The Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Cantor was last week accused of ‘blackmail’ following a row between the University and YUSU over student representation on a powerful new University committee.
The Student Services Committee will replace the current Student Support Committee, on which both the SU President and the Academic and Welfare Officer have voting positions. These positions are to be replaced in the new set-up by an “in attendance” position, under which the students’ representatives are permitted only to participate in discussion and not to vote.
Last week, YUSU Senate heard how Cantor had offered the Students’ Union the choice of either accepting the loss of their vote and staying on the committee in attendance or having no voice at all.
The Student Services Committee, which will report directly to the Vice-Chancellor’s Advisory Group, will discuss a wide variety of student policy issues, including accommodation, alcohol and drugs, careers, college bars and social facilities, disability services and health provision.
The new body will have a wider remit than the Student Support Committee, dealing with financial matters such as rents as well as student welfare issues.
In the Senate meeting at which officers were informed of the Vice-Chancellor’s decision, Rory Shanks, YUSU Entertainments Officer, said, “All this protocol aside, are we not very unhappy about the fact that Brian Cantor is basically blackmailing us and this committee?”
He added, “I think it’s disgraceful. As a Union, surely we can’t be happy with the fact that our Vice-Chancellor is basically saying that if we get power, he’s going to just remove it himself.”
“This is the time to use the NUS for a change,” Shanks said. Senate agreed to seek advice from the NUS on the matter.
Anne-Marie Canning, YUSU President-elect, also condemned Cantor’s actions in Senate, saying, “I think it just ignores our role as a welfare provider not to give us a vote; it completely disregards the work that we do.”
Amy Foxton, YUSU Academic and Welfare Officer, described Cantor’s actions as “completely ridiculous”, saying, “On Tuesday, we had a lunch with Cantor to discuss student issues and to ask questions and someone mentioned this committee. He basically said that he wouldn’t allow the committee to go through if we were voting members of it.”
Foxton said it was “incredibly important” for student representatives to have a vote on the Student Services Committee, “All these are the things that we care about and they make a huge difference to students,” she said.
A spokesman for the University declined to comment on Cantor’s offer to YUSU, but said there was “no intention here to disenfranchise the student body”.
He said, “The protocol in the university is that the students do not have voting rights on committees with spending powers, and for reasons of University governance, the students can only be observers on that committee. Their voice will still be heard.”
However, Canning described the new committee as “a removal of our rights” with which she said YUSU is “not comfortable”.
She said despite Cantor’s threat, “either the committee goes ahead with us just speaking on it or doesn’t go ahead if we fight for voting rights”. YUSU has resolved to press for voting rights.
She added, “The way forward now is to speak to NUS, speak to all these different organisations who will be able to give us advice and recommendations on how best to proceed.”
Joe Clarke, Goodricke Entertainments Officer representing Goodricke College at Senate, said, “I think removing the vote is an absolutely ridiculous move and I think it’s a dangerous move that we need to fight against. The decision gets rid of all democracy within the University.”
The University spokesman refused to acknowledge the importance of student representatives having a vote on the committee, saying, “Why does it matter if they don’t have a vote? In any case, it will be similar to the vast majority of University committees which rarely, if ever, actually take a vote.”
The proposed new committee will now be voted on by University Senate at the beginning of July.
Canning expressed hope that the academics on the Senate would be sympathetic to the student cause and support student voting rights on the new Student Services Committee.