New policies proposed to reform YUSU elections

The incoming YUSU full-time sabbatical officers celebrate their election victory [Image: Joseph Silke]

Outgoing YUSU Community and Wellbeing Officer Mia Shantana Chaudhuri-Julyan has proposed that funding be made available for the establishment of a sixth full time sabbatical officer in 2020, splitting her current role in half to create a separate full-time Community Officer on top of a full-time Wellbeing Officer. The proposal was submitted in this year’s round of YUSU policy submissions which are to be considered for adoption based on student feedback.

Citing the responsibility of “two extremely broad areas under one remit”, Chaudhuri-Julyan said that creating a separate Community Officer would “benefit YUSU untold amounts and give much-needed capacity to tackle issues outside of the wellbeing remit.” She stressed that due to the large workload of wellbeing issues, community issues tend to be neglected which will become increasingly detrimental to students as the University continues to rap-idly expand.

Chaudhuri-Julyan also noted that YUSU’s combination of the two roles in one office is a rarity at UK universities. The Community Officer would focus primarily on housing and relations between students and the city council as well as relations between students and residents of York. The new position would aim to clarify the confusion over the duties of the President and the current community side of the Community and Wellbeing Officer.

The proposal for a sixth Sabbatical Officer wasn’t the only proposal for developing the FTO team. A different policy, also submitted by Chaudhuri-Julyan, has proposed that the incoming sabbatical team “be mandated to prioritise increasing diversity of YUSU elections”. The request comes as the recent elections were criticised for the limited diversity of the candidates and victors, as well as for the continued dominance of college chairs in the Presidential race. Only two of the full-time officer candidates weren’t men and only one was BAME.

This call for greater diversity was echoed in a different proposal by Christian Stickels who criticised the current electoral system for advantaging the “most popular” candidates over the “most agreeable” ones. The policy calls for changing the current single transferable vote (STV) and alternative vote (AV) systems to a points-based system in which each candidate would be awarded points based on preferences.

Other proposals relating to elections included a second by Stickels to reform quorum rules. Current rules allow a referendum motion, for example, to fail because of low turnout despite if the over-whelming majority of those who participate vote in favour. A policy by Christopher Haley requested a return to a post-election breakdown of each round of voting, rather than simply the final result. This had been the case until this past year.

On the issue of mandating the next Sabbatical Officer team to strive to increase diversity in elections, Chaudhuri-Julyan told Nouse that: “I can’t stress enough that I absolutely think this should be a top priority for the next sabbatical team. I’ve submitted this as a policy so if you agree, do give feedback to the Policy Review Group (you can look them up on Facebook) saying so.

“I think given the backlash after the elections this year and the sense of disillusionment after such a profound lack of diversity (the sabbatical team nominations collectively only delivering two candidates who were not men and only one candidate who was not white), the next team should undertake in-depth research of the barriers to under-represented groups both running and winning elected YUSU positions as well as the monopoly of college representatives, and propose and implement a range of new recommendations designed to address this at a variety of levels.

Increasing diversity of nominations was a key YUSU priority this past year. Efforts included targeting messaging to and engagement with under-represented groups, personalized recommendations to individuals who would make good candidates and the Union President rallying support with this agenda in College Committee meetings. Nominations as a result of these efforts initially were the highest ever and incredibly diverse. However, once candidates names were announced, nominations dropped off and diversity decreased. It is suspected that the monopoly of those with a strong college background for example discourage those who have not had these leadership opportunities previously not to bother running as they feel they cannot win.

Those from under-represented groups are the least likely to have benefited from these leadership opportunities previously. Given that previous efforts to address this issue have not worked, it is necessary that the 2018-19 Sabbatical Team make this project a priority from the start of their year in order to implement solutions ahead of the 2019 election. This work would make real strides into understanding these barriers and the monopoly of particular groups on the YUSU elections – as well as actually coming up with practical solutions to tackle these and implement them working with relevant stake-holders e.g. colleges. The effect of this would be invaluable in making the election truly accessible for everyone, from any background and with any identity. Any student should feel able to nominate themselves and truly able to have an equal chance of success.”

The policies will be considered carefully over the coming week by the Policy Review Group (PRG), headed by the new Policy Coordinator Josh Mackenzie, which will use submitted student feed-back to decide whether or not to implement the policies.