Colleges divided as YUSU begins governance consultation process

College chairs remain divided after a week of arguments with YUSU and each other over the future of union-college relations.

All seven college chairs met on Friday, May 9 to try to agree a joint strategy for dealing with the YUSU. The idea of a UGM motion, designed to force union policy on the policy, was mooted but subsequently dropped after chairs failed to reach an agreement on its content.

The debate on the issue was sparked after Vanbrugh Chair Matt Oliver criticised current levels of college funding and described the system by which JCRCs receive their grants as “completely broken”.

Under the current the structure JCRCs receive their funding out of YUSU’s block grant, instead of directly from the University. Oliver said: “It seems to me that the SU likes to control the amount of funding we get. No other collegiate University relies on their unions for all of their funding.”

His criticism was echoed by Goodricke Chair Joe Clarke who questioned the need for YUSU to act as a “middle-man” between colleges and the University. In the May 6 edition of York Vision Clarke was quoted as saying: “we are looking into disaffiliation [from YUSU] but nothing has been decided yet.”

Derwent College Chair Oliver Lester defended the current collegiate structure, saying that he believed the system functions well and he does not feel further autonomy is required. In a letter addressed to all college chairs and released to Nouse, Lester said: “I am far happier with YUSU finance committee telling me that X amount should be spent on Y rather than me or a treasurer dictating what gets spent where. I think students would prefer it too that a far more professional body helps us decide where our funding should go.”

Lester attacked the idea of disaffiliation, saying: “What on earth were you thinking Clarkey? Disaffiliation? Surely you yourself must see this as a shockingly silly idea?”. YUSU Societies and Communications Officer Sam Bayley earlier described plans for disaffiliation as “absurd”.

Alcuin College Chair, Erik O’Connor stated that disaffiliation was not even an option saying that there is “no way in which a JCR can be completely separate from YUSU, or YUSU from JCRs. Collectively, the JCRs, make up most of the YUSU membership.” O’Connor upheld that greater autonomy could be achieved from within their ‘external affiliate’ status and any changes to YUSU should be made from within.

College chairs have also failed to reach a consenus on the levels of funding necessary for JCRCs to operate effectively.

Oliver also expressed concern about the sum of money colleges received saying it was “simply not good enough for a university of York’s standings.”

“JCRCs have a huge impact on the student life and in order for us to provide the best possible experience we need to have greater resources made available to us,” he continued.

Lester demonstrated concern about vying for more funds saying that “like everything in this university, this money you propose would go to us ultimately would come from somewhere else. I would rather the university spent the money on other key issues such as the bar refurbishments, kitchen refurbishments or bridge planning, something that would benefit the students on the whole.”

YUSU Services and Finance Officer Matt Burton not only argued against having a more central distribution of funds but however also questioned what indeed a larger amount of money would be spent on, as with the current system it would still be subject to ultra-vires law.

He said: “I know from when I was a JCRC Chair that actually, there’s really not that much to spend money on and in fact, if the Provost supports you in new furniture and resources and if you properly budget and market events, they can be successful and generate a lot of money for the other JCRC activities”.

The debate comes at a time when rises in the fixed costs of the Union’s running have meant that there is little money available to be bid for, compared to the relative surplus of last year. JCRCs will compete with other internal affiliates for remaining funds.