Thursday, 2 April 2015

Last Council (part 2)

The motions themselves were, for the most part, a hangover from AGM and, like a hangover, they looked quite different in the light of day. The easy ones were easy, the hard ones were slugfests. The drive to get the Officers off their high horses and to see that they were the ones perpetuating the clique that we all get frustrated with was always doomed to failure, so well done to all those who tried last night and indeed have tried since time immemorial. That motion passed; candidates and Officers will no longer be allowed to publicly endorse other candidates. You run like you die; completely alone.

Success! Coupled with the crushing realisation of mortality.

The motion to set up an accountability fell hard, thanks in part (I suspect) to the new Chair, Nikita Otto, who made a fantastically impassioned speech about the responsibilities of Councillors. She is a firebrand, and I suspect she's going to have a very exciting year. She was also entirely correct; councillors do have a significant responsibility and duty to hold the Officers to account - but also to do it in a polite way. There was little of that during this motion; not least because Jenny Waters seized upon the opportunity to attack the proposer. Wajahat is a Trustee of the Association, and has allegedly not appeared at a single one of the Trustee meetings over the course of the year.

That's an absolutely appalling record, but it didn't affect the meat of his argument, or of his motion. It's not appropriate or polite, and it sets an unpleasant mood when speakers are worried something from previous interactions with the Officer will be brought up as a counter-argument. There's something deeply unpleasant about that notion.

By contrast, the motion to ban arms dealers and military groups from campus was beset by problems and misunderstandings. In part, this was due to the quite broad language necessary to ban armed forces and arms dealers (ie war profiteers) from campus. It would have resulted (intentionally or unintentionally) in also banning the UOTC from Freshers Week.

There are difficult questions around this, and it was a tough one to moderate. On the one hand it's clear that as an organisation we're against violence; however, we're also an organisation of students, and some of those students quite enjoy being in the UOTC. It builds leadership, gives opportunities to get muddy and run around the woods, and apparently pays quite well. That payment of course comes from the Army whose job, regretfully, sometimes involves killing people. The role of the Armed Forces is of course multi-faceted, is of course sometimes peace-keeping and supporting new and fragile democracies.

But its job is also sometimes to travel to distant lands and kill people.

Also, green suits everyone.

And some of the young people from those distant lands may not wholly appreciate being approached, or even encountering, people wearing the same uniform as the guys who killed their compatriots.

In the end the motion passed halfway; we won't take money from arms dealers and military groups; however, we also won't ban them from campus. For me, this seems an acceptable halfway house, although it leaves the possibility open for us to give armed forces and arms dealers a stall for free.

The possibility is there. I can't really see it being a problem though; if the Association ever elects someone on that side of the fence I'll eat my own shoes. It was also really pleasant to see so many members of the UOTC turn up to speak and oppose the motion, although it was unpleasant to learn that they'd not been informed of this at all. We ought to do a better job of reaching out and inviting representatives of groups who'll be affected by policies like this.

To be honest, that's why I think it was an oversight - had the motion passed in its entirety, somebody would have had the supremely unpleasant task of telling the UOTC they weren't welcome to recruit at Freshers' Week, at which point the brown stuff would have hit the fan in a big way. 

The Executive would look out of touch and seem to be aggressively trying to exclude a student group, and that would have lead to even lower engagement with the Association - possibly even leading to a PR disaster as the outraged students got in touch with press organisations across Aberdeen and Scotland.

All this at a time when the new team would be trying to find their feet. 

That's why I think it was unintentional. Because the contrary would indicate that the proposer was doing their best to sabotage their successor and the Association. And I don't believe that's the case.

The rest of the time was taken up with interesting discussions around a variety of points, and a report on the democratic review. There has been progress, and it looks very interesting - a cross-section of different schools to form a ratifying body, while another body will analyse proposed ideas to ensure they're appropriate to students. It looks exciting.

Also slipped into AOCB, just ahead of the university's own announcement, was the revelation that our new building is going to be postponed indefinitely, due to the university's cashflow problems. Apparently they need to lay off 150 members of staff. They cannot lay off the guy earning £335,000 though, because he's very important.

150 members of staff is horrific, and with any luck we'll be involved in the fight to keep those staff members on. "We have to be a better university, which we hope to achieve by laying off staff" is the kind of nonsense we shouldn't accept from anyone - not least an institution of learning.