Reformed student group constitutions rejected by Assembly

By Naomi Clarke 

A motion to alter the Students’ Union’s constitution was defeated last Thursday, after the Durham Students’ Union Assembly voted against the changes.

The ‘Durham SU Model Student Group Constitution’ was proposed by Charlie Walker, SU Opportunities Officer, and intended to bring cohesion to the Durham SU with a “flexible and happy balance between a common regulatory framework” but still “protecting themselves – and individual student group innovation.”

The motion saw considerable debate at the assembly meeting. The new ‘Model Student Group Constitution’ was formed by a Working Group in summer 2018, a group established by the Assembly and Board of Trustees last year to “find a new framework which struck that balance” between regulatory and protection for SU student groups.

The Chair of Societies Committee described the changes as “undemocratic”, bemoaning the lack of student consultation

The motion stated that there are “roughly 250 Durham SU student groups, all of which are fully regulated by the SU. They aren’t legally distinct bodies but operate with a high degree of trust and freedom.” To protect this freedom, this SU presents itself as a “legal backstop for student groups.”

One of the reasons this motion was proposed was due to student groups, such as Champagne Society and Islamic society, who sparked controversy in the press. Durham SU was subsequently held liable for their actions, despite being unaware of the behaviour.

Prior to Assembly, Charlie Walker told Palatinate that such events were due to “mismanaging” by Durham Students’ Union.

He described the motion as “a really necessary first step to making all of our student groups safe” and said, “it’s not about cracking down on people’s ability to have an opinion on things.”

Charlie Walker, speaking at the Assembly, noted that his proposal of the motion was the “beginning and not the end of the conversation about student groups.” They stated that the way this document was rolled out was not perfect but they believed risks surrounding student groups were currently too high and a vote for a framework was required.

Arguments against the motion were put forward by Amelia McLoughlan, president of Durham Students with Disabilities Association.

McLoughlan stated that SWDA “were not against student group guidelines as a concept” but that “the content of the motion and documents presented with it were incredibly confusing.” McLoughlan remarked that “we were given no consultation” and that “one meeting was not enough time to understand this motion”, meanwhile Dan Boyle of Durham’s ESports society noted there was “too much grey area” in the new constitution.

Steven Lowes, the Chair of Societies Committee made an impassioned speech against the “undemocratic” nature of the changes. He told the assembly, “The thousands of student I represent have had no consultation about this motion”, and called the proposals “f****** absurd”.

Opportunities Officer, Charlie Walker, said the proposal was the “beginning and not the end of conversation about student groups”

Clarification was made on hotly contested points, including the freedom of societies to speak to the press, reading that each student group would be able to give comments to the press as a member of an individual society rather than as a representative of the SU.

The original motion made it compulsory for each committee to have particular officers, but amendments were passed so that the executive positions may be named as appropriate to the group, as long as positions encompassing the roles of Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer and Society Secretary were upheld.

“the student group agreement codifies support for groups and hold [SU] to account for that”

Meg Haskins, Welfare and Liberation Officer, discussed what the constitution, once fully discussed and rectified, could provide. Haskins stated there will be a document about the support that groups can get, “the student group agreement codifies support for groups and holds [the SU] to account for that”.

Photography via Eleanor Scorah, Communications Assistant at Durham SU

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