Campus is divided following the behaviour of union officer, Jo Swo, at an A-List LCR night on Saturday 26th November. Following the incident, conflicting motions regarding her position have been proposed for discussion at at the final union council meeting of the semester on 8th December.
Last week Concrete exclusively broke the news that while on a night out with other union officers Miss Swo had engaged in “minor theft from the bar”, “minor assault of a member of security” and “attempted to use the cloakroom without paying.” Her behaviour was reported to the union by a number of students.
Describing the process the SU has gone through so far, an SU spokesperson said: “The judgment made about the incident involving Jo was that the offences were minor in nature- it is clear that the theft (of crisps) and the assault (a non invasive bite to the arm) were not intended and no harm was caused.”
Following this incident, Samuel Cross, union representative for Postgraduate History, proposed a motion of no confidence in Swo, asserting that, “the actions of the Welfare, Community and Diversity Officer on the weekend of 26th – 27th November 2016 whilst at the LCR cast doubt on their ability to continue in the role.”
The motion continues: “as such, Union Council must now consider a vote of no confidence in the Welfare, Community and Diversity Officer”. This motion was posted to the private UEA union council Facebook page on Thursday 1st December.
Union bylaws state that “a member of the Student Officer Committee shall cease to hold office if they are subject to a motion of no confidence, submitted by ten or more members of Union Council, passed by a 75 percent majority of those members of the Union Council present and voting at a quorate meeting.”
However, a conflicting motion to censure Miss Swo has also been brought forward to council, which would effectively block the motion of no confidence. Union bylaws are unclear on the consequences of a censure, however. They state that union council shall have the power “to pass a motion of Censure or Commendation on any member of the Student Officer Committee.” Yet, they do not clarify any specific outcomes associated with receiving a censure, and it is unclear what the ramifications of this motion would be.
The motion of censure has been proposed by Nicholl Hardwick, Equalities Champion of UEA Migrant Solidarity Campaign, the same society where Miss Swo is Secretary. It has been seconded by Madeleine Colledge, Postgraduate Education Officer who was present at the LCR, with Miss Swo, on the night in question.
Commenting on the censure motion, SU Chair of Management Committee Madeleine Colledge said: “As someone who worked in the LCR as a student for four years I know that Jo’s drunken antics crossed a line, so as the Chair of the SU Management Committee it is clear to me and many other students that we need to publicly condemn Jo’s actions last weekend.
“Jo received the standard four week ban in this situation, but we should expect higher standards from our Officers which is why I was happy to join others in signing a motion to Censure- which is the only form of political punishment we can use other than Jo losing her job altogether. The motion also includes a review for how the SU responds to inappropriate Officer behaviour so this doesn’t happen again”
Nicholl Hardwick did not respond to Concrete’s request for comment.
If council chooses to censure Miss Swo, then she will continue in her job until election season. In order for the motion of no confidence to be passed, council must first decide whether or not to even debate the proposal. This effectively means those proposing the motion of no confidence will have to win two votes at union council, with over 75 percent in the second vote, in order to remove Miss Swo from her position.
Concrete spoke to 151 students over the weekend, and campus was divided over Miss Swo’s position. 48 percent felt that she should continue in her role, whilst 33 percent felt she should resign her position. 17 percent were unsure.
One student said, “She’s made a laughing stock of herself and the union,” while another described Miss Swo as, “not just a normal student: our nine grand a year literally pays her £17,000 a year.” They added: “she probably gets a pound from each of us. Basically we are paying her to go and bite people. I am financing her drunk rages.”
Another student told Concrete: “I do think she should leave, I don’t agree with most of her policies and I don’t think she’s a valuable member of the Student Union in any fashion.”
Another student said: “If the uni [union] can ban sombreros and then see this and not give any punishment… I wouldn’t be surprised if she wasn’t suspended or if they didn’t do anything.”
However, opinions were split, with a different student stating: “I think she’s good at her job but the actions that she did were unacceptable. If it were in any other work place she would have been fired, but at the same time I do think she is good at her job and she does well for the people here.”
Regarding the removal of an officer, union bylaws state that “if a full-time Student Officer ceases to hold office their successor shall have full-time status provided that they take up office within a period of one month from the beginning of the first semester of the academic year.” This means that if Miss Swo is removed from her position it would not be filled with a full-time replacement welfare officer before the student elections in May, but could be taken on by a student as a part-time role.
A student who spoke to Concrete over the weekend claimed that: “if she was on a sports team she would have had the book thrown at her,” with another describing Miss Swo as “disgraceful.”
Alex Edge, station manager of Livewire and union councillor for Wateraid, told Concrete that: “I think it is incredibly tough to go up against people that know how to work the system and have good connections within the Union bubble.”
Over 94 percent of students surveyed said they did not know that a censure motion had been brought against Miss Swo, with a majority not understanding a censure motion at all. 62 percent of those surveyed said they did not understand how council works and 48 percent said that they did not feel the student’s union accurately represents their views. 46 percent agreed the SU does represent their views, and 4 percent were unsure.
Commenting on the suggestion that “a large majority feel that they don’t understand how Union Council works and … does not represent their views” SU Campaigns and Democracy Officer Amy Rust said: “When it comes to representing students on academic and welfare issues we’ve done more polling, surveys and face to face work this year than ever before– so on stuff like timetabling, mental health and space on campus, we know we’re getting it right.
“However we also know there’s still a problem with the SU’s democratic structures- too few students know who the SU Officers are, what we’re doing or how to hold us to account. This week I will publish a major review into the SU Officer structure that seeks to change that, opening up leadership across the SU to vastly more students than ever before.”
Miss Swo did not respond to Concrete’s request for comment.
Update: The motion of no confidence against Miss Swo was withdrawn on Wednesday 7th December. The censure motion will subsequently be discussed at Union Council on Thursday 8th December.