Democracy. It’s on the back of our staff t-shirts, it’s one of our five core values – but it seems to get lost in the day-to-day running of the Union.
We have elections twice a year, and a referendum once every blue moon that barely scrapes a 5% turnout. We elect reps, assembly members, and vaguely hear about an Assembly meeting once in a while. To those involved enough to know what is going on, it is clear that UBS democracy isn’t working.
We have great staff who spend hours and hours providing support to the Union and its members. But there is only so much that staff can do. The deficit of democracy that we have in this Union is occurring due to constrictive by-laws, cemented ideas and protocol, and the lack of accountability we have in our elected officers.
For most of the Student Assembly meetings this year, we have been inquorate. Not enough members have turned up to allow the meeting to happen, yet in most cases we’ve continued anyway, despite the decisions taken not being binding. We have officers who do not submit reports, or turn up to the assembly meetings. The only option Student Assembly then has is to put forward a motion of no confidence, which if passed, then has to go to a referendum which needs a 5% turnout of students. Endless rules and regulations prevent students from being able to hold officers to account effectively. The Trustee board is supposed to meet at least 4 times a year, but on the website there are only minutes of three meetings in the 2012/3 year. And nobody seems to care.
There are some members of Student Assembly who don’t attend meetings, and are just sending apologies for every week. There’s little accountability. Also, if we were to pass a motion at Assembly, it can be overruled by the Trustee board consisting of the sabbatical officers, 3 student trustees (who do not even turn up judging by the minutes), and three external trustees who are not representative of the students. I can read the by-laws and stumble upon clauses on every page that we do not follow properly.
I love this Union and I know its aims are genuine and honourable. But I question our methods. We need to get rid of quorum on student assembly, and look into abolishing community assembly members in order to turn it into an open forum for all students to attend and vote on. It needs to be more regular, as decisions are so often being made that we have no influence over. We have mandated officers to carry out tasks on our behalf, and in some cases they have failed to act. I have been so keen on Union democracy and justice since arriving at Brunel, but often left disappointed.
Excellence, Democracy, Equality, Integrity, and Empowerment? Perhaps, but only when it suits.