Several societies at the University of York have criticised the way YUSU have handled suggested mergers.
Ben Lairig, a society which organises weekend trips and challenging walks to mountainous areas in the UK and abroad, officially merged with Outdoor Society at the start of the academic year after failing to meet the criteria for being re-ratified during the summer of 2014.
According to the Ben Lairig comittee, the merger went ahead despite neither society advocating it. The committee told Nouse: “We are disappointed that YUSU has not allowed us to stay as an independent club, and are unhappy with how they have handled the issue.
“Throughout the whole process we felt we weren’t being listened to, and that YUSU were not interested in hearing our concerns. We also felt that YUSU were not as upfront with us as they could have been, and refrained from telling us about decisions until they had already been made.”
The most common reason behind potential society merging is that societies are perceived by YUSU to fulfil similar aims. However, Ben Lairig said that the trips they offered were very different to those offered by Outdoor Society.
The committee said: “Ben Lairig runs weekend trips to mountainous areas of the UK such as the Lake District, Snowdonia and Scotland, areas which present difficult terrain … Trips are quite challenging and members can expect to learn a variety of new skills including safety on the hills, navigation, and use of winter mountaineering equipment such as crampons and ice axes.”
It added: “Outdoor Society … offer Sunday walks in areas closer to York with gentler terrain, such as the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.”
Other societies have expressed similar concerns about YUSU’s understanding of their purposes, including The Looking Glass Anthology. It was told it was unlikely to be re-ratified a few weeks ago, and advised by YUSU to merge with Inklings, a creative writing society, although the societies were eventually reassured they would not be merged following meetings with YUSU.
However, Lois Ollerenshaw, Editor in Chief of The Looking Glass Anthology, said: “The circumstances would have been improved if I had been given some forewarning of the issue before I was called into YUSU, or if the meeting had been framed as more of a consultation. As it was, the initial meeting did not provide a good opportunity for me to explain why a merger between The Looking Glass and Inklings would not be ideal.”
The Ben Lairig committee told Nouse: “YUSU’s top-down policy of forcing societies to merge against their will severely affects the identity and autonomy of these societies and limits their ability to cater towards the needs of the student body as a whole.”
Chris Wall, Student Activities Officer, told Nouse: “Our society ratification criteria is standard to other unions and was voted in by all societies at last year’s open meeting. We want to support all student groups and societies committee suggested that by merging they could become a stronger force with more members, a bigger presence and better support. This has already been incredibly successful with Dance and Ballet, as well as Hardzine, Circulation and Zahir. We are looking at how the matter of how we communicate these issues to student groups and are learning from previous experiences how to best approach them.”