My first taste of York’s notorious student democracy at the referendum meeting last Wednesday evening left me somewhat underwhelmed. The debates were poorly attended and consequently the ‘discussion’ was limited to a series of speeches from their proposers. The event added impetus to the calls for a change to how YUSU runs democracy in this university because these debates demonstrated that clearly something isn’t working.
Kallum Taylor, President of YUSU, donned his characteristic jacket-and-scarf for his most cherished of the five of the proposals: the democratic reform. The President expressed his anguish at the ineffectiveness of the current YUSU assemblies and feels that the union is distant from the students. His point echoes true in the dismal turnout for the debates. The proposal was largely supported by the audience as once again nobody took to the stand to oppose the initiative. Kallum claimed in his closing remarks that the unpopular assemblies would be replaced with informal meetings and YUSU officers getting out and speaking to the students more.
With it presently being the most important cause for our democratically elected leader, it should be a considerable priority for us. However, it seems that students at this university simply don’t care. Despite the lack of opposition for the motion that evening, it seems unlikely that it will ultimately succeed; the constitution requires 20 per cent of the student body (approximately 3000 votes) to abolish assemblies. With only eight in attendance that night, YUSU face serious battles if they are to succeed.
Such apathy towards campus politics is reflected in the way that George Offer’s proposal to extend the realm of Welfare Officer slipped by without opposition or much apparent interest. The intention of the proposal is to aid representation of students within the wider community and develop an off-campus support network. Something against which I’m sure someone would have a point to raise.
The first debate of the night, opened by Megan Ollerhead, Chair of York Student Socialist Society, proposed that YUSU look into the viability of a student letting agency. A YUSU run agency could undermine the “money-grabbing profiteers” of the current lettings market with a not-for-profit agency. If feasible, the agency will end the allegedoligopoly in the lettings market which allows the agents/landlords to charge ever-increasing rent to helpless students.
Again, Kallum added clout to the proposal by showing a passionate support for the idea. He also highlighted student support for this measure- with a petition of 800 signatures asking the union to look into the matter.
With so many students supposedly taking an interest in this topic, why were there not more present at the debates?
Megan was then questioned on whether she felt that the agency would disadvantage York’s poorer residents. She refuted that this agency would worsen poverty in York but give students better service and support when renting. If you feel any stirring of a response to Megan, then why weren’t you there to answer her?
Ultimately, this university lacks any interest in its campus politics, which is a dire shame. We have been offered the opportunities, but so few of us take them that we are essentially allowing YUSU to be led blindly into the future.