no confidence to describe McIntosh’s personality.
McIntosh claims that there have been “weeks of rumours, misinformation, ‘secret’ meetings, outright denials from people in positions of responsibility that they were behaving in underhand ways, Palatinate leaks, Durfess posts, WhatsApp groups. Vicious rumours behind closed doors.”
Palatinate was not involved in the drafting, distribution or posting of the proposed motion, and has not leaked information about Kate McIntosh.
Response to McIntosh’s article has been polarized
Response to McIntosh’s article has been polarized. Sharing the article on Facebook, SU Opportunities Officer Jess Dunning urged people to read it, calling it “a beautifully articulated piece about what it’s really like to be a female student leader.”
The Students’ Union Undergraduate Academic Officer Sam Johnson-Audini, who successfully ran on a slate alongside McIntosh in the NUS Delegate elections in December 2018, wrote on social media: “I have seen one of the best women I know be continuously attacked with baseless accusations from men that honestly should know better.”
However, some students have accused McIntosh of trivialising the broader issue of misogyny, by using it as a means of deflecting and not dealing with criticism of her presidency.
Commenting on the Palatinate website, one female reader criticised McIntosh’s claim that “no one calls a man ‘manipulative’”, writing: “I know many manipulative men and definitely call them such. Don’t undermine that word.”
Although the motion of censure and its claims has now been removed from social media and can no longer be read, McIntosh’s article criticising the motion’s claims can still be found, and has been widely shared, both by the officers’ accounts and the Students’ Union main account.
Image: Durham Students’ Union