Union Council, the democratic decision-making body of the Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) has faced widespread criticism from councillors present at the its first meeting of the year. Last Thursday’s meeting was criticised by councillors who claimed to be “shocked” by council’s conduct, angry at the showcasing of “personality politics” and annoyed that the meeting was “unnecessarily long”.
On 15th October, Union Council sat for the first time this academic year to vote on motions proposed by councillors. The meeting started at 19:00, , but did not finish until nearly four hours later. Council is well known for taking a long time to get through its agenda and regularly passes a guillotine motion in order to force the meeting to come to a close at a set time. This ensures that students are not still voting late into the night.
For this reason, Jonathan Gillespie, who was present at council representing Conservative Future, proposed that council immediately agree to finish at 22:00, limiting the length of council to three hours. However, Gillespie’s motion was narrowly rejected: 46% voted in favour of the cut-off, but 52% voted against. This was not the only attempt by councillors to impose a guillotine for the night. A further four guillotines were rejected by and, in the end, the meeting did not finish until 23.00. By this time over, 30 councillors had walked out.
“The lack of a formal closing time at Union Council was the cause for last night’s shambolic meeting” claimed Gillespie. “Losing over a third of members is an absolute outrage”, he added. Gillespie was not alone in voicing his criticism. Aaron Hood, the union’s Disabled Students’ Officer, said that the meeting was “horrendously stressful for students with anxiety and it was an awful initiation for new councillors”.
Amy Rust, representing Politics Society, agreed. “I was sat with some new councillors who were shocked by how council conducted itself”.
It wasn’t just new councillors who found the process uninviting. UEA:TV’s councillor, Rob Drury, said that “even as a third-term councillor” he found the process “unnecessarily long, complex and difficult to understand”.
Gilbert MacNaughton, who was elected as chair unopposed at Thursday’s meeting, has responded to the criticisms: “I believe the anger over how long Thursday’s meeting [went on for] perfectly illustrates the fundamental clash between making council less intimidating and the desire that council remains a venue for ideas and policies to be freely and enthusiastically debated, a clash that led to a lot of anger on both sides”. He added: “Reconciling these positions is the only way that union council can function to the best of its abilities”.
But Theo Antoniou-Phillips was more positive in his summary. “I was really pleased with how council went. Lots of great motions were passsed which mandate the students’ union to do some great work”.
One reason for the late finish of council was that the meeting did not formally start until 25 minutes after it was meant to. While many councillors believe the late start time is more evidence of council’s disorganisation, the move also indicates that the motions passed by council may not actually be legal. According to the union’s constitution: “In order for the meeting to make formal decisions there must be a quorum [the minimum number of councillors present for the meeting to be constitutional] within 15 minutes of the time stated on the agenda for the meeting to start”.
Responding to the claims, a UUEAS spokesman argued: “The required number of attendees had arrived for the meeting by 22:10. This was formally recorded through a quorum count later, but the required quorum by the deadline was never in doubt”.