General Meeting 14/10/2014: ‘The Devil is in the Detail’

Excited chatter fills the SU Main Hall as students file in, more or less thrilled about being at the year’s first General Meeting (GM). As the clock strikes 18:08, we’re still waiting to begin.

Purple dots the SU Main Hall as the Executive Committee 2014-15 file in and spread out across the hall. Tonight, the students are joined by SU Contract staff, here to learn more about the GM and the democratic structures in place at the SU, in line with CEO Ian Dancy’s policy of taking staff back to the floor.

Finally starting at 18:24 (24 minutes later than planned, but 6 minutes earlier than expected), Chair, Gillian Craig makes a tentative start, explaining how the GM works to newcomers: the fact that the GM is a safe space, that all are invited to speak and express their opinions, and that we should be orderly and respectful of what other members say. Craig asks Presidents and Committee members if they have any communications or statements.

Matthew Chadkirk, Disabled Students’ Officer, first tells us about the extreme success of last week’s Disabled Students’ Network meeting, which is open to any students with any kind of mental or physical disability. It’s held on Wednesdays, 2-4pm in the Windsor Building (Room 005).

Next is a reminder of the Volunteering Fair, also on Wednesday. Alice from Insanity now lets us know that the GM will be recorded and put out as a podcast and invites those who have opinions to air to contact her during the breaks. Emma Peagam reminds us that by-election nominations close on Frida and plugs this week’s public speaking workshop. Jack Kilker, Orbital Editor and LGBT+ President, plugs elections for both the Orbital and LGBT+ and the LGBT+ Film Screening on Sunday.

Jack Saffrey-Rowe of Left Forum lists upcoming Left Forum events from the coming week, including their committee elections, an action and a film screening. Nayab Cheema of the Student Activities Committee (SAC) reminds members about Give It A Go Week and the remaining events, especially plugging Bears Day (Wednesday 15/10). Imogen Tyreman, WMGO, introduces her Winter Warmer Campaign in collaboration with Femsoc.

HvZ announce their first game beginning this coming Friday – check them out on the SU website or Facebook to find out more and how to get involved! Harry Cranston, from Polo, discusses Rock the Polo, their annual Charity Ball, in aid of Help for Heroes. Rhian Griffiths highlights ANATT on 25th, 26th and 27th October and her contribution to Barefoot November, calling for publicity and donations to War on Want!

During Ask an Officer Anything, the Exec Committee fearfully line the hall in their new purple hoodies, for the inspection of the GM as a whole. Rose Walker, of ‘The Founder’ fame, thanks Sabbatical Sidonie for her ‘I Heart Consent’ blogpost and calls for greater publication of the campaign from SURHUL and College. She follows this by asking for an update on the progress of the recently updated Sabbatical roles.

President Emma steps up to explain that College Council is still looking for a President as an individual solely focussed on liaising between the two bodies, rather than the extra work load held by our current President: Education and Campaigns. She concludes by asking for any contributions and ideas anyone might have on how the roles could be made better in the future, though warns that we don’t want to be changing the roles year-on-year. Will the President have a different name? Will new roles be formed? Will we have the divided Co-President roles in the future? This waits to be seen, it seems. If you have an opinion, email [email protected] to open a discussion.

Ellie Kibble then questions Peagam further on the parking policy, highlighting the siting of parking wardens on campus on the 14th October. Peagam responds by stating once again that College will not yet be charging students, though the policy is already in place, as it has been for several years, and until further meetings with both College and external bodies can take place, there will be no immediate solution at this time. This concluded Ask an Officer Anything.

Next on the Agenda were the Sabbatical Updates, starting, alphabetically but unconstitutionally, with Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton, Co-Pres: Welfare and Diversity, who talks us through the recent election of Hall Reps, having drawn on best practice from other universities. SURHUL is a flagship union for the ‘I Heart Consent’ Campaign being run by NUS Women. Sidonie recounts her recent communication with sports teams on improving their accessibility and highlights her plans for SHAG Week, with a focus on encompassing sexual health but also covering a broad range of sexual and non-sexual relationships. Lastly, and, for some, crucially, promises of Puppy Therapy on October 27th arise.

Sidonie is followed by Co-Pres: Sports and Development, Jason Michalski, in his very first Sabbatical update, stating that despite training, he ‘still do[es]n’t know what [he’s] doing’. He gives a nod to our visiting SU staff members, Ian Dancy, Daniel Curran, Andy Steadman and Abi Jesson and considers the new websites pros and cons, hints at the upcoming motion on GM structure and talks about the progress he’s making with SURHUL staff members. The infamous Kukri failure to deliver gets another mention as SAC are seen without their uniforms, and Welcome Week is deemed ‘brilliant’ but ‘exhausting’.

Next, Brianna Middleton Macpherson, Co-Pres: Societies and Media reflects on the positive, yet ongoing, development of the new Media Suite and promises Insanity their new home from Christmas onwards! A nod to the Media outlets and their development plans for the coming year, followed by a very speedy round-up of Brianna’s many, many visits to Conferences over the summer. She then talks about committee training developments with Societies Officer, Lauren Post, and pleads for someone to run for RAG Chair in the by-election (nominations close Friday 17th October, grab a pack from SU Reception). She congratulates SAC, Exec and all of the Welcome Week volunteers. Brianna promises a more engaged SU, and asks for ideas on ways to get even more people into the SU.

Lastly, President Emma Peagam, after some microphone issues, reveals SURHUL’s strategic plan for engaging students, providing evidence of four themes: A rewarding time at RHUL, being membership focussed, being part of a community, and being effective in 25 years time. She reflects on Have Your Say Day and its success and promotes the visibility of Exec. We’re informed that Emma and Dan Curran have been considering the Course Rep program and training, before Emma goes on to give us a glimpse into College Council Day. We’re encouraged to voice any questions we have about College and their Master-Plan, with promises of a glimpse at the new library plan.

At 18:58, Craig introduces an Access Break, lasting a total of seventeen minutes, before we go into Motions.

Restarting, The Sabbatical Officers take to the microphone to propose their motion to reform the current GM structure. Emma explains that this is to make the GM more accessible and to allow more students to have their say. If this passes, students will be encouraged to use media to promote their motion, before it is taken to relevant councils or caucuses accordingly. The hope is that voting would also be online during the GM, which would mean those following along elsewhere can still have their vote, and less GMs would be required throughout the year – a definite plus for anyone mandated to attend!

After questions, the Sabbs explain to us that those with disabilities and prior commitments cannot always physically make the GM, but still deserve their vote, and that, although the discussions held at councils would not be available for online voters to see, the relevant council would present their decision to the GM, who would be required to trust the ruling of those the motion actually concerns. We are also reminded that Exec, who check all motions before they go to council, do not have the power to reject motions, only to pass them on, and that the ultimate decision of where a motion goes will always fall to the proposer.

‘Does anyone oppose this motion’, asks the Chair, and Alex Clarke moves to the microphone, to state that ‘the devil really is in the detail’, claiming that the roles, members and purposes of the motion are not explicitly stated and have only been loosely described, and he calls for a revision of the motion, with far more detail so that we know exactly what it is we are agreeing to.

After some confusion and debate between a variety of members, Jason clarifies that at this point, this is just a proposal, and Brianna highlights that this motion will need to be passed by two GMs in order to become policy, so to pass this today is by no means making it concrete. After some accent-issues, Gillian takes us to a vote

The motion passes and the Sabbaticals return to propose their next motion, to review the constitution and adopt an updated version with the correct terminology for the Sabbatical roles. Our constitution is deemed out of date and unrepresentative of our current needs. Students are actively encouraged to be involved in this process, and Emma explains that they hope to liaise with a representative of NUS to help create a new structure for our constitution, and make it as accessible and functional as possible.

Jack Saffery-Rowe proposes an amendment to the motion, and while this is explained to the proposers, Gillian, somewhat unsuccessfully, tries her hand at some Eastenders-and-Scottish-themed-jokes. The amendment is revealed to call for an ‘NUS or student-approved specialist’ to be enlisted to help with the constitution restructure. The motion passes.

Your very own Jack Kilker proposes a change to the membership system of The Orbital. The motion proposes a new type of member, ‘Journalist members’, which requires some changes to the constitution. This would not stop non-members contributing but would allow the Orbital board to provide extra support to regular writers. The motion also asks that The Orbital be able to decide its content and Editorial structure at their own GMs, rather than at a SURHUL GM, while all other changes still remain in SURHUL power.

There are some questions from the floor: Alex Clarke asks how this would affect other media groups (Answer: “Not at all”) and are there plans similar to this for other media groups (“No, because this is already what they do”). The question escalates into a conversation.

The next question, by Paul Geerligs, is whether paid members will be given automatic preference to have their work published. Jack replies that this will not be the case, since the selection criteria is the relevance of the work, not the status of the writer.

Charlotte Greer-Read asks for a clarification on the difference between a contributor and a normal member. Jack replies that contributors would be in more regular contact with the board (e.g. tailored emails, board meetings, etc.). Journalist members would also get a vote at the Orbital GM and would get preferred entry to Orbital events, such as socials.

The fourth question, by Sam Pickering, is whether Journalist member committees will have power of decision over whose articles are published. The Editor responds that, of course not, the decision on content in each section will still fall solely to the section Editors. The motion passes!

Alex Clarke rises once again to propose his motion to instil Dietary Requirements policies. Following this motion, a variety of debates arise about the possibility of providing food and drink which meets the dietary requirements of all members of SURHUL, including issues over the cost of any proposed changes. Clarke counters this by explaining, however, that this should not, at this time, cost money, but is simply asking for a review of College and SURHUL food and drink policies, and for societies, sports clubs and media outlets to collect dietary requirement information from all of their members to help with decisions around similar issues in the future. The motion passes.

In a turn of events, Jack Saffery-Rowe proposes a procedural motion to bring his motion to back an upcoming Free Education Demonstration forward, which will see a coach organised, along with support for students looking to attend, up to the value of £500, including a mandate that SURHUL Media Outlets must advertise for this initiative. This motion is amended so that SURHUL is mandated to fundraise for this, but not to hand over a sum of their own money, and this motion is then also passed.

A procedural motion is proposed to extend the meeting by a further twenty minutes to see the last two remaining motions, and this is passed, so the GM is set to conclude at 20:50.

Chris Wall, Academic Affairs Officer, stands to discuss the solidarity with Hong Kong motion, calling on us to empathise with the students and young people of Hong Kong, who we cannot physically aid or communicate with, but who he believes it is our duty to stand in solidarity with. There is some debate over our level of duty to such a motion, and its appropriateness, but eventually, the motion passes with ease.

Following on from this success, Chris Wall stands again to propose his motion to support upcoming public sector strikes, aiming for fair pay rises for public sector workers. An impassioned speech from Rose Walker rounds off a heated discussion and sees the motion pass, and Gillian moves onto Any Other Business (AOB), where there is a request for a minimum font requirement for the projected presentation, which was a problem prevalent throughout the evening.